Indian-Americans lack in strategic philanthropy

Indian-Americans lack in strategic philanthropy

The Indian-American community is punching way below its weight in philanthropy, despite having the highest per capita income of any ethnic group in the U.S., a comprehensive survey has found. The Indiaspora Community Engagement Survey, conducted by Dalberg Advisors, was released in conjunction with Indiaspora’s all-day philanthropic summit held at Georgetown University on July 17.

One of its major findings was that while its volunteerism is double that of the national average, when it comes to giving, the community’s “giving gap” was in the range of $2 billion to $3 billion, hardly 1.5 percent compared to the national average of 4 percent. The survey noted that while Indian-Americans are keen philanthropic volunteers, they lag in financial donations.

A survey of Indian-Americans who contribute both time and money to charitable activities has set leaders in the community thinking about how to target the potential of this high-achieving group, which also nevertheless has its own needy population.

Though 90 percent of the respondents in the “Indian American Community Engagement Survey” commissioned by the advocacy non-profit, Indiaspora, surveyed those who were already donors, skewing the results somewhat, the survey’s main finding could help target strategies for making a bigger impact nationally and locally.

The survey revealed that Indian-Americans volunteer significant time toward philanthropic causes but that a large money “giving gap” exists between the potential and the actual – that they were meeting $1 billion of their $3 billion potential for annual giving.

Indiaspora’s summit, “For Givers, Doers, and Thinkers,” explored whether Indian-Americans are good or poor givers, particularly even in alignment with the causes the community is most passionate about. Discussions were also permeated by the motivations and self-reported giving behavior.

In his welcoming remarks, Indiaspora founder and chairman M.R. Rangaswami, called the group a “philanthropic catalyst. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur and angel investor said: “We are in the early stages of strategically planning what we should do to move the needle — which is to say, increase the amount of Indian-American philanthropic giving in America and to India, and make it more effective.”

“At over $3 billion dollars annually, the giving potential of Indian-Americans is enormous,” said Dalberg Advisors’ regional director for the Americas, Joe Dougherty. He noted that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation distributes $4 billion to $5 billion across the entire globe every year. “Imagine the kind of impact the diaspora could create if they met their giving potential. We hope that the results of this study help galvanize philanthropic efforts among this important — and influential — community.”

The India-born, U.S.-raised Totapally — the point person behind the survey — noted that after a stint on Wall Street she “decided I was done with corporate greed and moved to Mumbai to work with Dalberg and dedicate my life” to philanthropy. Her PowerPoint presentation demonstrated that the Indian-American community contributes about $1 billion annually, much below its conservative giving potential of $3 billion to $4 billion annually.

Drs. Pallavi and Kiran Patel of Florida, began giving to higher education institution, capping it with setting up the Dr. Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions at the University of South Florida as far back as 2005. The couple’s foundation has committed hundreds of millions since then, among them to set up a School of Medicine and School of Health Sciences at USD.

Deepak Raj, founder and managing director of Raj Associates in New Jersey, is chairman of the non-profit Pratham USA. He established a chair in Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, recently funded the creation of Impact Project and Impact Fund to support Indian-American political aspirants. He believes Indian-American philanthropy has grown exponentially in the last 5 to 10 years, even in his own engagements. “So as time goes on, it will reflect the giving of the rest of America. I see very positive trends and am very optimistic about the direction of giving,” he told News India Times, adding that he has seen the next generation which has had the benefit of a good education and “terrific” opportunities, rising to give more.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor at University of California, Riverside, and founder of AAPIdata, says random sample surveys done by his organization showed the rates of giving were lower for Asian Americans compared to the national average, which can be explained by their more recent immigration. Donations to religious organizations were higher than to other causes, he found.

The Indiaspora survey, despite its limitations, said Ramakrishnan who was an advisor for it, is a very important step in trying to get Indians to pay attention to philanthropy, which is not just about money but also about expertise. Shikha Bhatnagar, executive director of the California-based non-profit South Asian Network, told News India Times she has seen the “incredible” amount of money that organizations are able to raise too send back to India, and was “astonished” with the gap between money for India and that for U.S. organizations. She launched the U.S. office of Akshay Patra Foundation, and was executive director of Teach for India in Pune, and has two decades of programming, advocacy, and policy experience on global and domestic issues. Bhatnagar contends many Indian- Americans believe they came with little and built their lives so why can’t others do the same, unaware of problems within the community.

As M.R. Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, said at the July 17 conference on philanthropy among Indian- Americans, “… We are in the early stages of strategically planning what we should do to move the needle – which is to say, increase the amount of Indian American philanthropic giving in America and to India, and make it more effective.”

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