They call it philanthropy, I call it business sense!



Post liberalization, India has not only witnessed tremendous economic growth, but has also experienced something which was more of a distant dream pre-liberalization. With stock markets surging northwards, India Inc. has been all set to storm the lists that feature the “-est” of the world, both in terms of scale and scope. Not only did the Indian economy, within a span of less than two decades, touch the trillion dollar mark, but at the same time, India Inc also booked their slots in the Fortune 500 and Forbes lists with unprecedented frequency. However, such entries did not change the attitude of these Indian corporations towards social cause. Unlike the West (and even China, Hong Kong and other Asian countries), Indian billionaires largely kept themselves away from the whole idea of philanthropy. This is quite evident from the fact that in spite of the surging number of billionaires, the fate of our workforces has not changed much. Else, how can one justify India’s Gini coefficient (an economic indicator that indicates the income inequality of the nation) of 36.8, which is even worse than Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Asia-Pacific Wealth Report developed by Capgemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management reveals that in 2008, India had 84,000 HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals) with a combined net worth of a staggering $310 billion (equates to approximately Rs 14,000 billion) with each HNWI on an average maintaining a balance of Rs 166 million – or more than $3.6 million. In 2009, the number of HNWIs grew and crossed the mark of a hundred thousand; and today, the same is estimated to be around 127,000. For the uninitiated, HNWIs are those who have assets of $1 million or more, excluding primary residence, collectibles, consumables, and consumer durables. To top this up, Forbes’ magazine lists around 69 Indians as billionaires, with the net worth of 100 wealthiest Indians being estimated at $300 billion as of 2009.

Now, to get a better perspective of the huge disparity, one just needs to compare this prosperity at the top of the pyramid with the misery at the bottom. The average Indian currently earns $1030 annually (the latest per capita figure). If one were to assume that everyone in India is caught in a time warp wherein the current billionaires’ wealth does not grow beyond the current levels, and at the same time those at the bottom do not spend a single penny for the next many years, then it would take more than 970 years for the average per capita earning Indian to even catch up with the current billionaires! With such high income disparities, if the top 100 HNWIs decide to donate merely 1 per cent of their total wealth, they could add around $3 billion every year to the economy, which could then fund a huge amount for basic developmental initiatives, which the average Indian is devoid of.

Again, to get a perspective of what this money can do, it is significant to understand how much does the government earmark for social imperatives. With the government planning to spend $6.72 billion in education and $4.83 billion on health & family welfare this budget, such a donation as mentioned above would go a long way in comfortably enhancing the allocation towards these social imperatives. Thus, a single year of donation can double and in some cases even triple the flow of funds, depending on the sector! If not for anything else, this $3 billion, which is a mere one year’s donation for India’s richest, can take care of the sanitation problems of 700 million Indians for good! And all this without causing much dent to the personal wealth of these top 100 wealthiest Indians. And mind you, here we are just referring to one year of donation; imagine the magic it could create if this trend of donations could continue for perpetuity. Also, here we are referring to just the top 100 of India’s wealthiest; imagine the social revolution that could be brought about if all 127,000 HNWIs donated 1% of their wealth every year for social development!.

Going by the way that India and Indian companies are making their positions formidable in various esteemed lists, it is very important for them to model their commitments in the way today’s global companies view their duty towards society. If not for anything else, at least for all selfish reasons, because it is time for India’s wealthiest to awaken to the fact that donating is not just about philanthropy, it makes good business sense too. A healthy, educated and a well endowed society is a future market. And a 1% contribution to create this huge market is definitely a worthy investment!

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