Taking pride in the art of giving
Dec 17 2012
— William Wordsworth
The end of this year brings with it the retirement of an icon — Ratan Tata will step down as chairman of Tata Sons on 28th December. There are many lessons to be learnt India’s most powerful businessman and from India’s most admired and ethical business house. Inclusive growth for many may be a modern concept, but the Tata Group has always propagated the philosophy of philanthropy. Starting with Tata’s grandfather, who drafted a will that donated all of his personal wealth towards philanthropy. Since then, the family has donated their wealth in the company to existing trusts or created new ones. It is said that the Tata Trusts are easily amongst the 10 most generous in the world. While Ratan Tata will step down from the business mode, he will continue to remain the chairman of the Tata Trusts. This is being hailed as a big game changer for Indian philanthropy as he has the ability to inspire many other leaders to take up the path.
India may become the first country to make corporate social responsibility (CSR) mandatory with the approval of the new Companies Bill in Parliament. While the voluntary versus forced nature of CSR may be under debate —there is no doubt that more and more corporate and personal philanthropy is needed in today’s world. Inequalities have only increased over the years. Growing inequality is one of the biggest social and economic challenges of our time. Inequality and fairness have moved right up the political agenda. America’s presidential election was largely being fought over questions such as whether taxes should rise at the top, and how big a role government should play in helping the rest. Research by economists at the IMF suggests that income inequality slows growth, causes financial crises and weakens demand. While there is a practical hardnosed reason to be concerned about inequality, there is a moral responsibility that must not be ignored. This is not how the world was meant to be.
First and foremost, it is necessary to realise that some of us are more fortunate than the others. Each entity — whether individual, family or company must realise this. This awareness and acceptance should be followed by action — each of us must take responsibility to take at least one step to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, the clothed and the naked. Every step taken in the right direction will make a difference. There is nothing big or small here. What is needed is the will and the intention to make a difference. It is said that charity begins at home. As individuals that’s exactly where we need to start. Opportunities to improve someone’s life are all around us — if only we care to open our eyes and see. We need to open our hearts to embrace the spirit of giving. We need to create a movement that transforms the lives of people.
As an example, if each affluent family in India adopts 5 families — what a difference it will make to economic progress in India. A number of us are surrounded by support staff but how many of us have bothered to check what their families are doing; their children’s education in particular should be our concern.
An old Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That should be the underlying theme of any philanthropic act. Charity is not about giving alms, it’s about becoming an enabler for someone else’s growth, it’s about making a path for someone else to tread on, it’s about becoming an anchor and a beacon to ship that would sink without support. In the words of Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
This call to arms is not just to individuals and companies but also to the government and the politicians; who have to rise above petty politics and archaic laws to make genuine efforts towards inclusive growth. Stories about children dying from malnutrition abound, yet food wastage is a major problem in India. Food wastage is valued at Rs 50,000 crores — all due to the lack of infrastructure and facilities. This situation is unacceptable by any standards of ethics or governance. Someone needs to be held accountable.
Awareness of social issues and causes is needed at all levels of society. We need to bring in our youth to support this cause. At the recently concluded Delhi half marathon, it was heartening to see young children participate as charity runners. The youth have the power to galvanise the rest of the world. To enthuse the young to participate in this movement is our responsibility. As leaders of corporate organisations or as heads of families, we need to sensitise the young. We need to demonstrate our own commitment in our actions. What they see is what they will believe and follow. We all need to dream big. We need to believe that all lives are created equal and we can all contribute in our own ways to reach that equality.
As the year draws to a close, I would like to share this wish with all my readers:
“May god bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. And may god bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”
— Franciscan Benediction
(The writer is CEO of KPMG India)