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From Charity to Social Justice: Insights on Rethinking and Reshaping Philanthropy in India

Wed, July 13, 11:45am to 1:15pm, TBA


The aim of the paper is to share insights from philanthropists who have given boldly for social justice causes, highlight the lessons learned, the opportunities, challenges they face; and ultimately initiate a public dialogue on reshaping the role and tapping the potential of philanthropy for social justice in India. The study will identify the key elements required to make a shift from ‘chequebook philanthropy’, which addresses gaps in society, but often does not solve the root causes of social problems to more ‘strategic philanthropy’ for greater social impact.

The current economic and social situation in India following the COVID-19 pandemic offers the right moment of introspection for rethinking the role of Indian philanthropy especially for deeply rooted issues and social justice. Philanthropy has long been considered as one of the enablers for creating an equitable and just society for all by generating fresh ideas and testing new ways of promoting equity, efficiency, humaneness in social programs (Waldemar A. Nielson, 1985). However, there is very little published academic work on social justice philanthropy. There is some amount of practitioner literature on the definitions and scope of social justice philanthropy in the Western contexts (Carson, Emmet. 2003, Craig, Gary. 2005, NCRP, 2003). But, discussions on the definitions and practice remain contested globally.

Over the last decade, India’s philanthropy sector has grown rapidly (Bain & Company, 2020). Several Indian philanthropists have made landmark commitments spurring considerable interest in new forms of more structured giving. Despite this trend, philanthropy’s substantial contribution to promoting equity and social justice has been limited (Caroline Hartnell, 2017). The lack of data and documented reference material on effective social justice philanthropy is one of the major barriers. This study takes a mixed-method approach of gathering insights from literature review on social justice philanthropy, defining critical lines of enquiry, semi-structured interviews with philanthropists and synthesis of insights to identify elements of effective philanthropic practices.

The initial findings reveal certain key elements like having clearly defined goals, systems level thinking, flexible and risk tolerant funding, and willingness to include communities leaders and grantees in philanthropic strategy. These insights will offer both thoughtful reflections on social justice philanthropy and practical guidelines for stimulating philanthropic behaviour leading to improved social outcomes.