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How to create spirals of inspiration

Shiv Nadar | Print Edition: Jan 8, 2012

Philanthropy is a state of mind. It is the state in which one feels empowered to give back to society. Globally, governments have been the largest "philanthropists". If one goes back in time, the state and religious institutions have been closely associated with large social welfare activities. Global history has seen the monarchy and the state set up rest houses for travelers and pilgrims; create medical facilities; make provisions for drinking water; designate welfare officers for state welfare; and so on. For centuries, leaders have been using their personal resources, time, wealth and skills for larger social causes to address large gaps in the system.

The most common approach to philanthropy has been to identify gaps and address them through time-bound project based large scale initiatives. This is the corrective route. Governments, corporates and several foundations globally have been following this approach and working in the areas of education, health, environment, among others. So typically, the most common approach is towards correcting social ills through strategic intervention initiatives.    

Creative philanthropy is another very powerful model in philanthropy. Creative philanthropy is a model that has its roots in the US and exists in the form of institutions that go beyond the lifetime of individuals who have set these up and continue to impact generations. American steel baron Andrew Carnegie, one of the most respected philanthropists in the world, built lasting institutions of excellence across the United States and the UK in the form of libraries, music halls and education institutes. The Carnegie Institute of Technology was established at Pittsburg in 1901 with a huge endowment from Carnegie and is now part of the Carnegie Mellon University. The Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research, now Rockefeller University, also established in 1901, is another case in point.   

I am a strong believer in Creative philanthropy. It is an approach that allows sustained institutionalised philanthropy for long-term high impact socio-economic transformation.  The avenues of transformation can be many but I believe that education has the power to be the single-largest tool for socio-economic transformation. Education empowers individuals and is vital to reap our demographic dividend.

The creation of the Indian Institutes of Technology was an act of philanthropy by the state, to make India a centre of world class technology education. But the need to address India's education gap is far greater. This is where the creative model can play a huge role to complement the government's efforts to drive inclusive growth. 

For the Shiv Nadar Foundation, it started 16 years back with the SSN institutions. The SSN Institutions are not just one of India's top ranking engineering colleges, but also have institutionalised programmes and initiatives that have allowed us to leverage the power of education to create spirals of aspiration within families and among peers, friends and communities of students. All initiatives at the Shiv Nadar Foundation today have been built on the pillars of creative philanthropy. Students from these institutions are now symbols of hope, inspiration and aspiration for many more.

Another unique example of creative philanthropy is VidyaGyan, a radical and innovative set of schools covering all districts of Uttar Pradesh that handpicks rural meritorious children and takes them through transformational education to bring them at par with their privileged counterparts. VidyaGyan is not any other school for the underprivileged but a state-of-the-art institution that addresses social imbalances and nurtures leaders for tomorrow.  I see VidyaGyan as a strong catalyst of transformation in the larger community. This is what I call a force multiplier, where every beneficiary acts as a catalyst of sustained transformation for many more, and is a critical element of creative philanthropy.

The potential of creative philanthropy is that if it impacts 10,000 children in the next 10 years, each one of these children has the power to touch another 10,000 lives. We are talking about a force multiplier impact on millions of lives. We are talking about creating "spirals of inspiration" that can drive real inclusive growth for the future. The Foundation is unique in its creative rather than corrective approach and on a more focused outreach rather than the mass-based approach. This is a conscious decision bearing in mind we are committed to creating leaders, who in turn will become change agents of tomorrow.

It is a model that can be scaled and replicated globally to create Philanthropic Institutions of lasting relevance and impact. Every act of philanthropy needs to last beyond individuals and impact generations over decades and centuries. Creative philanthropy has the power to drive long term, sustainable, catalytic and multiplier impact for socio-economic transformation and change the future.

The author is Founder & Chairman, Shiv Nadar Foundation

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