Last week was a special week in the sense that causes that needed to be highlighted were not done in an environment where eminent grises like the Gates and the Buffets of the world would lecture on you how to give back. Instead the atmosphere was convivial and almost celebratory.
I have often maintained that charity does not have to be a serious business. You may be serious about giving back to communities but you don’t have to be mud-soaked activist who makes the others feel guilty about doing so: instead the best results are when you create a non-threatening environment in which people are happy enough to spread the joy amongst the lesser privileged.
Which is when I was first asked to work with (and then join the Indian Advisory Council of) The British Asian Trust, I did it with alacrity. Not because there is a dearth of organisations within India but also because of the vision of Prince Charles, heir to the British Throne. The Prince has always blazed a trail: be it in organic farming or for that matter in architecture and so on. He is a conservationist first and then a Royal. Organisations like his can help India in more ways than just raising money. At the first ever India Council Meeting he spoke passionately about working with the Government of Uttarakhand post the horrific natural calamity: but there the work will be based on all the experiences that the Trust has gleaned all over the world.
Of marrying economic expediency with environmental concern. One element of the insight he uses is when he told us that he believed the locals were always the best when it came to solutions around preservation and conservation since they would be the most endangered if anything untoward happened in this domain. It is this insight that has enabled The Prince’s Trust to work across the world. Be it in Saudi Arabia or for that matter in Jamaica.
We in India invented more than just the zero. Manu in ManuSmriti several thousands of years ago mentions the word daana and that tradition has continued. It may not have matched the financial muscle of those billionaires in the United States in Europe but there has been a legacy of giving back that we in India must be proud of.
I admire the manner in which the House of Tata for several decades has conducted its responsibility towards the communities it engages with both in business as well as beyond business. The Mahindras for long have been supporting and engendering the cause of education and the girl child and Nanni Kali is a prime example of this. Reliance was almost the first company to send an army of its engineers to help with the salvaging operations at Uttarakhand.
Ajay Piramal continues to be an amazing supporter of Pratham while Kumar Birla and his gracious mother do so much under the radar that it makes you proud of the kind of India we have today. There are many others: be it Hemendra Kothari and all he is doing with wildlife or for that matter unsung heroes like Rajendra Singh and Bunker Roy.
This is a nation that is suited for giving back because the rituals we observe and the gods we worship have giving back built into their process architecture. When you finish observing the Navratras, the fruit post the pujas must be fed to cows. If you look at the basic tenets of Islam, then again, giving back is fundamental.
Which is why at the dinner that launched The British Asian Trust’s India Advisory Council was special. You saw committed people. You saw people who were of the unabashed belief that compassion is the only effective antidote for conflict and that in a just world, there can be no virtue more powerful that enabling people to achieve their own potential.
Prince Charles has sown the seeds of yet another life-altering movement, which hopefully will bring about greater change for those who need it the most.