India's growing wealth boosts charitable giving

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 1, 2010; 1:47 AM

MUMBAI - The Malkani family made its fortune selling plane tickets and tour packages to India's fast-expanding middle class, building one of the country's first online travel agencies.

Now the Malkanis are among a growing number of successful Indian entrepreneurs blazing another trail: charitable giving.

"Earlier, if an Indian traveled, it was so rare that 25 people would see them off at the airport, garland them with flowers and print their picture in the newspaper," said Anjal Malkani, whose husband helped her family start the business. "That has completely changed in India, and we've been so blessed in our lives to benefit. We wanted to give back."

As India's wealth continues to expand, a growing number of millionaires here are finding ways to do more for the poor, especially as cash-strapped foreign donors, including the United States, curtail aid.

The philanthropic mood extends to some of India's biggest corporations, many of them IT companies at the forefront of India's boom.

India has a long tradition of giving, and all major religions here - Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism - see charity as a cornerstone of a noble, happy life. Wealthy families have long built wells and schools in their native villages, and even the poorest Indians leave a rupee coin at a temple or mosque.

But organized, large-scale giving by wealthy Indians and corporations has only recently become common as India's economy soars ahead.

"Old money really looked at alleviating poverty and community development - largely at factory sites - by providing services and facilities to their workers," said Priya Viswanath, a philanthropy expert. "New money giving is really about empowerment."

The number of Indian billionaires grew from 27 in 2009 to 52 this year, according to a report by Bain, a global consulting firm. Half of the top 25 Asian billionaires listed in a recent Forbes magazine survey were Indian.

During a visit to China last month, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett urged Asia's billionaires to give more. India's growing pool of super rich would be their next target, they said.

Where to invest?

Indian billionaires give more than billionaires in China but less than those in developed countries, including the United States, according to the Bain report.

The U.S. Agency for International Development gives India $131 million per year to fund girls' education, farming programs and solar energy projects. But those funds have long been a source of embarrassment for India's government, which is teaming up with Indian corporations to help the poor.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company