By Abha Rai:
Philanthropy involves the transfer of financial resources from the donor possessing unallocated surplus financial resources and desirous of achieving his perceived cherished goal of benefitting less affluent individual/s or group in areas considered important by the donor. The donor may be an individual or a corporate identity. Here we are considering corporate philanthropy. A very important yet multifaceted buzzword, “strategic philanthropy” can be defined as the efforts made by a company’s philanthropic arm to support a social cause; ultimately benefitting the community while achieving the core objectives being endorsed by the company.
Having had the opportunity to work in India for years in both the grant giving as well as the grant receiving side, I questioned the ultimate beneficiary of this strategy. In my opinion, the supposed altruistic support through charitable giving by companies is not so selfless after all. In a recent conversation with corporate foundations, an obvious link between the importance attributed to the image of the organization and the associated giving options surfaced.
In an attempt to deconstruct the rationale for selecting India as a potential market for investment, the country’s developing nature and exhibition of diverse cultures, communities and a gamut of social problems within it is often cited. Corporate foundations bearing both an Indian as well a foreign origin continue to make “strategic investments” toward sectors that they align to most strongly. On every occasion that I have had the opportunity to interact with these corporations, I have never been disappointed with the work that they undertake. However, my cause of growing concern has always been the reason for their investment. During such situations, my experience with non-profits comes in handy. I have seen a great proportion of them becoming marionettes in the hands of large corporations. The manner in which a project worthy of investment is devised is based primarily upon the needs of the company. The area of investment that is chosen may support the efforts made by non-profits or the needs of the community, but it is definitely not the area of prime importance. At this point, I would like to revert to my original goal of deconstructing the nuance of strategic philanthropy. Prima facie, it seems like the strategy is developed to and for the benefit of the company. Philanthropic investments a few times are confused with cause-based marketing efforts as well. It has been observed not once, but several times that community dwellers are asked to pose for a picture or take part in a press release to add accolades to the work being done by these large corporations.
To me, it does seem that corporate giving is very convenient in a country like India. The population that is usually targeted for such initiatives lives in abysmal conditions and any support that is rendered to them is viewed upon positively. Although, there is an emphasis that is laid upon the term “community assessment”, the investments that are made by the grant-giving organizations is at most times based on their convenience, giving capacity and brand building exercise. There are also many organizations who continue to invest in India using foreign professionals who come to India for a limited term, which temporarily benefit the country and do not add to the overall growth and advancement of the country. In my experience, I have viewed a plethora of corporate initiatives sprouting in an attempt to further their objective to portray a positive image of the company. The causes that are supported range from distributing luxury goods amongst the marginalized communities to sporadically building monumental structures to provide education to children in communities with no access to electricity or the ability to sustain the structure.
Despite the efforts that are being made by such corporations, the Indian community and the non-profits that exist within are merely agents of furthering the objective of the respective company’s philanthropic arm. Several examples of non-profit programs continue to exist whereby they have had to modify their own programs to satiate the demands made by corporations. Non-profits at most times are financially unsound and are always seeking the support of corporations to further their efforts rooted in social justice. Hence, they are manipulated into suiting the needs of the company in exchange of their support.
In conclusion, it is my earnest belief that the tenacity with which the objectives of the philanthropic needs of the companies are furthered should in fact be ascribed to supporting nonprofit and community needs. In a country that is repeatedly called a Petri dish to try and test corporate programs, the needs of non-profits seem to be getting lost. Thus, it is of paramount importance to shift the focus from strategic philanthropy from the perspective of companies’ and start viewing it from the lens of non-profit organizations.