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Perry Garfinkel

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Another India Innovation: The Joy of Giving Week

Posted: 09/25/09 01:16 PM ET

2009-09-24-PoorIndianGirl.jpg


A fascinating cultural phenomenon will take place in India from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3.

This one will not involve an out-of-body experience or levitation. No Bollywood crossover star-turn. No Bangla-meets-hip-hop CD release. No spontaneous third-eye opening. Not even a humungous garland-laden wedding celebration on Jagmandir Island in the middle of Udaipur's Lake Pichola.

This one will simply be the joy of giving. Or more precisely, The Joy of Giving Week (http://www.joyofgivingweek.org), a program co-hosted in an egalitarian manner by 1000-plus schools, colleges and NGOs all over India, plus Rotary Clubs, corporations and many others. A bunch of volunteers are coordinating the event and it's all loosely held together by an India-based NGO, GiveIndia.org (http://www.giveindia.org).

It's not that generosity and acts of charity are unheard of in India. One can find examples from the time of the Vedas -- at least. And for sure people give gifts small and large to their Hindu temples; they lend ample support to their gurus. They celebrate a wonderful holiday called Raksha Bandhan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raksha_Bandhan), when brothers honor their sisters with gifts.

But then, as GiveIndia CEO Ujwal Thakar explains it, cow dung happens, to paraphrase him. What happened in India was the corrosion of confidence, which led to the inability to give back to society and others in need. In short, Indians fell victim to genocide -- the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. In their case, it took the form of wave after wave of dominance by oppressor after oppressor, including what is considered the worst genocide in history during the Islamic invasion beginning in 11th century, when more than 80 million Hindus and Buddhists were killed over 700 years (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide).

In effect, the British did the same but even more efficiently -- almost 100 years of rule from 1858 and 1947 -- to eat away at Indians' self confidence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_rule_in_india) by bureaucratizing to near strangulation a civilization that was quite happily feudal.

"Over centuries we were led to believe we were poor and powerless, and so we became poor and powerless," he explains. "We were mental slaves. Someone can chip away at your ego until you feel you have nothing to give. This breeds a culture of non-giving."

But the good news is that now Indians are winning -- in the capitalist era truly "earning" -- back their self worth by finding their place as a country in the flat world of global economics. On a personal level at home, there's an emerging middle class -- an estimated 150 million (out of a total population of 1.1 billion) -- finally with a tiny bit of disposable income and the confidence to give again.

This new generation of proud Indians has been inspired by the great Mahatma Gandhi's mantra, "Be the change you want to see in the world." It encouraged Venkat Krishnan, a would-be entrepreneur were it not for a huge heart and a penchant for helping those less fortunate, to found GiveIndia.

Last year GiveIndia raised $6 million from 55,000 donors; the NGO has been growing at a rate of 50 percent a year. Among the obstacles he had to overcome was to convince Indians that this NGO was credible, that the money went to the beneficiaries, that giving could be very convenient. All of which he has done. The website enables a donor to make a contribution to a specific cause or individual recipient. GiveIndia assures donors that all the participating NGO recipients guarantee that at least 50 percent of direct beneficiaries are at the poverty level.

With the Joy of Giving Week, it's even simpler and the scope is even broader, seeking to embrace the entire world. To further the notion of giving, the NGO suggests that any act of generosity is in the spirit for this week. Do some simple acts of kindness like helping an old person cross the road; or donate a toy to the next child you see on the street. Or take the example of a girl named Sara Tendulkar, who had a birthday party but instead of having her friends buys her gifts, she requested they make a donation to Apnalaya, her favorite charity. It's that simple.

Companies can reach out to their customers, distributors, vendors and suppliers, employees, shareholders and the community to create a novel "giving supply chain" during the Week.

The website offers a ton of creative options and it's not too late to jump on the giving bandwagon.

Why should Indians get to have all the spiritual benefits that giving brings?

 

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