Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you, Venky, for that generous introduction.
I want to express my deep appreciation for your warm welcome and thank you for your hospitality.
I want to thank The American Bazaar for asking me to participate in this dialogue on philanthropy. It is a distinct pleasure to be here.
A sense of humility bring us together as a fellow Indian Americans linked by common cause, common commitment, and common goals and bonded by shared history and sheared heritage.
My wife Debbie and I are delighted to be partners with all of you in this American Bazaar Philanthropy Dialogue. As we understand it, the two objectives of the Dialogue are:
- To inspire more Indian Americans to get engaged and involved in philanthropic activities
- To explore various aspects of and options for philanthropic involvement directed at India and Indians in America.
We wholly endorse both of these objectives. I will share my thoughts on them in the body of my comments.
Before doing so, however, let me put those comments into context by sharing my personal philosophy on philanthropy. (Pause)
An old saying goes, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I subscribe to that perspective. I am always reminded and guided by this phrase.
I have been fortunate through my business success to accumulate some wealth and to realize the American dream.
I accomplished this with the assistance of many others – family, college professors, business associates, friends, and most significantly, my wife, Debbie. I didn’t do it on my own, however. So, I don’t really look at my contributions to other individuals and organizations as philanthropy but rather as repayment of a loan and an investment.
The loan that is being repaid is to all those who supported me in achieving the American dream. It is a way of showing that I appreciate their generosity and collaboration in my process of being and becoming.
The investment is in the future of America and of the American dream. To me, that future rests with the next generation and that is why most of the contributions that I make as investments go to support institutions, organizations and individuals who are committed to education and making America and the world a better and safer place.
I must emphasize that as a business person I do not make these contributions as charity but as investments. I expect a return on them. The return is good work and good deeds.
My fondest hope and expectation is that in the future there will be persons in whom I have made investments who will make similar investments in others. When that happens it will make my investments sustainable and an ongoing source for renewing and replenishing the American dream.
That is the philosophy that underpins my giving. Now, let me focus on why it is important to get more Indian Americans involved in philanthropy. (Pause.)
There are two major reasons for greater Indian American involvement in philanthropy.
The first reason comes to us from India where in spite of progress over the past few decades there is still stifling poverty and a lack of education for large segments of society. Philanthropic sources in India have started to address these needs. But a study by the consulting firm, Bain and Company, presented in 2010, showed that while philanthropic giving in India led that of other developing nations – it significantly lagged that of developed nations.
There is a gap. We Indian Americans can help fill that gap.
This brings me to the second reason for greater engagement. That is even though the Indian American community is the most affluent ethnic group in the United States, my experience is —and I am sure you will agree with me on this—we are punching below our weight, when it comes to philanthropy.
A significant percentage of our community is standing on the sidelines. They need to be introduced to philanthropy and inspired to give.
In my opinion, one of the more inspirational major things to happen in the field of philanthropy in the past decade was the Giving Pledge, launched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
The Giving Pledge campaign encourages the world’s most wealthy people to commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. As the program for this Dialogue points out four Indian Americans are among the billionaires that have signed the “Giving Pledge”. They are Manoj Bhargava, Vinod and Neeru Khosla, and Romesh Wadhwani.
I must interject here, however, that philanthropy is not just for billionaires, millionaires or the wealthy. It is an egalitarian province for anyone of any means who wants to contribute and make a difference for themselves and others by giving. Indian Americans at all levels of financial accomplishment can and should be involved.
Importantly, we should remember, As Former President and current head of the Clinton Global Initiative Bill Clinton states in his book, Giving, philanthropy is not just about money. Philanthropic giving can take a variety of forms including the contribution of time, skills, and ideas.
Giving can also be targeted to a variety of areas and causes. We are fortunate as Indian Americans that groups such as AIF, Pratham, and Ekal provide a structured and organized approach for giving across a wide range of areas. Thanks to the work of these organizations and others, a number of high impact initiatives have been launched in India in fields such as education, poverty alleviation and job training, to name just a few.
The options for the type of giving – whether it is to support something here in the United States or in the India – are virtually endless. The choice comes down to giving to something that matters to you personally that will benefit others.
What that has been for my wife Debbie and me in our foundation has been to focus primarily on education and the arts and culture. That is because of our beliefs and values.
I came to this country as a student, to gain the knowledge required for success later in life. That success came because of getting education in the United States.
So, education is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. And, those who know my wife Debbie realize that the arts and culture are her passions – driven by her understanding that these areas give expression to the wings to the human soul and spirit.
Debbie and I have supported initiatives in our areas of interest both here in the United States and India. As have others contributing to this Dialogue today.
They include true Indian American leaders in philanthropy: Dr. Ajay Kela, president of the Wadhwani Foundation and Vinod Jhunjhunwala the head of Ekal who will take the stage immediately after me and Desh Deshpande of the Desphpande Foundation who will address us this evening. I am privileged and humbled to be on the same agenda with these inspirational leaders.
In closing, let me leave you with this final thought.
There is an old adage that goes, “It is better to give than to receive.” I want to modify that adage to say, ‘It is far better to give than to receive.” It is much more rewarding to give than to make money.
Famous American poet, Maya Angelou explains why when she states, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul.”
I have experienced the liberation that giving can bring as have many of you. We have been twice blessed.
I am pleased to be part of the Indian-American philanthropic liberation army and to be here with those of you who are my brothers and sisters in philanthropic arms. I ask those who have not enlisted in this movement yet to join in our cause.
It is a just cause. It is a necessary cause. It is a cause for Indian Americans to join together to make America, India and the world a better and safer place for all.
Thank you for listening to me. I have already benefited from and look forward to listening and learning from others. I am confident that our collaboration in this dialogue will establish a framework for enhancing the future philanthropic involvement of Indian Americans.
Once again thank you for this opportunity. It has been a privilege to be here.
God speed and continue to give well.
God bless you all.