I’m driving through the streets of Mumbai in one of the traditional yellow & black taxis. The windows are down in an attempt to catch a cool breeze. While the flow of air comes to an abrupt halt at each red traffic light, a flow of beggars streams in instead. My usual inner dialogue begins…to give or not to give? I clearly can’t give an alm to everyone. Or can I? I decide to observe if people in other cars give money to them. As Indians they must understand local dynamics well. Windows roll down. Coins are handed out often.
In a recent global research on giving, India continues to dominate the list of countries with the largest numbers of people helping strangers. From my years of working in India I have come to deeply appreciate the caring and generous nature of Indians. Volunteering, giving and caring are strongly embedded in their culture. I am therefore puzzled to read in another research that only 25% of giving in India comes from individuals versus 75% from individuals in the US. The report fails to track the spontaneous every day giving in India. It fails to understand the countries nature of giving. Charity is part of their lives. Birth, marriage, death are all events that not only include celebrating or gathering with friends and family, but to give to those in need as well. Often when temples hand out Prasad, it entails full meals; not only on special occasions but every single day. Astrologists may conclude reading your chart with the recommendation to give food to the needy to ease certain blockages in your path ahead. The act of giving is incorporated in the Indian culture. However it is not accountable. How can spontaneous daily acts of giving of 1,2 billion people be measured? It can’t.
So then how can NGOs be successful in India? How can NGOs secure sufficient funds and drive systematic change? Securing partners and supporters or in other words marketing your efforts is an act of positioning. It is about understanding what it is that “I can give you that you want or don’t have”. And for that one needs to understand the subtle difference of mind-sets. The West uses their intellect whereas India drives on emotions. In the West life is linear. In India it is cyclical. Here each soul has millions of lives. In the West you only have one life. Hence in India the drive to change an overall status quo seems less apparent. In Indian philosophy one moves from ‘doer-ship’ to ‘being-ness’. The Bhagavat Gita says “There is inaction in action.” It acknowledges that every being, plant and element on earth is an instrument of a bigger play. They trust in that and don’t give with the aim to change the entire world. Their outlook on life is more accepting and flexible. The Western notion of charity is based on love of fellow men, and the change from an undesirable state to a better state of being. The Hindu notion is more inward looking. The Bhagavad Gita says “Acts of sacrifice, charity and penance are not to be given up. They must be performed. Indeed, sacrifice, charity and penance purify even the great souls”. Charity purifies. It expands our consciousness and leads one to advanced spiritual life. In this way the receiver is extending us a favor by taking and accepting an alm from us. The receivers help us to attain the bliss of giving. They are also an integral part of our existence. And hence attitude of gratitude is essential in selfless service as well. This philosophy sounds interesting, and yet it may not help the millions of people who suffer in India this very moment. In order to eradicate and drive systematic change one must mobilize the nation. One must speak their language. We are set to face challenges if we intend to get the masses behind our fundraising campaign with logical facts only. Drive on emotions instead. Drive on karma.