It is an exciting time for Indian philanthropy, especially for institutional philanthropy in India. The sector has come a long way since 1892, when the Tata group established one of India’s first philanthropic trusts, the JN Tata Endowment. In recent times, Indian billionaires have joined the Giving Pledge led by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, and a significant number of high net-worth Individuals have been making significant contributions to Indian development.
Another significant aspect of Indian philanthropy is the rise of giving by India’s growing middle class, thanks to a flourishing Indian economy. According to some estimates, India has added millions new donors in the last decade. Although many of these donors use traditional informal channels, a large portion has started to use formal and innovative channels to funnel their contributions. Retail giving—crowdsourcing philanthropic funds from ordinary citizens—is becoming popular and supporting some of India’s largest NGOs (nongovernmental organizations). Corporations also play an important role in the sector. India is the first country in the world to make corporate giving mandatory. Total spending by companies has increased steadily since the law came into effect. Over the last several years, CSR (corporate social responsibility) spending by the top 100 Indian companies has exceeded $3 billion and is expected to keep growing.
Taking all of these sources of giving together, philanthropy is one of the largest players in the mix of development actors of India. But who is counting its contribution?
One might be tempted to think that Indian philanthropy would be the most data savvy in the world. After all, Indian data and software engineers and programmers compete and often dominate at the highest level worldwide. Ironically, the country’s philanthropic sector suffers from an acute shortage of data availability and transparency. Often contained in their own bubbles, philanthropic actors of India usually do not know who is doing what and where, who is contributing to which subject area, which population groups are getting help from which high net-worth donors, foundations, or corporations, and where their money could most complement government actions. Similarly, international foundations that fund or want to fund programs in India often see only a partial picture as they support projects in India. The lack of data results in inefficiency, redundancy and an incredible loss of opportunity to collaborate within the sector and with other development actors outside philanthropy. As a result, millions of lives across India that philanthropy could help remain out of reach.
One might think that the shortage of data, at least, is not a problem when it comes to grants made by international foundations. After all, these foundations’ contributions must be reported to the government’s publicly accessible portal under the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA). Sadly, the lion’s share of the reported data remains largely unusable. The lack of a data standard renders the data useless. To make the FCRA data useful, one must go through a thorny data-massaging process, which is time-consuming and expensive. Even then, a large part of the data remains hopelessly inadequate for any useful application.
Although corporate philanthropy and CSR, one of the biggest sources of data in Indian philanthropy, easily clear the bar set by FCRA data, they fall distinctly short in answering many critical questions important to the sector. The very general project descriptions and broad categorizations fail to provide important details imperative for the sector’s efficiency: Where and how has the money has been spent? Was the recipient an NGO or another type of organization? What thematic area and geographic location do the recipients operate in? Is the corporation running its own programs?
So how do you address some of these problems? For one, you could gather all the data available in multiple sources, clean it up, index it using a common standard and taxonomy, analyze it, and then make it available for all for free on a data visualization platform. Well, that is precisely what we did when we created the Philanthropy in India portal. The portal includes grants made by both Indian foundations and international foundations, high net-worth individuals, corporations, charities, and official donors. We have analyzed these grants to provide snapshots of the sector in an effort to answer some of the primordial questions of Indian philanthropy, such as who is doing what and where, what issues are getting funding, what issues may need more attention, and where funding gaps exist.
The funding map section of the portal provides access to disaggregated grants data so that philanthropic actors can have a better understanding of how their dollars can make greater impact while minimizing redundancy and encouraging potential collaboration between different organizations. The portal also provides access to knowledge created by and for the sector and the latest updates on Indian philanthropy. Philanthropy in India is a one-of-a-kind tool designed to address some of the data challenges that the sector experiences now.
The portal, of course, has limitations, which are directly related to data quality and availability. For example, we have very little data on grants made by Indian foundations; giving by Indian foundations is one of the largest gaps in the portal. Also, the number of grants reported in a year can vary widely as philanthropic actors’ data reporting may differ from year to year. As a result, we cannot run some much needed key analysis, including trend analysis, of Indian philanthropy. In other words, the portal is as good as the data on it. As more quality data becomes available, the more helpful it will be for Indian philanthropy. Hence, we welcome all Indian philanthropic actors to share their data with us. Not only because sharing data can enrich the portal for them but also because it can help the sector become a better version of itself.