We have a duty to give back

Date : Sep 25 , 2020 | Opinion

On the occasion of Daan Utsav (India’s week-long festival of giving, October 2 – 8 every year), Ujwal Thakar talks about Individual giving and what 2020 teaches us about giving. 

Having turned seventy recently, I often reflect on the seven decades of my life and realise how lucky I have been. Being born into an upper-middle class family, there was enough attention given to my education and nurturing my potential – an investment that has paid me dividends all through my life. This realisation has become even more acute in the COVID19 era where the survival of much of humanity seems to be at stake with hundreds of millions of human beings not knowing where their next meal will come from or how their children will survive.

It is hard not to see the disproportionate impact of the crisis on different sections of the population.  It is equally hard not to recognise how lucky several of us are and how kind the universe has been to us.   Acknowledging that we have received more than a fair deal is the first step towards recognising our responsibility and ability to pay it forward.

To give — and to give

The corollary to acknowledging your good fortune or privilege is to identify where and how you can put your abilities or your resources to the best use. I have found that encouraging, mentoring and guiding young people gives me immense pleasure. My idle time has become my biggest asset because over the years, word spread that I have time, the ability to ask questions, suggest solutions and perhaps make connections that would be useful to young people seeking help either with their enterprise, job, profession or ideas.

I spend almost all of my mornings on calls with youngsters or meeting them in person to discuss their ideas in diverse spaces such as education, livelihoods, health, kindness, governance, artificial intelligence, blockchain and so on.

We are all inherently good and want to help others. Some of us may lack discipline and consistency in our giving, or we may simply not be aware of the giving landscape in general. We, therefore need to start off with being more self-reflective and figuring out for ourselves what giving means to us as individuals and how we can give back. How much we give in terms of time or resources really depends on each of us as individuals and will differ from person to person.  

Every individual counts

One of the reasons we often hesitate to give is because we underestimate the difference we can make as individuals. The COVID-19 crisis has however helped surface gaps within our society and has provided a big motivator for people to contribute to various causes.

The power of individual giving has become quite clear over the past few months. People have become increasingly aware of the impact they can create on others, directly or by supporting the efforts of social organisations. There is a need to sustain this momentum. Especially now, with CSR and foreign funding shrinking and becoming unreliable. This can only happen when we stay engaged with issues of social change and continue to acknowledge our role in the process of change. The potential is huge, make no mistake. If 25 percent (roughly about 2 billion people) of the global population is living below the poverty line, the top 2 billion should be working to negate that, to make sure what they received is equalising and harmonising. It is our duty.

Vulnerability as a propeller for giving

We are experiencing unprecedented vulnerability and uncertainty today. Being in this situation has helped us reflect on the life we have had so far and also think about what went wrong. This vulnerability is making people understand the co-dependency that exists in society and the need to stand together, reinforcing the need to give. Having seen and experienced these truths, we have an opportunity now to make sure we never forget either our own vulnerability or our interconnectedness with others.

This Daan Utsav is as good a time as any to begin your giving journey. Start with your community, make a donation, use your skills, express gratitude, look for ways to support vulnerable communities. At the end of the day, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you are genuinely able to contribute towards positive change, be it for a family, a community or society at large.  The sense of joy and fulfilment that comes with giving is unlike anything that has ever been experienced.

After 28 successful years in the banking sector, in various leadership roles at SBI, Standard Chartered Bank, TimesBank and BNP Paribas, Ujwal Thakar moved to the social sector as CEO of Pratham in 2002. After six years at Pratham, he moved to GiveIndia, where he was CEO until he retired in 2010. Ujwal continues to be actively involved with both corporate as well as social sectors: he has been an advisor to PwC and KPMG for their banking practice, a board member at an NBFC and an advisor to a fintech startup. He chairs the board of Educate Girls, sits on the boards of Ummeed Child Development Centre, Shoshit Sewa Kendra and Arogya World, and is a partner at the social incubator, N/Core. Ujwal holds a Master’s in biochemistry and post-graduate qualification in bank management. He has been a speaker at leading business schools in India, the US and the UK.

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