A Path Appears…in India

Tracy Mack Parker
Executive Vice President
The Philanthropy Workshop

“Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally there is nothing—but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.”

Lu Xun, Chinese essayist, 1921, as quoted by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in their new book on making a difference, A Path Appears

In sharing learnings from TPW's most recent philanthropy education module to Mumbai, India, which included 35 TPW network members, Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi come to mind. Both individuals are inextricably intertwined when I think of India’s challenges and triumphs.

During our one week visit to Mumbai, and meetings with leadership from 34 organizations and another 40 Indian philanthropists, I could sense Mother Theresa’s and Gandhi’s spirits living through people who choose to help those most in need. Their “soul force,” to use Gandhi’s definition of nonviolent resistance, fuels these organizations who do not shy away from unrelenting problems that touch and engulf the more than 1.2 billion people who call India home.

TPW learning modules like this one to Mumbai understandably could leave you with an overwhelming sense of despair. How is it that so many people are living in entrenched poverty next door to India’s Wall Street and Bollywood? But spend a week with thoughtful, humble, and passionate philanthropists, NGO and business leaders, and community advocates, and a path appears.

Our group from The Philanthropy Workshop hailed from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Brazil, China, Taiwan, and New Zealand. Here are the top five insights from these TPW members—those who embarked on this learning journey seeking to answer the question: “How can I help make the most difference with the resources I have, at home and around the world?”

1. Talent, innovation, and progress often exist in a country that nevertheless has large-scale problems. Help build and use local talent and create agency among the community to identify problems and develop solutions. For those organizations with high potential, provide unrestricted funds for general support of their operations.

2. Devote time to see a country in person to counteract personal biases and misperceptions; participate in site visits with others to allow for fresh perspectives, to expand your own views, and to see the truth of a situation.

3. To cut through the complexity of entrenched problems, pick an area of focus, find experts who can help you learn about the root causes of these problems, and follow a defined strategy to make a difference.

4. Allow for flexibility in your strategy. Don’t chase or push trendy approaches, but rather be adept at discovering what is really needed to help make positive change. Take calculated risks by supporting pilot projects that demonstrate success for others to then bring to scale.

5. When seeking to help some of the most disenfranchised people in the world, don’t go it alone. Partner with a trusted intermediary like Dasra to help execute a global giving strategy. Help foster and participate in collaborations among organizations and funders—more can be accomplished together by pursuing aligned objectives.


Tracy Mack Parker is executive vice president of The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW). Follow her on Twitter @tracymackparker and TPW at @TPWgivebetter.

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