Collaborating Across Borders: TPW’s Global Journey to India

Jennifer Davis
Senior Officer
The Philanthropy Workshop

A light bulb goes off for students at Lend-A-Hand India's vocational training program.

In February, members from The Philanthropy Workshop traveled to India, the world’s largest democracy and home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

TPW’s 2016 Global Journey to India considered the role of philanthropy in a country whose cultural diversity and dynamic economy make for a rich international setting to explore strategies for affecting purpose-driven, sustainable change. We traveled to Mumbai and Pune in Maharashtra state to meet with our assembled faculty of civil society leaders, government officials, private sector innovators and Indian philanthropists to learn different approaches for impacting positive change.

The cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge throughout the week created an ideal environment to learn from and alongside this tremendous network of TPW members and other philanthropic peers, thought leaders and practitioners from around the world.

Although individuals took away different impressions and learnings from the program, a few common themes continued to arise throughout the week, which I’d like to share:

Scale: There is huge potential to test and roll out models of inclusive growth in India. The country’s advancements since achieving independence in 1947 are extraordinary: literacy rates have quadrupled, life expectancy has more than doubled, and a significant middle class has emerged. India is also home to one-third of the world’s extreme poor and continues to struggle to provide access to basic public services like clean air, water, food, healthcare, and education.

Against this backdrop, India is a testing ground for scaleable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We met visionary and innovative leaders in Mumbai and Pune who are spearheading new initiatives to build models of inclusive growth that can be scaled up across the nation, and beyond.

Context, Context, Context: Home to over 1.2 billion people and one of the world’s largest economies, India is an amalgam of different languages, religions, cultures and ethnicities. Throughout the week we sought to gain insight into contemporary India’s social, economic and developmental dynamics and learn how philanthropy is evolving to address pressing societal and environmental needs.

Understanding the context of a country as diverse as India is integral to effective philanthropy and more than a little daunting. Taking the time to do this well is important, as is working with intermediaries like Dasra–India’s premier strategic philanthropy organization–to understand local conditions, challenges and opportunities, and to assess the landscape.

Human Capital: We were struck by the extraordinary talent, leadership and passion of India’s civil society leaders. It is a vibrant but also crowded space: the first-ever exercise by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation to map registered NGOs disclosed in 2015 that India has at least 3.1 million NGOs — about one NGO for every 400 people, which is more than double the number of schools and 250 times the number of government hospitals in the country. How India will harness this talent and create an environment for more leaders to flourish and collaborate is a key to its future prosperity.

Learning from Peers: This is a near-constant at TPW. The caliber, commitment and cool of the TPW network is without parallel; during the week, we met many Indian philanthropists who are similarly working to address some of their nation’s biggest challenges, amplifying our peer learning. Keeping pace with India’s growth rates is its philanthropy space, which is decidedly ahead of other countries with similar levels of prosperity. 100 million new donors have begun giving since 2009 and more than a third of current individual donors expect their donations to increase in the next five years. In the private sector, India passed the world’s first mandated Corporate Social Responsibility law in 2014, requiring large- and medium-sized companies doing business in India to spend 2% of their profits on charitable causes.

Policy Implementation Gaps: We learned of an abundance of successful advocacy efforts and policy change campaigns. However, we also witnessed many gaps in the implementation of these policies. We met brilliant thought leaders who are working with diverse stakeholders to push for consistent, equitable and effective policy implementation.

The Power of Collaboration: It was tremendously exciting to learn about highly effective collaborations between philanthropists, civil society leaders, private sector leaders and government officials. We witnessed inspiring examples of shared value moving from concept to reality to impact.

How India overall develops its considerable human potential and tests new models of growth will shape its future. These challenges are being addressed by a thriving population of NGOs and social enterprises, many of which work in collaboration with the government and the private sector. Their work at such a crucial and transformational time in India’s development, and the massive scale of the problems they are working to address, provide us a rare opportunity to consider the promise and power of philanthropy for systemic change.

Jennifer Davis is a senior officer of The Philanthropy Workshop. For more information, follow Twitter @TPWgivebetter or visit

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