Take a look at this piece. If you believe the statistics here, we really aren't growing more generous although many of us are doing much better financially than we could have hoped to, barely two decades ago. In other words, we aren't exactly anxious for our money to trickle down. Whether this is because we are suspicious of agencies who seek donor funds or of NGOs themselves, I'm not sure.
I have rarely taken decisions motivated solely based on how much money I will make or lose, but I have slid back and forth between need and greed on the lifestyle scale. And I find it hard to understand what makes people hold on tighter to their wealth as they acquire more of it.
I found myself in the homes of millionaires and saw an obsessive approach to money. I also saw simplicity and good breeding. But not always. Often, I found tight fists and snipped corners. But work usually took me to the homes of those who would prefer to be left alone. Even in the midst of a crisis, I found the poor behaving with a measure of civility and consideration.
I also remember going to a struggling (but pedigreed) actress' home for an interview. It was a time when she needed to stay visible and could do with all the interviews she could get. But she kept me waiting, didn't bother to apologize, and remembered to ask whether or not I'd like some tea only when I had abandoned all hopes of getting a cup.
And even today, I find this hard to explain. What is it about money? How does it manage to change human beings in such ways? I would understand if having money lessened your insecurities and made you generous. I don't understand why it draws your empathy out into a single thread that is wrapped tightly around your immediate family and yourself.
And like I said, this is not a judgmental post. It is very likely that if I made a little more money, I would find myself changing in the same way. Perhaps, there is some in-born need to protect what you have and you always need more to protect more. I am just trying to understand why it happens.
I have been getting phone calls quite frequently, especially over the last three months, asking for donations to this or that 'sanstha'. I have always said a firm 'no' - primarily because I don't have any money left to give, but also because I don't like direct solicitations on the phone from strangers. I have not signed up on a list, nor allowed my phone number to be given out to NGOs. In fact, I have repeatedly signed up on a DND (do not disturb) list, which neither Airtel nor Reliance seems to respect. And so, when I take such calls, I am annoyed in much the same way as when I get calls from banks, insurance providers or real estate developers.
But assuming I had more than enough money, and assuming I wanted it to trickle down, would I give it to charitable organisations?
I know a lot of Indians - including many in my family - are content to help lesser privileged people in their immediate sphere of influence. Domestic workers, chauffeurs, neighbourhood sanitation workers, their extended families, and so on. 'Help' often translates into volunteering time to teach the children of such service providers, or helping organise their weddings, giving presents of money and clothes and food.
I suppose it is better than nothing. To want to help others around you is great. But there's no getting away from the fact that there is a selfish motive built into this kind of charity. You give old sarees to the cook to ensure she stays put. You put the gardener's son through school and hope he will tend to your papayas with more enthusiasm. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting your workers to stay on and work well, such 'help' seems more like work incentives, an additional family benefit or bonus.
The only people who receive money from millions of Indians, without really giving anything back but their blessings are beggars. And many of us do give money to beggars quite often, although it is not a good system to give through.
So, is 'outreach' the solution? Should charities invite more donors over to look at where the funds are being spent? I know that there are enough NGOs out there that are well-known enough to be trusted. Which doesn't mean they spend our money better. It just means that we have heard of them so often and in such positive contexts that we don't really associate their staff with misappropriation of funds. Yet, India hardly donates.
Or is there something inherently flawed abut the structure of charity and the way it makes appeals to your conscience? And why does it work better in some countries and why not in India?