How much to give?….

Published on Times of India – 30th March 2011
“I want to give my kids just enough so that they would feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they would feel like doing nothing” – Warren Buffet. By 2006, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway had pledged to donate 99% of his wealth to charity. Warren Buffet and his friend Bill Gates were on their charity sojourn to India recently. The duo’s mission was to educate rich Indians on giving away money and not on how to make money. And it is not easy to get any investment advise from Buffet either, unless you bid successfully on an e-bay auction (bid begins at US$25,000 and the winning bid inches and sometimes crosses the US$1,000,000 mark) to have a two hour dinner with Buffet along with seven of your friends and a chance to appear on CNBC. Buffet was treated like a superstar in India, people swarmed around him like flies and the Indian media covered him grandly while Buffet undertook his philanthropy tour sipping Coke when he got thirsty. (He owns 7% of Coca Cola). The Oracle of Omaha, the third richest man in the world and at the ripe age of 80 is still the shrewdest investor the world has ever seen.

But, do we Indians need to be shown the light on philanthropy from the likes of Buffet and Gates? We have our own NR Narayana Murthy whose wife Sudha runs the Infosys foundation that focuses on healthcare, education and social rehabilitation for the underprivileged. And there is Aziz Premji who liquidated a small part of his stock in Wipro last year and pledged US $2 billion towards education and social projects. But the quantum that rich Indians are willing to donate is still a flyspeck in comparison to Gate’s US $37 billion foundation and Buffet’s $200 billion empire, of which 99% of Buffet’s share will be going to charity. In 2010, there were 5 Indians in Forbe’s list of top 50 billionaires and one of them owns the world’s first billion dollar home. A home, Antilla, that stands tall and dwarfs any form of abject poverty that would dare to seek some shade under its shadows.

Do self-made billionaires tend to part with their wealth more than those from a dynastical lineage? Do they have the confidence that they can recreate the wealth they have earned even if they part with a majority of it when compared to those who have inherited their fortune? The rich invariably seek greater tax benefits or greater publicity or both. Buffet and Gates are rare and extraordinary benefactors. But, no matter how hard Buffet and Gates try, they cannot break through the psyche of the rich here in India or China or in any other part of this world on their globe trotting mission. No one can force another into an act of altruism. You don’t have to be rich to give and neither do you need a motive to give.

As children we were told that by giving we receive ten folds more. As a child, I took this sermon very seriously. I would “donate” my food to hungry dogs, straying cats, grazing cows, wandering goats, scurrying chicks and I would also share food with the domestic help, their children and give away my daily dose of the disgusting tasting Bournvita milk to a potted plant in the corner of the living room. I did get the promised ten folds in return, amply delivered by short-tempered adults. None of these philanthropic activities as a child got me better grades or more pocket money. But, I never gave up hope. The “hope” that one day, the kind God, clad in his customary white, would appear in the backdrop of incense wisps and to the sound of the clanging bells and grant me the boon of passing my exams effortlessly. Never did any such thing happen. Every exam was a struggle.

During my transmigration into adulthood, the “giving” activities seem to have increased naturally without having to listen to preaching adults and screeching discourses. The end result of “giving” slowly became obscure. Expectations finally took a back seat. The joy of giving took centre stage. When one gives without expectations, there is much power in giving. There were no bargains or business deals that I struck with God. It almost seemed contemptible to even think that way. There is much exultation I have secured in watching a hungry puppy lap up the last drop of milk from a clanging bowl with his one paw dipping into it or seeing the grades of a child who has decided to deal with destiny in a different way to what his parents did. The real power you wield is in the power of “giving”. You don’t have to be Buffet or Gates; you already have enough to give.


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