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Article by Mohan Babu


Indians play the Good Samaritan in US!

Indians in America, especially those who can afford to, generally rally around to help others though they do not have a formal tradition of donating to charities, says Mohan Babu

In my prior columns, I talked about the financial habits of Indians in the US, how we make and invest money in the US. While there is little doubt that most of us who leave our homeland are here to further our own goals and enrich ourselves — by experience and in terms of amassing wealth — we do not forget our roots. Making money may be the means but not the end. Many Indians in US and elsewhere in the world also tend to periodically revisit their altruistic side by giving back to the society.

Americans seem to be generous when it comes to their involvement with charities and foundations; they gave $175 billion to charity in 1999. A bulk of this money went to universities, hospitals, churches and the arts. Charities in America work like fine-tuned machines and they can afford to be so — for example, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest charity has an endowment of $22 billion. All the hype over charities is contagious and even Indians tend to catch the “charity bug”.

Indians in America, especially those who can afford to, generally rally around to help others although we do not have a formal tradition of donating to charities. Many of us in the US consider ourselves fortunate to be working towards a position of financial security and do not tend to easily forget where we come from. Some like to volunteer their time to manage local chapters of charities or organising events. Others like to be more hands-off, preferring to donate a set amount of money every year.

India, with all the social and economic problems that it faces, needs all the help it can get. There are millions of enthusiastic, energetic young people, who, given an opportunity would be more than willing to find a niche for themselves. In a nation where a good percentage of population is below the poverty line, even the grind of daily existence becomes a chore. The government can only do so much and this is where NGOs (non-government organisations) and other charities need to step up to the plate. Many social problems stem from the tremendous inequality of wealth in the world today. Charitable organisations are intended to rectify these social problems, partly by a voluntary redistribution of the wealth.

Many Indian charities have started looking outside for assistance. They are realising that Indian expatriates form a good source that they can tap into. Some of them have found the support of volunteers in the US who manage local chapters and branches. Of course, due to the nature of amount collected, most charities in the US are highly regulated. Charities operating in the US also have a tax-deductible status under IRS (Internal Revenue Service) codes. Contributions are generally acknowledged with a receipt including tax-ID number along with the amount of donation. This way, people donating to these charities can also claim a tax break, making for a win-win proposition.

Indian charities in the US also conduct regular charitable events and fund raisers. Of course, the Web and e-mail have been a very powerful tool in generating awareness. For example, during January and February I received dozens of e-mails from friends and associates about charities raising money for the earthquake victims.

Raising money for charity need not be a dry and monotonous affair. As volunteers of Asha- Colorado recently set out to prove, it can also be a lot of fun. Asha-Colorado, founded in spring of 1995, is an action group formed by professionals and students in the Denver-Boulder-Ft. Collins area. They recently organised “Geetanjali”, an ethnic cultural festival in Denver that attracted nearly six hundred people. Local talent volunteered their time to organise and co-ordinate the event, netting over 5,700 dollars, which is a good amount considering that Asha-Colorado is a small chapter and the Indian community here is very small. This program also helped increase awareness about Asha and charitable organisations in the Indian community.

Founded in 1991 at the University of California at Berkeley, Asha aims to bring hope to underprivileged children through educational opportunities. Asha works with organisations in the Indian states of Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.

Even corporations in the US, especially those with a sizeable Indian population, sometimes rally around special causes. Case in point, immediately after the earthquake in Gujarat, employees of Microsoft Worldwide pooled about $150,000 for the victims and talked the company into matching the sum, raising a total of over $400,000. Many large corporations also have a policy of donating a part of their profits to local charities and Indians working in the higher echelons of some of the Fortune 500 companies have been instrumental in channelling some of the corporate donations towards their favourite charities in India. Many US corporations also have a matching donations program whereby they donate an equal amount towards their employees preferred charities.

In the Indian context, the word ‘Charity’ is generally looked upon with suspicion and disdain. There are innumerable horror stories about misuse of distribution channels, and ways in which the money that is donated to India is misappropriated. On hearing and reading about these stories, many who want to do their part towards helping others also feel disillusioned. Of course, for every black sheep there are dozens who are trying to do their bit.

As the population of Indians in the US continues to grow, working with charities and foundations may become a noble outlet for some.

Post Script: Let me point out that neither myself, nor my fellow software engineers in the US are millionaire philanthropists looking for ways to spend money. I have added this caveat just to thwart readers from shooting off e-mails asking me for a donation for some obscure fund or charity.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    For FAQ, Trivia and Information on Life in America, visit the Ask-A-Desi section

    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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