Philanthropy & Public Policy

Session Report
Aishwarya Dutta

A four week immersive Online Introductory Certificate Course on Fundamentals of Public Policy organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute has been a remarkable event.
There were eight sessions in total, of which 18th of March saw three of the most distinguished speakers. The event was chaired by Prof. Mukul Asher, Former Professor, NUS Singapore & IMPRI.

After the opening address and housekeeping announcements by Fiza Mahajan, a researcher at IMPRI, the event set rolling by delegating the welcome address to Prof. Mukul Asher. He said public policy has many dimensions and it is a complex exercise to not only teach us to design a policy but also to get the desirable and intended outcomes. Policy formulation is not the end of the process, the process ends when programmes, schemes, measures based on those policies actually improve the ease of living and quality of life of the households.

This is the touchstone or real benchmark to evaluate public policy. He also talked about how philanthropy has developed a close link with public policy. Social security policies are also very essential. Gender issues have gained much more consciousness today than it has been the case before.

First Speaker: Miss Ingrid Srinath

Miss Srinath began the session by saying that there is no domain of public policy today that
is not impacted by philanthropy. Sadly however, philanthropy is one of the least studied
aspects. Very little literature is found on this aspect, not many institutions are dedicated to
studying this, no mention in the curriculum of many public policy courses.

Definition of Philanthropy

She defined philanthropy as private resources used for public purposes which take the form
of international funders, private Indian foundations, mandatory CSR, HNIs, Public/retail.
There is a wide range of purposes permissible under the law for philanthropy, the dominant
one being charitable purposes. Governments in India and around the world choose to
incentivize philanthropy through the use primarily of tax exemptions and communicate to
citizens that this is something that the government would like to encourage. Every religion in
India (including the vedas, particularly the Rig Veda) as well the tribal traditions have a
strong advocacy and history of philanthropy.

The influence of Philanthropy on Public Policy

Miss Srinath moved forward to explain how philanthropy influences public policy. It seeks to
influence public policy through priorities, laws, regulations, local, state and national
governments and various other means. Philanthropy has a thumb in its scale which means it
has the power to decide where to divert the resources. There are a number of tools available
to philanthropists and their grantees.

There are four models of influence of philanthropy: Financial, demonstrative, relational, conceptual levers as postulated by Louis C Boorstin of the Osprey Foundation. Beyond the actual grant making there is a continuum of influence: Campaign finance, media: nonprofit/for-profit, think tanks/research/academy. Philanthropy as a collective or big philanthropists in their individual capacities can sway the whole direction of a sector.

She then talked about how philanthropy is treated in terms of Public policy in India. It is not
treated very differently from the rest of the financial sector. Philanthropic organisations can
take various forms. There have been diminishing incentives for philanthropy. She highlighted
the ideal roles that a philanthropic organisation should be playing : it serves as a school of
citizenship, provides plurality of choice, shapes social norms and public opinion, and plays
an important role in building the ecosystem.

She further elaborates that philanthropy is a product of both serious distributive injustice and a necessary response to unjust or inadequate social institutions. The advancement of democratic ideals requires some sort of philanthropy. But here arises a serious question: How to make philanthropy safe for democracy while protecting its necessary independence?

A recent book by Emma Saunders-Hastings called Private Virtues, Public Vices – Philanthropy and Democratic Equality addresses how philanthropic money can be distributed ideally among the wider public. In what way does philanthropy address inequality is one of the questions involved in the normative checklist. Other questions include how philanthropy protects liberty and popular sovereignty, how does it counter majoritarianism, how does it facilitate diverse, vibrant and associational life, how does it model democratic norms and practices, limits control, authorship and paternalism, provides alternatives to and not substitutes for robust public options, issues basic justice.

But it doesn’t end here. It is not only about giving out money, another question that needs to be addressed is how time is utilised, volunteerism of skill, mutual aid of community spiritedness because that is in real terms the bedrock of democracy. Focus should also be given on the self-regulating mechanisms that need to be devised as a collective of philanthropists,
building the institutions and permitting the media of adequate scrutiny over various cases.

Concluding remarks

She concluded the session by quoting Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation who said, “Philanthropists need to engage in repairing the very mechanisms that produce, preserve, and promote our privilege. I believe we must practise a better vision of philanthropy, one that improves itself and the societies of which we are members.” Post her presentation, Prof Mukul Asher expressed his vote of thanks to Ms Srinath.

Acknowledgement: Aishwarya Dutta is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here.

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Authors

  • IMPRI Desk
  • IMPRI

    IMPRI, a startup research think tank, is a platform for pro-active, independent, non-partisan and policy-based research. It contributes to debates and deliberations for action-based solutions to a host of strategic issues. IMPRI is committed to democracy, mobilization and community building.

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