If I look back at my journey—from where I started and what I have accomplished—I can only say God has been very kind. Some years ago, I realised that we need to share some of our good fortune with the society at large. As education had brought in great dividends in our lives, we decided to focus on education, with a simple vision to transform lives through education.
I was born in a small village in Kerala to parents who were farmers. Though my parents had limited means, my mother greatly stressed upon us the importance of getting an education. My brother and I studied in local schools. My mother encouraged me to pursue higher education for which I moved to Cochin. My early experiences reinforced my belief in the power of education and encouraged me to set up the Sarojini Damodaran Foundation in 1999 and the Advaith Foundation in 2004.
In spite of being a fast-growing economy, a large number of Indians still live in poverty. Moreover, the inequality gap between the haves and have-nots is widening and it is up to the fortunate to bring this inequality down. While the number of millionaires in India is estimated to rise sharply between 2018-2023, poverty in India is also on the rise. Individual philanthropy is witnessing a strong growth of 21 per cent per year for the past five years where these individuals currently contribute about 60 per cent of the total private funding, estimated at Rs 43,000 crore.
This is where my core message comes in: Every individual matters, every individual has a role to play and every individual can make a difference. To be honest, poverty cannot be eradicated only by the efforts of the richest in the society. It requires efforts from all stakeholders. It also needs contributions from individuals fortunate to have more than what they need, to step forward and help in whatever way possible, with resources—be it financial or their time—to improve the standards of living of the most underserved sections of the community.
Everyone’s contribution helps: The power of one is immense. We often come across phrases like, “it only takes one person to change the world”. You can contribute in monetary terms or with your time. Be it a generous amount donated towards feeding a child or a family or helping them avail quality education. Your money can be used in multiple ways to benefit people in need. With respect to time, you as an individual can volunteer to support children or the ill. You could use this time to teach children on a regular basis.
Assess and focus on the sector you want to donate towards: Once convinced that your contributions can bring about a positive change, do research on where you want to contribute. The UN focussed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is good to start with. It provides a clear picture of where humans need the most support—poverty eradication, education and sanitation are among 17 areas which need attention.
While it is easier to choose an area closer to your heart, however, it is advised to opt for areas which need the highest amount of support in terms of money and other resources.
Forging partnerships with NGOs: Once you have identified and decided which SDG to focus towards, it will be good to understand how you could support the cause by partnering with a credible and reliable NGO or foundation working in the same field. Join an organisation that believes in transparency and accountability while creating a positive impact through their efforts. Your help can help them scale their operations to the next level.
To conclude, our individual efforts and actions may inspire others to do the same. In my experience, the people who receive, help others in the future when they are in the position to do so. This creates a circle of giving and benefit society as a whole.