Observations on Bridging Philanthropy and Development in Asia

Observations on Bridging Philanthropy and Development in Asia

This illustration is at the heart of my reflections for this blog, as I prepare for the forum to be held next week at the Bellagio Centre on Bridging Philanthropy and Development in Asia and Africa.

For Asian development practitioner and philanthropists living in very interesting times, some even labelling it the Asian century, I believe we have a responsibility to be the change we want to see in this world.  Here are some of the changes that I believe could bridge philanthropy and development:

Participation: One that genuinely empowers the community, rather than as a tool for establishing power relationships between the donor and the charity or development agency. Despite the attempts and experimentation with bringing about collaboration between donors and implementing agencies, my observation in that in most cases it’s merely an attempt to integrate indigenous views into pre-determined positions of the donor or even the development intermediary, without much say from the impacted community.

Asian philanthropists and development practitioners have a great opportunity to put authentic empowerment into practise. The profile of an Asian philanthropist is very different from that of their western counterparts and leadership within funding agencies.

Bain & Company in their India Philanthropy Report 2012 reports that of the 400 high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs*) and emerging HNWIs in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Pune surveyed:

•    More than 70% of the donors have less than three years of philanthropic experience. Majority were 40 years old or younger
•    Among families who participate in philanthropy, 76% have younger relatives who have assumed an active role in choosing charities, while 69% say young members shape or spearhead the family’s charitable mission
•    Private foundations are beginning to play a major role in Philanthropy

Process Innovation: Over the past few decades the dependence on ‘foreign aid’ has developed a whole generation of Asian development practitioners who are conditioned by the linear thinking and reporting requirements of their western funders. Despite these processes, the grant makers are often unable to receive the quality and quantity of written information that they seek of their grantees. At the same time, the application and reporting requirements have made these funding impractical for many grassroots organizations or the time and effort expended to get a grant is at times not proportionate to the size of the grant. Donor reporting requirements driven by matrixes and frameworks, do not consider stories from the ground as sophisticated theory, thus losing out on the possibility of hearing the real voices.

Asian philanthropists and development practitioners have a tremendous opportunity to close this gap by looking innovatively at the processes needed for engagement, tracking and celebrating the impact with the community.  Philanthropists have an opportunity to foster open, empowering, and flexible relationships with their grantees that could leverage on technological advancements in communications while at the same time build on our rich tradition of oral storytelling.


The profile and motivations of the Asian philanthropists differ in many ways from the donors that development practitioners are used to dealing with, in the past. UBS-INSEAD Study of Family Philanthropy in Asia that covered over 200 surveys and over a hundred personal interviews with wealthy Asian families from 10 Asia Pacific countries, found the following motivations of Asian philanthropists:

•    42% of respondents said their major reason to engage philanthropy is to make sure they ensure the continuity of their family values and to create a lasting legacy for future generations.
•    They tend to donate to their own countries, with roughly 70% of donations on average in 2010 given to national causes. However the younger philanthropists seemed more open to national and international causes.
•    36% of donations went into education, while poverty alleviation accounted for 10% and healthcare for 9%. However younger philanthropists seemed more open to sectors such as the arts, civil rights and the environment
•    Family business remains an important source of funds with 22% of the families studied reporting company profits as providing funding for their philanthropy and prefer maintaining operational control, rather than working collaboratively or as grant-making entities
•    36% of survey respondents ranked Social Entrepreneurship as the most important trend that will affect philanthropy in Asia, with a growing interest among family philanthropies in the sustainable and transformative potential of social ventures with earned income strategies.

Hence it is the mutual responsibility of both the philanthropists and the development practitioners to forge collaborations that will take us all to our common goal – a thriving world for us and our future generations.

Usha Menon is Executive Chairman of Usha Menon Management Consultancy, an international training and consultancy service for the non-profit sector across Asia, specialising in strategic management, inspirational leadership development and mission driven fundraising. Usha is a keen observer and an active global participant in the non-profit sector for the past 25 years.

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