Amit Chandra wanted to feed 70,000 people in three days. It was early in April, the central government had imposed its first lockdown to combat Covid-19, and the Maharashtra government was blindsided. The local public distribution systems in Mumbai could not immediately deliver food and essential grocery supplies to marginalised people living in densely populated slums that were turning into coronavirus hotspots. Chandra, 52, realised that if people did not get food on time, the situation could snowball into a humanitarian crisis.
His team at the ATE Chandra Foundation, which usually works on capacity building of non-profits and rural development programmes, found itself in unknown territory when it came to food relief distribution. “But we had to learn, so we did,” says Chandra, who is managing director of Bain Capital Private Equity, India.
The pandemic had overturned all that they knew about working in the social sector. Chandra and team reached out to other local non-profits like the Praja Foundation that had the experience to build a supply chain that would deliver food to the poor. Chandra, who had started looking beyond corporate boardrooms into the development sector almost two decades ago, understood from experience that a good philanthropist knows when to stick to practices like returns on investment, documentation and diligence, and when to let go of them for the greater good. The problem needed to be solved today, there was no time to waste, and so the only way out was to trust each other.
His volunteers and partners managed to reach the 70,000 mark in a week. “Soon, other funders asked us if we could do this for them too,” says Gayatri Nair Lobo, COO, ATE Chandra Foundation. So, along with contributions from donors, including Swati and Ajay Piramal, Hemendra Kothari, Noshir Soonawala, Lalita Gupte, Azmin and Noshir Kaka, and others, the ATE Chandra Foundation reached over 10 lakh people in Mumbai and provided close to 2 crore meals in two months, starting April. Out of this, the Foundation, on its own, directly impacted around 2.2 lakh people with 73 lakh meals. Each kit consisted of rice, wheat flour, vegetables, fruits, oil, sugar, salt, pulses, and spices that would suffice a family for at least two weeks, along with hygiene products like soaps, sanitisers, and masks, says Lobo. A total of ₹11.47 crore funds were leveraged with the help of co-donors.
As his volunteers packed these meals in the NSCI Dome in Mumbai’s Worli (before it was converted into a Covid hospital), Chandra and his wife Archana would visit, spending time with the team and other NGO leaders to guide and motivate them. “Because philanthropy is to lead by example and care for people from your heart,” Chandra says.
The banker-turned-private equity (PE) investor-led many other diverse Covid-related health programmes, working with multiple stakeholders. This included building a 219-bed ICU facility operated by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation at NESCO, Goregaon; donating close to one lakh personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, 29,350 N95 masks, eight ventilators and five oxygenator machines across Maharashtra and Rajasthan; partnering with Harsh Mariwala’s Marico Innovation Foundation to support five scalable solutions around ventilators and PPE kits; helping in execution and data analysis of the serosurvey conducted among 15,000-odd people in Mumbai to understand the extent of the infection among the population; and organising hygiene awareness campaigns in slum areas of the city.
He directly contributed close to ₹5 crore for these health initiatives, and leveraged approximately ₹8 crore from his network. Apart from Covid relief and rehabilitation efforts, his foundation continues its regular programmes of rural development, capacity and leadership-building, and encouraging everyday philanthropic giving among common people.
Chandra, along with his wife Archana [CEO, Jai Vakeel Foundation], donated ₹27 crore of personal wealth in FY20, according to the EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List released in November, earning him the distinction of being the first and only professional to be included in the list that is otherwise populated by entrepreneurs.
India has had a good, and growing, legacy of charitable businesspersons setting aside a certain proportion of their billion-dollar net worth to solve social problems. But Chandra represents an emerging cohort of professionals—venture capitalists (VC), PE investors, bankers, consultants, and others— who are taking it upon themselves to not only share money, but also time, expertise, and network to benefit the development sector. Technology, transparency and evolving attitudes towards wealth are reshaping approaches to giving, with professionals becoming more results-focussed.
The efforts and contributions made by this group are fragmented, and not much public data is available for consolidation, comparison or analysis yet, as it is in the case of top donors. But experts in philanthropy and strategic giving believe professionals are active now more than ever, with the emergencies imposed by the pandemic increasing their intent and the quantum of financial donations.
“We have the Tatas, Premjis, and other prominent legacy donors at the top of the philanthropy pyramid. The bottom has retail, everyday givers. It is the middle of the pyramid, comprising professionals and executives, which has been growing from strength-to-strength, becoming more organised and structured,” says Srikrishna Murthy, co-founder of Sattva Consulting, a social enterprise that works in the non-profit space. He says one of the main reasons for this is the structuring and the formalisation of the social sector over the years.
Vidya Shah, CEO of EdelGive Foundation—it brings out the philanthropy list mentioned earlier—says that in her experience, personal income that professionals are willing to invest in philanthropy ranges from ₹5 lakh to ₹50 lakh per year. “Their long-term engagement with organisations has resulted in increased quantum over the years,” she says.
The professionals they work with are in the 40 to 50 age group, and from backgrounds including IT, manufacturing, financial services and others. The main difference between them and billionaire givers, according to Shah, is that the former have “openness in accepting innovation in giving and adopting flexibility in funding”.
Professionals are more welcoming, she explains, to fund non-traditional sectors and other areas such as organisational development. “For billionaire entrepreneurs, the landscape of their investments, owing to the size of their contributions, is much larger both in terms of project size and impact. They also prefer self-implementation of programmes, rather than engaging with implementing partners.”
The ACT Grants, a ₹100 crore Covid-19 relief fund formed by a group of VCs, PE investors and startup executives, is an example of professional philanthropic efforts centred around new-age technological innovations.
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