An evening with Chelsea Clinton, $100,000 tables, for Pratham and India

Charities for projects in India on a new high in the US.

By Sujeet Rajan

NEW YORK: When Chelsea Clinton took the podium at The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, Friday evening, donors toasted her from tables that went for $100,000.

Auction items like ‘The priceless Arnold Palmer golf experience,’ valued at $35,000; ‘Indulge in a liquid gold whiskey experience’ ($25,000); exorbitant travel trips: ‘The ultimate luxury rail experience’ onboard The Maharajas’ Express ($30,000), a vacation to Goa ($35,000), were up for grabs at the splendid meet.

It was not the start of the Hillary Clinton for President for 2016 campaign, though. It was a gala hosted by Pratham, to raise money for literacy programs in India. Chelsea Clinton headlined the benefit.

Even during the height of the financial crisis, the Indian American community didn’t let down on raising money for causes in India. An indication that the recession is over can be seen in the uptick in fundraising. A stupendous amount of money is being raised for projects in India, like never before.

Pratham expects to raise $11-12 million from 30 events held across the US, this year. This is up from $8.4 million in 2009; $8.6 million in 2010. Overall, since its inception in the mid-nineties, it’s raised around $100 million, says Dinyar Devitre, the Chairman-Elect of Pratham USA. The expected take from the Friday gala: around $2 million.

“The Indian diaspora is becoming bigger, richer, more powerful,” said Devitre, a veteran international business executive based in New York, and an alumni of IIM Ahmedabad. “The pool of money is growing rapidly.”

The American India Foundation (AIF) has raised around $80 million since its inception in 2001. It continues to expand its roots.

Later this month, AIF will host a talk between former Ambassador Frank Wisner and Ravi Venkatesan, former Chairman, Microsoft India, here. In November, it will hold their Washington, DC, annual gala. Guests being honored include Gov. John Engler, President, Business Roundtable.

“Economic ups and downs are short term. Our task has been to grow the pie, and we have been able to grow the pie,” said Venkatesh Raghavendra, Consultant, AIF. AIF expects to raise around $9-10 million this year, he adds.

Asked if staunch supporter, the former MD of McKinsey, Rajat Gupta’s personal problems have eroded fundraising levels, Raghavendra said: “It’s amazing how institutions rise above individuals. His (Gupta’s) contribution has been huge, the goodwill is there.” Earlier this year, economist Amartya Sen was honored at AIF’s New York gala. He’s on their board as well.

A look at collections from 2005, just before the financial crisis hit America, shows AIF raised $7.8 million, while Pratham got $2.16 million the same year. Other organizations too are finding plenty of generous donors and institutions in the last few years.

The 30-year-old Share and Care, based in New Jersey, has raised $61 million in total – including used clothes and medicines, out of which $26 million is cash donations. Akshaya Patra USA, established in 2006, supported by entrepreneur Gururaj Deshpande, raised $5.6 million in 2012.

Emily Rosenbaum, CEO, Akshaya Patra, USA, says it’s likely to get more than $3 million dollars, “north” of what they made last year, from galas and golf tournaments. It got a boost last year from a one-time $2 million by Caterpillar Inc., for a new facility in Lucknow. The Foundation raised $407,655 in its first year of operations; jumped to more than $2.1 million in 2007.

“Collections from galas increased the last two years,” said Rosenbaum. “Donor fatigue is there, but we can always reach out to a new group of leaders.  It’s about letting people know the impact $15 funding can do in India, feed a child for an entire year.”

The question of reaching out to new demographics is a critical one. Organizations like Asha for Education hold events at universities with sizeable number of South Asian students. Sankara Eye Foundations host concerts. Donations are small, but importantly, also help to inculcate giving in future Indian American leaders.

All of it, however, pales in comparison to money raised for local causes in the US. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, 88 percent of Americans give to charity, totaling over $300 billion per year. The Robin Hood Foundation has disbursed over $1 billion over two decades to eradicate poverty in New York City. Some of their galas raise around $30 million in an evening.

Despite Indian Americans billionaires like Vinod Khosla, Manoj Bhargava and Romesh Wadhwani pledging to give over half of their fortune to charity, more people need to come forward, says Arvind Sanger, Managing Partner at Geosphere Capital Management. He’s a sponsor of one of the $100,000 tables at the Pratham gala.

“Charitable giving is still at its infancy stage, whether it be in India or the US,” said Sanger, an alumni of IIT Bombay. “Look at the Jewish community. The tradition of giving is deeply inherent in their religion and culture. The Indian American community needs to do the same.”  (Global India Newswire)

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