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Happy holidays everyone! It’s been a few months since I’ve written and my silence in the blogosphere is conversely proportional to how busy I’ve been working for RDF in Hyderabad. As the Public Relations and Development Manager, I’ve been editing and designing our annual report, spearheading the Sponsor a Child program, project managing a documentary on RDF, giving fundraising presentations, and all sorts of other exciting but time-consuming projects. When trying to decide what to write about in this blog post, I initially wanted to focus on the challenges of raising funds in India—yet the more I dug around and reflected upon the challenges I have had, I realized these challenges are much more systemic and complex than I initially thought.

It comes down to the circle of giving. Giving not just money, but time, energy, and other resources. The more that I reflect on my fundraising challenges in India, I realize they aren’t unique to money but all elements of giving. Not only does RDF have challenges fundraising in India, but also trouble recruiting local volunteers and gaining in-kind donations.

Giving money

It is clear that this is reflected globally with the recession and budget cuts, but looking further, it is more than that. Giving is really a societal value, one that is reflected in the types of widespread programs and opportunities available to those who give their time and resources. And being here, it has become clear that the ways people give in India are quite different than the ways in which they give in the West.

For example, when fundraising for dollars, a major struggle has been routing money from individuals to causes rather than to religious institutions. Although I realize that this is a gross generalization and that of course many Indians donate to social causes and human development, it seems at least from the trends I’ve personally encountered that people here seem much more willing to give to their temples, mosques, and churches rather than to the local nonprofit. Of course with 40% of the population living under the poverty line, it’s no wonder that giving in general is an issue. It’s clear though, that even out of those who are living financially abundant lives in India, many have strong beliefs about where to allot dispensable money and RDF, at least, isn’t at the top of their list.

Giving time

Another challenge is that of giving time. Many of RDF’s volunteers come from all corners of the world to give their time in Hyderabad as well as the village schools, often wonder, why aren’t there more locals doing this same work?

The answer from the CEO was multifaceted: part of it clearly is the lack of effort put in so far to FIND viable candidates locally, part of it is the work ethic and global perspective RDF enjoys from foreign volunteers, and part of it is the lack of a volunteer culture in India. Many of us were asked, ‘Why do we volunteer?’ ‘Well, because we are fortunate to have the resources to take some time off and gain international experience and because it adds value to our work history moving forward in our careers.’ Programs like the Peace Corps and hundreds of volunteer programs in the U.S. make it clear that our society is garnered to reward volunteering, whether it is through better jobs in the future or better admission into grad school. In India, on the other hand, I’ve gotten reactions like ‘Why are you wasting your time??’ and ‘Why don’t you get a real job?’ Again, gross generalizations, but there is something to the consistent reactions in this manner here that has me thinking.

Changing the circle

How do we embed the values of giving in our day-to-day lives such that more people are rewarded for their giving habits? Grad school admissions and tax cuts for donations are great, but I strongly believe it’s up to us as an upcoming generation to mold the way for a new paradigm of giving. That we encourage each other to give on a regular basis, that we teach our children the values of giving during the holidays, that we emphasize the different methods of giving—that it’s always possible to give, even when money is tight.

In particular, I love Jolkona’s Social Portfolio – a way to share how you give with your network. This holiday season, I encourage all of you to discuss with friends and family how you plan to contribute to the circle of giving. The more we are rewarded for our giving habits, the more we will give, and the more we are all contributing to the greater good.

How have you experienced or changed the circle of giving?

P.S. As a shameless plug, if you need an idea for a particular place to give, Day 5 of Jolkona’s 12 Days of Giving is a great place to start. Happy giving everyone!

Photo Credit: Mindful One

Hello from India! These past few weeks have flown by and I am finally beginning to feel somewhat settled here in the bustling, ever-vibrant city of Hyderabad. My first official duty included site visits out to five of the six schools that the Rural Development Foundation (RDF) operates. This was my first ever in-depth taste of rural India, and I was excited to get a sense of the lifestyles of these students, especially the impact an RDF education is making on their lives. The multi-school tour began with Kalleda, the flagship school established in 1996; which, having been established first, has received the most funding, resources, and attention of all the schools.

Kalleda Morning Assembly

Kalleda Morning Assembly

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Somehow, the lyrics to the old Peaches and Herb classic ‘Reunited’ are on repeat in my head as I finish clean-up from my goodbye party here in Seattle. I’ve been home for about two months from my latest bout of career adventures in Toronto, Canada and although it’s been nice to unwind and reunite with family and old friends, I’ve found myself eagerly anticipating a whole different kind of reunion.

On July 30th, 2010 I will reunite with India – my country of birth but also a country that has become foreign to me after having gone over a decade without a visit. The anticipation of such a reunion fills me with many overwhelming emotions – excitement, fear, joy, nervousness, and at the best of times, an insatiable need to dance crazily to my favorite Bollywood hits. My mind is abuzz with incessant questions – Will I be accepted? Will I feel Indian? Will I be able to handle living there? But somehow in the background hums a current of calm knowingness that this is the homecoming I’ve been yearning for.

What adds to this sense of calm is my observations of friends and other second generation Indians who, despite having been raised abroad, have slipped comfortably and successfully into study and work positions in India. Their tales consistently include exciting adventures, travels, and, above all, a recognition of parts of themselves within the culture there. Confidence boosted, I too, set forth on a journey of self-discovery. 

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