New Delhi: Rohini Nilekani, wife of Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Zarina Screwvala, Nikhil Dey and Anshu Gupta speak to NDTV's Sonia Singh on the Art of Giving. Here is the full transcript of the interview:
NDTV: Good evening and welcome to the NDTV Dialogues, a show where we bring you a conversation of ideas, dialogues and issues that have disappeared from political and media discourses. Joining us tonight, on our focus on the Art of Giving; we live today in increasingly unequal society, how do India's rich reach across the divide? How do we maximise impact? Joining me tonight, women and men whom are all making a huge difference, yet in different ways with very different perspectives. Joining me tonight Rohini Nilekani, Zarina Screwvala, Nikhil Dey and Anshu Gupta, thank you all very much for coming in.
Rohini in a sense, you made philanthropy headline news again a few months ago, when you gave almost a hundred and sixty four crores worth of your personal wealth, and dedicated it to the cause of governance in a sense. Why did you think this was so important, and also to make such a huge personal commitment?
Rohini Nilekani: Well I have been active in this space for several, for more than 15 years now, so it is just a continuum of the work that I have been doing. And it was planned and I reached a stage where I felt now I was thinking ahead, had a strategy about where I would want to give next, and areas like governance, and it won't be only governance, seemed logical in looking at what's happening in the country today. And also because there are many new organisations and people who are doing some really innovative things on the ground that need support. And we hope that this kind of, then snowballs into something bigger, so.
NDTV: How, how do you bring your personal commitment and supporting of certain causes, some of which include governance? How have you judged, in the last fifteen years, the issue of impact? How do you, what are the areas in which you think a person or individual, even an individual, offer, who can bring wealth to the table, can make a difference, sometimes there are so many problems around?
Rohini Nilekani: Right, so there are different ways. I mean because philanthropy, if you are talking about philanthropy, is entirely voluntary and depends very much on the interest of the donor. So there is no one recipe for this. In my case, I am not very rigid about measurement of impact, because I think some things have good in themselves. So, for example, in Arghyam we work on water. One is that physically you are developing some physical water infrastructure. But more interesting to us is when we are able to galvanise communities and build up the quality of demand of citizens on the supply side. So that when you have universal access to clean water, you try to get involved in the question of why are our water resources depleting or getting polluted? For us, when citizens begin to engage, we find that they have found their own solutions. It's not that we have to go there with some chhaapa of a solution and say, do this. So for me impact is when people start to internalise the locus of control and that's easy. You know, there are no easy in metrics for that. But there are some proxies. And we look obviously to make sure that the money is not ill spent.
NDTV: Nikhil in a sense you come from a completely different perspective because you come from, you are a, most full time in the world of say, socio-political activism. You were a lawyer, gave it up and decided to do this full time. When you look at philanthropy and how it can impact, because often you deal entirely with the government sector, why is there not more engagement with, say the corporate sector or individuals in the private sector? To come into issues to deal with, some of them are common issues and some of them are different.
Nikhil Dey: Yes, I think it's very good you have asked the question the way you have, because the reason I do the work I do, and the reason I have chosen this kind of path is because, there are many of us who believe that you cannot divorce money and its impact from politics. You cannot certainly divorce it from ethics. And I think there, there will be agreement all around, but you also can't divorce it from politics, because the two questions are related. So a whole range of questions come up related to that; where does the money come from? What is the politics of that money in its use? Because even though people may say that they don't have a politics to it, actually how you are, from charity on the one end to policy, and what kinds of policy should come about at the other end? Money is playing a role. We recognise that. We stated; we state our politics vis-a-vis. And finally, philanthropy is certainly private use of private resources for a public good. But if we want to, in a country like India, meet basic necessitates, then one has to at all times keep an eye on what is happening with public resources for public good because that's where you can get water or you can get schooling or health or employment and much, much larger in scale. I mean today when we are talking about right to food delivering one lakh twenty-five thousand crores, that's something no private body can ever even aim or aspire to do. So that's where the policies of the country are concentrated. Now in that philanthropy plays a role. I think there is a question that, there is one need to think about which is part of our whole thing in money. I have deep respect for all the people who are sitting here and I think people like Rohini, who has given resources the way she has with a lot of thought behind it, is important. But for us the question also arises, that why does our country not have money available for everyone as a right; money meaning resources for water, for health, for education, for food, which other countries around the world have? Why is it that so much wealth is accumulating with some and not accumulating with people, who are working in this country to contribute towards the economy? Why do we have a tax to GDP ratio, which is so much lower than across the world? And can, can a CSR, small tax, compensate for the fact that we are not putting enough resources. Today, there is this huge debate that's taking place, can the country afford the Right to Food Act? But the fact is if you look at, can you afford it, education? Can we afford health? Can we afford a Right to Health Act? The fact is that we have a GDP that has grown, and in that period we haven't put across resources of that, that kind of sum of money for our basic necessities within this country. So, we have aimed, in our, in our efforts to say that there must be a kind of equality. You have started off with talking about an unequal India, so there must be equality in the way policies are. So, our efforts go towards saying that we have a politics. Our politics is on the side of the poor being able to have equal opportunity. Equality is a step further. But at least equal opportunity just as opportunity everyone else has had. We feel that philanthropy is important. But it's important in that, then also to be watched, because what impact is it having, not just in terms of metrics, but what impact is it having in terms of finally affecting the policy of this country?
Rohini Nilekani: No I, I agree with that, that one is, a real question in this country is how wealth is getting created. And why value is accumulating so narrowly. You know, that of course is a, a very big question. But, and I think philanthropy has a very limited role. It should have only a limited role. There are other, other issues, people and institutions and, that needs to have a bigger role, the public sector, citizen sector. So it should have a limited role. Having said that, I think today it, it can also play a good catalyst's role. Because sometimes exactly where you need it the resources are not available to take the kind of risk that philanthropy can take. It, it's that bridge capital and, and, and we must recognise that it has that role to play. And it's not just the big wealthy, the middle-wealthy, the, everyone has that role to bridge, the bridging role to play.
Zarina Screwvala: No. I was thinking that the role of philanthropy is not to give the hard values. That government should give. But to, rather to, experiment in a weight, to create models. So like at Swades, what we are trying to do is create a model for development; at scale a million people, five years, 360 degree deep intervention model. And see what are the key triggers and we really test, test. I come from a media background so we test, test, test. We are doing a huge rural aspiration, study. And, in fact when I looked around to find out if there were any rural aspiration studies, I at least couldn't find any, because of looking around, if I could just borrow one instead of making one, it's expensive. So understand people at their depth and see what are the key triggers that can change, because we don't believe in charity and art of giving. I mean I have a problem with the word art and I have a problem with the word giving. It's not an art. It's an art and a science. It has to have corporate values. It has to measure a bit of impact. It has to treat the community as your customer, with respect. You know, there is a respect.
Nikhil Dey: There is an issue with the word customer and citizens
Zarina Screwvala: Fair enough, Fair enough, Community. We treat them as community
Rohini Nilekani: It is worrying, everything has looked had as, in term of acknowledging, now we are not consuming; now we are not consumers.
Zarina Screwvala: Let me, let me re-phrase that, let me rephrase that. The community is a stakeholder. A key stakeholder and therefore deserves the respect. Don't shove things down, ask them, ask them is it that you want? That's what I meant? Engage with them. And also, giving versus empowerment. I think empowerment is really the answer. In every way, I mean we were talking before, that you do so much, she does so much work and after this, I am a fresher, fresher into this role, but it's, it's really about changing mind-sets. And as Rohini was saying, building the supply side. Once you do that, demand will have to rise up to the occasion.
NDTV: When you, when you got into this first Zarina, what did you find of conceptions, because of course, in the last say decade or more, there has been a certain sense of cynicism with the system. The feeling that if you want to change something; and this specially seemed, talking to many corporates who decided to go into philanthropy that we need to do it ourselves. We need to immerse ourselves in it. Do you think that that's the way really to move forward? Why don't you perhaps say that, you know, would you have preferred to, why didn't you decide to say give it to a government institution or to a, or to something which is really working in the field, an institution which is really working in the field?
Zarina Screwvala: Right. So firstly there is not a CSR. This is a personal, a foundation. But, I think, as Rohini was saying, it's all about your personal passion. And we're running, are really passionate about rural India because we feel for decades and decades and centuries they have been neglected. And when you go into the villages, which are just three hours away from Bombay and you see the complete lack, no water, little bit of electricity, yes, very uneven roads, schools yes, quality of teaching, non-existent. I mean you have heartbreaks. You say why if it's just three hours away? And why is everyone, there is a zero lack of opportunity. And really Nikhil, the thing that you said that, the opportunity, you know poverty is not about material wealth alone. It is about the things, it's a lack of things that makes you a human being. You know it's, it's the lack of choices. I mean kids whose parents have struggled to put them through college, and you know what those kids are doing? Nothing, nothing, there is nothing for them to do, so your heart kind of breaks. And you go, like, okay, let's stop having a heart bleed. Let's really put all our thinking, get the best teams, and figure out; what we are trying to do is to figure out a model for development. It's 360, it has an exit strategy, it may seem a little odd to most people that we actually plan to exit, but the key is empowering the people forming those self-help groups. There are loads of self-help groups. They are inactive. How do we activate, motivate, encourage and also do charity work?
NDTV: Anshu, I wanted to actually bring you in on that because when you said that the, living in increasing unequal society, often what happens is that islands that exist within India seem, the other side almost seem invisible. We're talking about three hours away within cities as well, the same parts in the city, within one kilometer you will find people in deprivation and people living in great wealth. You have a very simple idea, just literally re-distribution in a sense. It's different from large-scale philanthropy, yet has had a huge impact. How do you think that's worked? We have talked about the issues of Food Security Bill, the Land Acquisition Bill, the Right to Education; those are all very big projects to be implemented. Why did you decide to go small, literally a piece of cloth?
Anshu Gupta: Look we, we decided on cloth because we found that ultimately if you talk about this country there are very, very basic things, which are troubling people at the end of the day. You know, I mean we might talk big. We might make beautiful presentations on certain issues and all that. But there are very basic things, which are, which are the human rights, and we are fighting for that. Nothing else. I mean I have a fundamental debate on whether we are actually a growth or development organisation. First per se, development happens when at least the society lives on a, a zero level. When I say zero level, at least two meals a day, basic pair of clothing, or may be a bit of education, even if it is till a, you know, primary. But all the organisations sitting here, you know, are literally working to make sure that people survive at the end of the day you know. We give cloth, we, we do this, we do development work, we try to provide sanitary pads, someone gives water. These are the very, very basics of the society. And unfortunately, if you talk about India, this is what is lacking. So, if you talk about clothing, which is what we talk about, we say about 14-15 years back we realised that we do talk about three basic needs, food, cloth and shelter. But ultimately cloth remains a disaster relief material, I mean, in a country in a world where half the world does not need a disaster. And, and, it never, never, it has never been considered a development subject although it is a basic need. So we never work on it, I mean you have to wait for a disaster to happen. I mean, one of the, a story which has been, which, which you know we have shared thousand times comes from Delhi only, where, where, in my journalism days, when I, when I met this girl whose father use to pick up unclaimed dead bodies. And a, the father says that in winters his work goes up, up and then I found that in the range of 3-4 kilometers where his rickshaw used to you know to pick up unclaimed, dead bodies, he used to pick up ten to twelve dead bodies every twenty-four hours in winters. In the summer used to average four to five.
NDTV: They are dying of the cold?
Anshu Gupta: They are dying of the cold. And winters have never been considered a disaster. You have more deaths in winter, you know, due to lack of clothing than earthquake or flood. And then his little daughter, say about four and half or five and half six years old, who gave the most shocking statement by saying, when I feel cold I hug the dead body and sleep. It does not trouble me? It does not turn around? This is THE LNJP Hospital; middle of old Delhi, thousands; footfall, footfall everyday. But we have never considered that an issue. So this country does not need a debate on 'either' 'or' you know. If you, if you talk about, I mean, what we have been arguing that this is a question of 'and'; this is a country of volume, so you have problems in volume. You have, you need solutions in volume.
NDTV: So in that sense Rohini, when you come in on those aspects. This. Anshu is making a point that all the different aspects, it is wonderful to have so many different groups, which are covering it, but is there somewhere, where there can be a unity of purpose? For instance, often, when we look at the Bill and Melinda Gates initiative, many have said okay, at least they have decided that they want to look at say, malaria as an issue, so they are working with state governments in a very comprehensive way, and are giving money. And they have managed in a way, to work with state governments in a way that many Indian philanthropists haven't been able to. How do you think that partnership is, can actually be built in a better way or do you think it needs to be done?
Rohini Nilekani: So I think to Anshu's point, a lot of these problems are invisible. They are near us and we haven't connected to them. So I think the work of society right now, especially India is going through such a crisis and everyone is feeling depressed, connect to the problems near you. And I think everyone can do that in a million ways. And the minute you get involved solutions are there. So, that's the one thing I said, to Anshu's thing, because there are many like sanitation, you know it is huge. Now at least we have started focusing on sanitation because we are seeing it links to health, to nutrition and to everything else. And to that point organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation take a bird's eye view of this and make these very large partnerships happen with state governments. So do some of us, it's low. Actually the government is ready for those partnerships, because in many places I see, and that's a positive sign, that government says we need help, we can't, cannot, our job is to create equity to deliver service, but they need help too. And it is good that more philanthropists are looking to government and saying okay, what do you need, how can we help, without taking over the agenda themselves. See, that becomes a problem. You take over the agenda then too much power accumulates on your side. But you are willing to say yes, government has its, but it needs some specialized, may be technical assistance, may be something else may be, human, you know, talent and skill. I think you will see more of that happening in India. They have to watch it though, because the accountability factor should remain.
Zarina Screwvala: I think the answer is really collaboration of a scale that has not been seen before. I mean, so, if everyone on this table could easily collaborate, I can see ways in which to collaborate with each one of you. And if a sense of collaboration, real collaboration, because we don't have agendas, we don't have too many big egos, I mean we all have this same end goal. I think collaboration with the government certainly, but even if we just start with an easier one, which is honestly with each other, tremendous change can happen. Like right now, the last four months we already signed on 18 partners across each of the verticals. Big partners coming with their knowledge, experience and working in our area with us, you know, so I think collaboration is the answer.
Anshu Gupta: I sure find it a very fancy word. But no, we also collaborated. Ultimately we work in partner model only. But somehow find that you know, many things can happen with different approaches. Because you really have to try it out.
NDTV: No, I just want to bring Nikhil in that point, because that is, that point of collaboration that does seem everywhere. That even in the space of so many foundations, so many individuals, so many organizations, all working and doing very good work. Yet when you look around, how much change has actually been on the ground? Nikhil?
Nikhil Dey: There is huge change, but I, I want to say that even in our discussion, again not disagreeing with what has been said, but we also need to ask some fairly hard questions. What are we when we are talking about philanthropy? We are talking about resources and access to those resources. So there is a need, there is a crying need for philanthropy of that kind, because you don't have resources available. Actually many of these things are things that state or society should do automatically. It's not doing. So you are reaching out whether you are going with a begging bowl or whether someone is through the largeness of their heart giving. Those are actually not ideal circumstances. In India there are certain policy thing that have to be brought in. You cannot have this kind of accumulation of wealth and it, it, which is why these questions are being raised. We don't have death duties in this country which most of the capitalists countries have. You are accumulating wealth and are sending it from one generation to the other and the other side is being dried up. How do you spend that money? There is also very big question about the power of foundations. Because they have many, especially when they are connected with corporates and corporates interests, they have many interest of their own. So we need to ask those questions.
NDTV: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, issues came up about that.
Nikhil Dey: Yes, over and over again and I work in the transparency accountability sector. There are people who have earned their money through hedge funds; then they are using their money for transparency and accountability, across the world there are many legitimate question being asked. And what finally at the end of that policy will we get? Will we get a government that is controlled or policy that is controlled by money? We want policy controlled by people. We want answers to come from people. We want people to be able to say this is what we need, how, the kind of development for them to define for themselves. So in doing that, once we say that resources are available; that are there in that country and it should be made available, how best to use that? Lets get into a dialogue. Dialogue from this level right down to the people specially people themselves defining it is that they want. And then people can contribute time, they can contribute that what we can get. We have tiny budgets, but people say that there has been this big impact on, you know this, huge loss. With, whether it is information, right to information laws and governance laws, accountability laws, or right to food, right to employment. The point is those are things that people have defined and fought for. They may not work well, but they are fighting for them to work well, better. And it's not us, it's them actually, who've done it. And people who have contributed, have contributed, not through huge sums of money, it's by contributing and giving years of their time and saying, okay out of my salary, without getting any tax rebate or anything else, I am going to give my time and I am willing to give my money. We are, for instance don't get any 80G money. We get money from people give out of their money like they would give to go, send their child to school or any other thing. So I think within this whole sphere there is huge potential for philanthropy, but we also need to say what kind of philanthropy.
NDTV: Will this whole CSR thing; do you think, that now replaces the word philanthropy. And philanthropy sounds good almost, you know, a catch phrase. But do you think, do you support all this CSR? Do you think it will come as just another fancy term, how much impact do you think it will have?
Nikhil Dey: So I am very skeptical honestly. I think very good individuals exist and they give money in any case.
NDTV: But two percent is better than zero.
Nikhil Dey: Right, so two percent. Why not as a tax available for everyone in this country to decide how it should be used? I would, I would far more prefer; we have been fighting for universal old age pension. There cannot be a more marginalised, unhappy group of people than the elderly in this country, because they have worked all their lives, there you cannot apply APL, BPL. Just go to any part of the country and see how they are. The nature of our society is also changing. Now during the time they have worked, they have worked in the private sector. But they have no social security at all available. Rather than saying two percent CSR, why doesn't, why isn't that money made available to the working people of this country in their old age, which will deal with a huge, roughly 10 percent of our population? And saying that in the middle of all this, CSR will never address that. CSR, that company, should not; the money that is required to give there I would much rather it be required to give in a cess, so that the people who have worked in that particular sector or the people who have worked in an unorganised sector, 94% of our people, so worried when they get ill, so worried when they reach old age, so worried that if there is a drought what will happen to them.
NDTV: But of course, I just want to bring Rohini just on that aspect, on CSR specifically because it is also a fundamentally issue of a lack of trust in the system. So for instance there is, when we say, even when we talk about Right of Food, NREGA etc. we saw, when we saw the recent study on NREGA, .not even one state has actually been able to deliver a hundred percent of what the promise was. Is the drive of individual philanthropy also in some cases driven by the fact that we have seen what the government has done in these 60 years, and we don't feel that they delivered, despite the fact that they had thousands of crores to spend in it? Or do you think philanthropy, in a sense, needs to actually be much more collaborative as a system as it is, accepted and worked within?
Rohini Nilekani: Yes, no, I always thought so. I mean philanthropy is not going to solve the problems of this country. But it can be, we can help the government to become more effective in its obligatory functions. That is possible. But if you are talking about CSR, right? I agree with Nikhil. I mean some of us were talking against it for a long time and anyway now it's a law. And we have to make the best of it, and whole company is accountable, though personally I think they have to be held accountable for a hundred percent of the value chain, not two percent. But having said so, na, how will we look at that two percent as opportunity? Many companies that try, that are looking at social and environmental responsibility, along with their financial bottom-line, how can they become an example to everybody? These are going to be tricky questions, Nikhil, because the government also is trying to create value right in terms of services, products etc from which the tax money comes and so on. So they are looking for economic growth, which is developed, delivered by companies now with CSR. We have to make sure that they become genuinely responsible inside the fence and outside. So there is an opportunity, let's look it, as it is going to be thousands of crores on the table. And right now we have to make sure that the rules at drafted, are done in a way that doesn't limit.
Nikhil Dey: But where everyone gets to say how those rules should be
NDTV: I think who choose what the rule should be? Right now it's the Board.
Rohini Nilekani: No they are going to put it up for consultation. We will have to get involved in the consultation process, you all are used to doing that, and when you have to.
Anshu Gupta: When you sit in Gacchipawali and Gurgaon and what you decide the problems are there in India, and what are the problems you know, say about 30 kilometers away or even hundred or even 200 hundred kilometers away, are two different games. Because we also work a lot with the corporate sector, in terms of you know, and the money is ultimately going through a large number of voluntary organisations only, because those are going to be the implementation agency. We can say that corporate foundation will become a part of it but may be corporate foundation will come and try to monitor it. Ultimately grass root work is going to happen through the voluntary organisations. So it is very important to understand the grass root realities first, because that is the major, major disconnect right now.
Rohini Nilekani: They have to quickly learn the art of giving really well.
Zarina Screwvala: I mean their job is to make money. A job of a business is to make money. So the CSR thing is going to be an anomaly for them. It's very difficult.
Nikhil Dey: Now two percent of my time to see how to spend the money and 98 percent of my time there is, it depends, how to make it. Then it will never come together.
Zarina Screwvala: But don't think we should have high hopes. But let's see what happens.
Anshu Gupta: No, it's a huge money and what Nikhil has been saying, it is absolutely right that instead of you know, as, say putting 2 percent aside, just may be just tax it and you know put it in some good causes.
Zarina Screwvala: This is taxation by other means
Nikhil Dey: Because tax resources belongs to all of us. Finally these resources comes from everyone, whether labourer or whether, let the people decide
NDTV: In fact I want to, coming to the word giving, because you know Rohini since she has in a sense, that's a dialogue that I want to open up to the whole table, that is a politically loaded word, when we look to the whole concept of giving. Giving, because of a sense of recent political discourse. When you look at where is Right to Food, when you look at the Land Acquisition Bill which is coming up, if we have bills in universal pensions, there's a whole argument being, there is a whole argument to the, which is why, should we be a welfare state? We should be a giving state. Why giving? We should, let's give opportunity, let's give jobs and that will get to, will get you to the same aim, in different way, but that rather than just giving, giving, giving, you are not creating people who want to work; you are not giving opportunity, you are just giving dole. What is your view on that?
Rohini Nilekani: I don't want to go, there's a very deeply political question, okay. There are some entitlements and rights that are given. I mean this dialogue has developed in the world this last 200 years, we know what human beings are. We think are entitled to. We know what kind of society that we all together have a vision of and to move towards. That people have some entitlements. Obviously they do. And we have to work towards that. So we can't say that that's not, that's not about giving. You know people have that right. So I wouldn't want to confuse, this discourse on that. I think people don't have basic opportunities and basic things to sustain themselves. What are we talking about? How are they going to go out there and do something and who is going to give them that? It's not, they, they are, they have, right to those basic things and society has to give them. It's not philanthropy. Even the state has a role, but really it has to be in the samaj that some of these things have built out, that's what I am saying for a while and that's the deficit, which we have to bridge.
NDTV: No because even, because, we keep talking about the government, but, the, you made that point of private sector, in fact many of this labour can often be contract labour, which has worked for years as you said in the corporate sector. But what have they got back? So in a sense entitlement as much a, so where, when you look at giving them, why is giving is almost a dirty word now when you look at some kind of discourse?
Nikhil Dey: It's not giving, not giving in that respect. I think there is a lot to give. I don't think giving is a bad word. I think it's bad when we say that the basics have to be given. I mean, we have had our Constitution of India that starts with 'We the People of India having solemnly resolved'. Aren't we all the people of India? We have directive principles of state policy, which are untouched 65 years later, which talk about these basic entitlements. Somewhere, and we have had 8 percent growth rate. During this period did we not want to address those questions? Not as giving, as something that people, the, money, it's available, it's there, it should be there. The giving is important. I think in Indian tradition also there has been. There are some very important things, like you were talking about, in the giving and taking relationships change if you do it properly. In Rajasthan there was a saying, which all of us were quite, we couldn't quite understand, ki mujhe seva dene ka maoka diya, seva karne ka maoka diya, to uske liye dhanyawad. So it sounded like something you know, very, very, sort of, not something said honestly. But actually it is. It comes from something that is honest. When you are doing anything for someone else, you are also affected but are you really, genuinely doing that? Not what, a lot of what we talk about are basic things that in any case should be there, but we are not doing it as a society we should address it. It has to be addressed politically. It has to be addressed where all of us come together to understand. That saying someone doesn't have a right to food or right to education or health or shelter is something that, then we have, we aren't going by our Constitution principles.
But beyond that people if they, I think it requires only two things actually to contribute and reach out. One is a sense of compassion that you understand beyond yourself. And the other is a sense of commitment, if you really do that with some degree of honesty. You can be the poorest person, and you have compassion for someone next to you and you, poor have their doors open anyone can walk in, eat, share what they have, the little they have. And the affluent in this country don't have that same level of sharing. So, if you do have that, we have, if we; one of the ideas we have been talking about is there so many people wanting to work for others. Give their full time. Give small fellowships. At minimum wages the incredible amount that they are willing to and able to do in their own villages. And what is it? What does it cost someone to give someone's minimum wage and say okay, you are doing work for society, let me support you as you want to do it. I am not going to dictate to you.
Rohini Nilekani: No, but, that also requires platforms. You know you have to create those platforms. You know what happens automatically, many people want to do stuff like that. So you know, Farhad Contractor and Anupam Misra, we give them, small fellowships he is saying. So many water bodies have been restored because these people are willing to go and activate communities to do this. They don't need very much. But what I am saying before you, sorry, you just, we talk about giving, but I am saying it's not giving. It's a responsibilities framework. That, all of us has a responsibility in a society. We are talking about entitlements, have, some people have become, have a knee jerk response against that, they feel you know, this entitlement has gone too far, everyone. So I somewhat understand that because if you don't couple that with a responsibilities framework I think we can get into trouble. So it's not giving, it is a responsibility.
NDTV: Anshu you said, because often in your, especially in your case, it is so simple to give a piece of cloth. Yet, you find that it is not something which is a large-scale movement, or what is, when you, when you define the word giving?
Anshu Gupta: No, I, so we differ a lot in many things. You know like people used to say, and which is a very common phrase, that I want to donate cloth. When you talk about cloth, so we always differed and you said, we never donate. We actually discard. I mean at the end of the day if you have used something for two years, with what right do you even claim that you are donating it? You need to be thankful to the person who is using your second hand used cloth, because that person has extended the life cycle and, and, just because he is the victim of so called poverty cycle, that is why he is wearing it, otherwise, it would, it would have gone to one of the MCD dustbins. You know like, in our country, in many other countries it is, it is a burden on people at the end of the day. I think the biggest problem is that many of us, who are the biggest recipient of so-called giving, now argue on giving. I mean, if you talk about my education, you know. I. I did my Mass Communication and all, in those days, 20 years back, the annual fees used to be thousand five hundred rupees. Okay, so, I am, that way I am, the biggest product of a subsidy at the end of the day. But then I, then I sit somewhere, and I talk about it. I am not for, I am not for subsidy, but I always have this argument, that when you, even if you talk about subsidy to a farmer, I personally feel that the biggest subsidy in the chain comes from the farmer only. Because if the farmer starts getting the normal daily wages rate, most of us will not be able to even touch the rice, because that person also spends eight to ten hours, he or she has all the right to get hundred twenty, hundred fifty, at least the NREGA rates. That's the only product where the price is even fixed by the government. Even if you made third class handicraft item, the person who makes it, fix up the price. So I think it's, in, in that way it is not giving in that way at all. Again, it's the question of basic right, which is a fundamental right.
Rohini Nilekani: No I agree, all of us, all of us in this room, at this table, we are beneficiaries of a public sector provided infrastructure. Now, the state is struggling, for, for; it was easy when we were a small middle class that is getting up to, when we grew up in Mumbai we had schools, you know, post offices. hospitals, they may not have been great, but they were there. Today for the next four hundred million people, that basic public infrastructure that the state is struggling to provide, but it has to be provided. That's not a subsidy, that's not giving. You have to be, just do it, the, I think that, dialogue is how? How are we going to do it?
Zarina Screwvala: I think, I think, no, no in terms of having the infrastructure, if you take education for example, so now these schools are there where philanthropy can come in and play a powerful role, if you are so inclined, to lift the quality of that; or to ensure or help to ensure that the delivery systems are met. Or if you take, in our area, we have wonderful bureaucrats on the ground. The, amazingly, of course, it's lumpy. I am not saying everybody is like that, but they are there and we help them, they appreciate that help. Because they, for example, actually come to us and ask how do we reach out to this particular tribal community who refuse to accept help from, people, they were high suspicious. So we have helped them. If, if philanthropy can even play a role to, not give money, but to give time to process, to give. Giving can be done in a million ways. To oil the machine, I mean not oil in the wrong way, but to make it work, to help to execute, to help to execute these. I mean if you have a NREGA, I will give you a wonderful example of NREGA. In Berar, in the area, which we work, NREGA is looked down upon. They won't touch it. They will not do it, no matter how poor they are. Yes, they have a, have, I'm going, just discovered this and I just met the bureaucrat and, and he is right. He said no one is coming.
Rohini Nilekani: Why?
Zarina Screwvala: I don't know. They look down upon a person who is doing NREGA. We won't do it. So I am trying to figure out a way to make it cool. Even to meet the aspirations of my community.
Nikhil Dey: I don't think it will take that much effort, may be some of us can come to that area and, because we have generally found, that if you give an opportunity, even in more affluent areas, there are some people who really want work, for a few days in a year at least, that opportunity to be able to work. Even in places like Kerala, women who have never gone out in the workforce are leaving their homes to work because they find it dignified work actually.
Rohini Nilekani: Dignified work, and it's, I just went to Kerala in fact and it was very surprising that they said you know, it's government work, so it's our work. So there is a, there, it's we are not working for a contractor, or a, it's our own work.
Zarina Screwvala: We have found that we are building something for them. We are building it for ourselves. So that's the answer that they found.
NDTV: Just, just to ask, with so many different perceptions, that, I had asked Nikhil, doing different things, perception being that oh, there is this group, these people out there who just want, want, want, want. They don't deserve it and they just want to be living on this dole. This perception that you see amongst the middle class, amongst a certain richer class as well that oh, these poor people out there, they are lazy, they don't want to work. They just want to be given things by the government. Is that a perception issue that you find? That you, I mean I know you cry yourself hoarse in dharnas in Delhi, you bring people, old people to the door of Ministers, MPs to try to get the rest of India to hear. Why does there seem to be a deafness sometimes?
Nikhil Dey: I think because the perception amongst the rest of the country is there is this set of people who want, want, want all the time, and who are taking away everything. It's a small percentage. I have seen both sides of it. I know that the sense of entitlement that the upper class in India, the affluent in India have is incredible. It is unmatched anywhere in the world. And unfortunately, because we have also traveled in different parts of the world, we do not have that sense of responsibility, that many other countries, even capitalist countries have, vis-a-vis the rest of their own populations at least, it's a shame. So I think, that's one thing we need to get out, that the poor are the ones who have done everything in this country. They have worked their backs off. And that's why when we bring the elderly to say that we have worked. Those are people who have plied rickshaws, worked in factories, worked all across. Worked in fields and all. In their old age, they don't have sense of minimum amount to keep themselves alive. And I ask the elderly, amongst our affluent, imagine one day without an independent income for yourself. In your old age, how you will be living? So, so, can we not, think of all India as Indians? And therefore in philanthropy is our thought that the basic entitlements have to be there. That is the political question. It is, all of us agreed, on this table. Are all of us agreed in this country? Otherwise if it's a set of people who are saying no we won't agree, let that food be in those 80 million tonnes, be in those stocks and we won't distribute it, then there is a problem with that. If they are going to go out and distribute free food to the disabled in that area and get a sense of comfort from that, that's a problematic philanthropy.
Rohini Nilekani: I think there is a lot of no, no trust. You know trust is dissipating in our society. Of course there are class conflicts and there will be. But I think for those who feel that there are all these poor, who, I mean, it is time to hold up a mirror a little bit you know. We have to look at what entitlements we have already got. I think, with compassion I am saying this. I am not, I am, I am saying let's look already at what middle and upper classes in this society are beneficiaries of.
NDTV: In fact I also want to ask you, the reverse of that question in a sense. There is also a sense amongst activists, many people like Nikhil, but also amongst activists that had said that oh, the rich in India, the corporate sectors, almost becomes a dirty word. That you know that, these are people who lived off the fat of the land, who have benefited from government contracts. So we talk in this, that is a very political issue on tax, GDP, forgone, look at the tax forgone. That these people don't deserve it either and what are they doing? In a sense, the transference of responsibility from what the government should provide to what are these rich people are doing in their gated communities and bungalows? Do you see that as well?
Rohini Nilekani: No of course, that is what I am saying, there is zero credibility on either side, and of course the rich have done that and we can see the evidence of how the wealthy in this country have behaved. You know it's all over the place, so it's time to take stock of some of these things and I think it's happening. I think we have reached a space where, you know, the rich and the upper classes and even the middle classes, there is end of secession you know, you cannot keep seceding. There is no use having a Lamborghini or whatever it's called if your public roads are not working. It's no use sending your kids to private schools and then you realise what is the, what is the situation of labour or the workforce in this country, because the poor children didn't even get to the 10th standard and didn't get to exploit their own potential. So, everywhere we are seeing, that you cannot secede, that phase in India has got over. What does that mean? We have to reconnect. Not just for us but for all of Indian society.
Anshu Gupta: I think, I think it's time to change the language also. So, I think Indian, my opinion the biggest problem is with the language. Because that how, how the perception came? When you talk about so called a beneficiary. Like in our, our work you know people always consider someone who has got second hand used cloth as a beneficiary. So this is what we actually argue and question, that who is the biggest beneficiary, someone who gives or someone who really wears it? It's so easy in this country to say that we have adopted 5 villages, we have adopted 10 villages and I often you know, ask about this. If you want to adopt a kid in this country you take years. You come in a queue and you go through the legal process. And suddenly by, by putting two hand pumps and may be have been distributing some pencil boxes you claim that you have adopted a village. So that, that vocabulary has to has to go, because that is just not the word that is here. That is here, that is where. That's how you think that you have adopted a village. Did you ever go to the village and tell them that we have adopted you? And then see how you behave.
NDTV: Just the final round of this Dialogue, and really I would like everyone to talk from their own personal experiences and what they think needs to be the way forward, because you have all learned different aspects from the work that each of you done. Zarina, let's start with you. What do you think should be the way forward? What will you tell others, because I am sure when you decided to do this, you had many media honchos, I am sure, who must have said you have gone mad. So what, what do you see as the way forward and given that you had your experience in it?
Zarina Screwvala: So, I think firstly, how you think about giving is the key. How you think about the relation between you and the person you think you are giving to. It's really an equal relationship. That is the first thing. It's an equal relationship. It's a partnership between you and your community. They must adopt you and they must love you and respect you. And to Rohini's point, they must trust you. And I think over the 10 years you build trust and then you can pretty much tend this. One is the question of an equal partnership between the so called the giver and the community, the other one is really collaborate. I really believe in collaboration of various kinds. It can be across other foundations and NGOs. It can be with a government. It can be with for example just imagine a scenario where a school, which is, say you know, a private school, very low resourced private school doing excellent work in our village. We connected them with a school in Bombay. And they had an equal partnership, because that's how we believe in very strongly at Swades, is an equal partnership, a mentoring process you know. Whichever, whoever mentors whoever, because frankly our kids can also mentor people. So, if you start building amazing connections and you know you start building it across and you use things like Facebook for farmers, I am just throwing ideas, or you connect kids on Facebook from one school to another; you skype for dialoging. I mean you can change. You can change. And so, so collaboration and the last one, let's be optimistic. Let's stop being cynical. I mean we have our cynical selves. I think its time to just say okay, I am, the fact that we are all in this means we are not cynical. Means we know we can make a difference, otherwise we wouldn't be wasting our time. So if everyone feels I can make a difference, I think the world will change.
NDTV: You, of course, you and your husband did it. Rohini you did it in that sense, you have earned your money, you have earned great wealth, but you have also decided to dedicate some of it back to society. Do you think the rich in India need to do much, much more and looking at that?
Rohini Nilekani: Yes, I think especially among the young people that I meet now there is a great sense that wealth brings responsibility. Not just about how it is created but how you use it once it's there. The idea of trusteeship I think has to be put on to the table more often. There has to be a public pressure on the wealthy also. And I think that is mounting and that is good and I think there is some on this table. And, and I think it's very clear now that, you cannot, the wealthy cannot separate their own interest with the interest, from the interest of the society, the nation. I think that is no longer possible, and so no decoupling. So I think just figuring out okay, there has been wealth creation, it has caused some good. It has caused some problem as well. But if you take the good side of it, take that responsibility, be trustees of your wealth and realise that you cannot decouple from the interest of the samaj. And I think it's coming, especially among the young. They want to help shape the kind of society they want to live in, you know. We want to live in a society. We want to be proud of the society we live in. Not a society that is so, there is so much inequity; there is so much suffering, no. But I think especially the next generation, they don't want that, so they are working from beginning to, and and Nikhil is a good example of that himself, that, when he was very young he started that and many, many people like and I have faith in that.
NDTV: Nikhil Dey, the other side. There is social activism in India and that needs to be less rigid in a sense, because often the villains are identified already. You know, do you, do you perhaps need to expand that area or that vision also as well?
Nikhil Dey: I think, I think it can't afford to be rigid and it isn't. That's how we are talking. Actually if you would see the reality of the way many of the people we live and work with and how they exist, we wouldn't be speaking as pleasantly as we do. Nor would they be as accommodating as they are. In fact, in some ways, many, many people feel that's a shame. If they weren't, things would be quite different. But I think the point is, I mean I think speaking personally, I am proud to have been part of a set of people who are very poor, and who have brought about some incredible change, not using money, but just using their capacity to contribute to society and think far beyond themselves. What they fought for was not for themselves, but was an understanding that what they were fighting for was for themselves and many others. And, and, and, and, yes, Right to Information changed things across this country. The ideas have come from ordinary people, the poorest people who cannot read, cannot understand what's on paper, but realise the value of that, and for everyone else. And they fought long battles, which no affluent person would have. They have lessons to offer us in that sense. But think at this, so I have really, really have been privileged to be a part of that kind of thing and continue to be. And learning lessons from that I think we need to look at our own political traditions. We need to understand, that these are political questions. You cannot separate them. Gandhiji was a political person. He also did seva, in fact we talk about, he talked about rachnatmak vikas. He talked about seva, he talked about sangharsh, struggle. He talked about nirman, development. And he went and lived with people. We had Ambedkar who gave us a Constitution. Who said that while I am giving, while this Constitution is been given to the country, we are giving political equality; one person, one vote, but we are not giving economic and social equality. And will this country last if we don't? I think those are questions we need to ask ourselves. The rich, if they have money and think that money talks more than another human, being no philanthropy can work. If they understand that they have money, accumulating wealth is much easier than redistributing it. But it needs to be redistributed because others also have a right to that to get equal opportunity, we can perhaps have a society that's much healthier.
NDTV: No, no I think it's wonderful that there are so many commonalities, which have come about in tonight's Dialogue and wonderful different perspectives. Thank you all very much for being here tonight, thank you.