India is enthused… about giving

TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee at his home in Mumbai.
TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee at his home in Mumbai.

Today Indian Rotarians are committed to enlarging their TRF contributions, and “in India, these things are like a forest fire. You start something somewhere and the whole forest catches fire. And these are forest fires we wouldn’t like to put out,” TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee told Rotary News.

Seated in his 19th floor apartment in Mumbai, a relaxed Banerjee answered questions on various issues related to TRF, and discussed interesting aspects of the difference in the way Indians give, compared to Americans.



Giving to TRF is making waves in India. Yesterday I interviewed Rtn Manoj Israni, already an AKS member, who has pledged to give another $250,000 this year, taking his total to half a million dollars. I asked him why and he said I trust Rotary and know my money will be used well.

Well, a quarter million dollars is a lot of money, and giving it twice is a big step. Only two Indian Rotarians have given more than that. So it’s a very good sign.

When people see that other people, sensible people with money, are giving, then they also get the confidence to give. Manoj Israni is a very good Rotarian, but not in the limelight of Rotary officers and all that. And yet here he is giving half a million dollars quietly, and has his own reasons for doing so. That’s what we really want to encourage. I think more Indian Rotarians will give money going forward. India has already become one of the larger givers. Unusually, a large number of AKS members are now coming from countries such as India. I find a sea change in the giving by Indian Rotarians to the Foundation.

What are the major plans for the Centennial Celebrations in Atlanta? Has the programme started crystallising?

Atlanta is shaping up well. There are several initiatives being planned. But it’s a little too early to give them shape because these things keep changing. For example, Atlanta is the home of the Jimmy Carter Foundation. And they are having an event just before the Convention and we are trying to see if some kind of a connectivity is possible. If we can get some of the Nobel laureates expected to come for that event, to attend the Convention, it will be a tremendous initiative… a boost for our peace scholars programme.

How is the Peace Scholars Programme shaping up?

Rotary is reviewing that programme; while a great programme and very well supported by Rotarians, the question we are asking is are we really producing the kind of peace scholars that we want to? Are we moving the initiative forward in the way we wanted to? So the programme is now being reviewed by a committee led by PRIP K R Ravindran. It is looking at the peace programme as it is today and whether it is everything that we wanted it to be, or hoped it would be. And is it what is required today in the changing world scenario? Everything is changing. Look at the American elections. There seems to be a whole new paradigm shift in so many things in our world today.

Well, a quarter million dollars is a lot of money, and giving it twice is a big step. And yet Rtn Manoj Israni is giving half a million dollars quietly, and has his own reasons for doing so.

What about CSR activities becoming a part of Rotary’s service to humanity?

That has been a new Indian initiative, which I must say Trustee Sushil Gupta and I, to some extent, helped to move forward. Rotary was not in favour of CSR because in corporate social responsibility, what happens is that while they are happy to do social work and give money, traditionally Rotary has been looking very carefully at people who give money and want to participate in the project. Because there is the possibility that they want to get their work done with Rotary’s money, effort and name.

So they have an agenda?

They could have an agenda. So we’ve had to convince the Foundation that let’s take it up for a time and watch how it is working. It hasn’t been made public greatly yet. Not too many Indian companies and Rotary clubs have come up with too many CSR initiatives yet. I think it will take a little while but it will catch up.

So you are in favour of it?

I hope to take it forward. Let me see if I am able to do this in the next few months. Also, for the first time, Rotary has agreed to fund low-cost shelters through global grants. It used to be done through district grants, I’ve had to struggle a little bit for that and do a lot of convincing. But it has come through. The question… the real issue is that in the past, we’ve brought in this programme and scrapped it again so many times, saying Rotary will not help build low-cost shelters.

But why? For what reason?

Because there are concerns in some parts of the world about building shelters. In some developed countries, you can’t build what is known as a low-cost shelter. So it becomes a programme for one part of the world and not another. Secondly, in those developed countries if you build shelters, even in slums, you are liable to all kinds of legal responsibilities. In those parts, the legal profession is very strong and if something goes wrong, and somebody gets an electric shock and dies, then Rotary will be held liable. It won’t happen in our part of the world. So it’s a question of attitude, a mindset… how we live our lives. That is why it was not acceptable.

Now that it has been done for a certain period of time, I hope it will work. It first came when Glen Kinross was the RI President. But it has come and gone so many times that people are not sure whether it is there or not, whether it will stay or not! It’s not that Rotary clubs don’t build shelters. They do. But they do it on their own.


And not through global grants?

Yes. And the kind of shelters they build… in India you might have a 350 sq ft house with a simple floor and maybe just a corrugated tin sheet for roof. I was in Taipei after the earthquake, and they had built low-cost shelters at their own cost, not through Rotary, and it was a two-storey air conditioned house with a refrigerator and such facilities. They say how can you build something where people don’t have these facilities.

So the way different countries look at what a low-cost shelter might be, are very different. I’ve pushed for building simple schools, and it is coming up.

Which are so badly required in India! So next on the horizon are low-cost schools?

Not low-cost, but simple schools. In India, a simple school in a village might be a two room facility with a toilet and a place for the midday meal. But in Africa, it has to be a much larger thing, probably the size of a bungalow.

Americans like to give quietly. Indians, if they are appreciated and noticed, they’ll be happy to give more. And there’s nothing wrong in it. These are cultural differences.

Really? Why should Africa have such grand structures?

I don’t know; I’ve not fully understood it. But these are the parameters that work in different parts of the world. So how do you reconcile them? But I say let’s implement it, and when we find a difficulty, we can find solutions as we go along. But we need to understand the necessity for schools in a vast area of the world. Once we do that, we’ll find ways to overcome the problems that we face in different parts.

So these two things are happening in TRF this year, for which I am very happy.

Coming to the challenging target for this year.

Yes, this being the 100th year, the target is $300 million.

But the target for India has been revised upward for next year. The DGEs have assured RIDE C Basker that they will get 30 million for TRF next year!

Oh yes, India is going places, India is enthused. And at this point of time, had I gone away (as Trustee Chair) the whole thing might have been a damp squib. I hope that will be a thing of the past.

That brings me to the question on your offering to step down as TRF Trustee Chair. Tell us why?

Because of personal commitments in the family and the family to me has always come first. Fortunately, the situation has eased and we’re trying to make sure that the work of TRF does not in any way get hampered and it does not perform any less due to its leader being not there in Evanston. But there are great leaders in Rotary who are all supportive and there need not be any major departure from the usual practices.

Last year, in Foundation giving, India emerged second, edging past Japan. Your thoughts.

Indian Rotarians are very enthused and continue to be. I am fairly confident they will meet or even surpass the target this year and well before the deadline. Now that I am available — in India I haven’t really stopped moving. I do go to meetings; I went to Goa recently for D 3170. I have attended meets in Delhi, Mumbai, I am going to attend my own District (3060) Conference in Surat. So I keep doing whatever I can in India. The southern districts are not very good givers at the moment except for Bengaluru and Chennai. Bengaluru is going to have an AKS event there in March.

So what next?

I want to increase the per capita giving from India. I don’t think we can catch up with America in total giving. America now gives almost 40 per cent of the total money collected every year. But I do think that in per capita giving, we can become number 1. There are districts… or countries with a single district, Hong Kong for example, where the per capita giving is extremely high. But Hong Kong is a very rich country and it is one district. Taiwan has fewer districts and the per capita is very high. India has 30-plus districts and is a huge country and total per capital giving from India, with its membership growth rate being the highest in the world, can also be the highest. Then my job would have been done.

One of the surprising givers has been Nepal, such a small country and afflicted by earthquake giving $1 million, is huge!

What is the present per capita giving from India?

It is a little more than $60.

How much more can you take it up?

$100 plus.

How soon?

Oh, I don’t know. In India, these things are like a forest fire. You start something somewhere and the whole forest begins to go on fire. So let us see. These are forest fires we wouldn’t like to put out!

What we should never forget is that Indians do love to give; it’s part of our culture. Our grandmother would give us something to give the beggar who came every day with a little khanjan singing a song in praise of god. You gave and they blessed you.

The other thing about Indians is that we like to give in the presence of others. Somehow when others are present, are noticing and appreciating, we like to give. We don’t always give quietly; it’s part of our mindset. Whereas in America, this isn’t the case. You won’t know who is really giving all that money, when and at what time.

I remember an American couple used to come to Coimbatore and work in service; he was a DG who came for long years to India and has stayed with me too in Vapi. Then suddenly, after 15 years, one day he became an Arch Klumph and people here said we didn’t even know he was planning this. When asked what made him give so much, he said what else is there in life except to give and do good to others.

That’s how Americans like to give; quietly. Indians, if they are appreciated and noticed, they’ll be happy to give more. And there’s nothing wrong in it; it’s best to recognise it and go accordingly.

One of the surprising givers has been Nepal, such a small country and afflicted by earthquake giving $1 million is huge!

How do you see the future of Rotary in India?

It is in strong shape; it is one of the strongest in the world. In America, sometimes I feel we are on the wane. It might have started there as a friendship club, but that kind of friendship is no longer required in America. And they have to struggle to go to Haiti and Honduras to do service or come to India. They are not comfortable going all over the place. Some are extraordinarily service minded some are not. They’d rather stay at home. This is not a criticism but it’s the way it works. They get their own city newspaper, and don’t even know what The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal is writing and they don’t necessarily care.

We are totally different!

Yes, probably because we are too many people, and communities keep changing all the time. People keep migrating to cities. It’s a different ball game altogether. The time may come when the headquarters of Rotary might shift out of Chicago.

To where?

I don’t know; not India I hope… too many unnecessary complications!

It could be Dubai, it’s got everything and is half as expensive as America. People have talked of Singapore, which is as expensive as America today. It could move out if the American strength of Rotary keeps on depleting continuously.

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

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