Very recently, when IBM, the $ 100 bn plus IT giant, marked its centenary with celebrations and bonus bonanzas for its employees, its Chairman and CEO, Sam Palmasino asked an elite gathering in Bengaluru  whether the remarkable talent pool that is in virtually every profession in India, has ever introspected about using its talent to benefit and transform education, health care or any of the problems ailing the less favoured in our society.  The sad part was that when no one in the packed hall stood to answer the provocative question he simply said, “I rest my case”.

Dr. Devi Shetty, the famous children’s cardio-surgeon, remarked that India churns out the best and largest number of doctors and nurses and any number of state-of-the-art speciality hospitals across the country, yet medical care does not reach the masses that need it the most. While one reason is lack of money for treatment, the other more disturbing reason is the reluctance of doctors and nurses to serve the rural and economically backward in remote areas. Having paid lakhs of rupees for their medical/nursing degree they are in a hurry to recoup their investment.  State governments have tried from time to time to enforce a two-year mandatory service in rural India; the result: mass absenteeism, as in the case of teachers in state-run rural schools and colleges.

Some 58 of America’s wealthiest families have pledged half of their wealth to philanthropic causes; names like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates are familiar. So are Tata and Birla in India, and more recently, Azeem Premji of Wipro. But how many know that eight years before the endowment that established Carnegie University was created in the 19th century, Sir J.N. Tata had created the endowment bearing his name which later established the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru? And that he also pledged half his wealth to philanthropy?

While all these great names had the means to give, what about the rest of us contributing our time, commitment and skills to the less fortunate in society? Some schools in India have one or two periods of SUPW (Socially Useful and Productive Work) in a week; many teachers treat this period as simply a break from monotony while students consider it a euphemism for “Some Useless and Painful Work”. The general tendency is to get the students to press parents or the neighbourhood for donations to a charity or some worthy social cause. Would it not serve the student better if he were to read to the blind or spend time with lonely old people or lend a hand in some physical work in a farm or village?

Now, suppose participation in a socially relevant activity became an integral part of a complete education? Suppose grades given for such participation added to the overall score in final exams? And, just suppose, every employer asked a potential aspirant to describe in some detail any social work he has done, and his answer played an integral part in the selection process?

Imagine the benefits to the disadvantaged living among us if the country’s youth in the 15 to 35 year age group (who account for nearly half of our billion plus population) were to give just one day in one month towards a philanthropic activity. What a profound impact it would have on the have-nots; doctors and nurses treating the poor in town and village, teachers aiding in child and adult literacy, techies guiding the uninitiated through the intricacies of the computer to assist in the daily life of a small farmer or a petty trader, housewives imparting the benefits of basic hygiene to illiterate and ignorant mothers, and the rich contributing some of their material wealth for the undertaking and completion of vital projects stuck in some bureaucratic logjam. There are already selfless people out there who have worked with the locals to build dams for storing rain water, teach bio-waste management for enrichment of soil and crop value, and help impoverished and marginalized women become financially independent by starting small group business enterprises.

Sharing our wealth, both material and intellectual, as well as our time, not only raises the quality of life of the poor, and helps develop a better and equitable social fabric, it also gives an immense sense of self-satisfaction to the giver who expects nothing in return other than the betterment of his fellowmen, and in the process, his own. So, let it begin with social work being a mandatory subject in school and college and an important requisite in the selection process for jobs. It is time for the more fortunate among us to be the social alchemists who will use whatever power and skills we possess to become instruments of change that will make a difference to a large section of our fellowmen.

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18 responses »

  1. Beyniaz says:

    Very relevant blog, Vimala. Giving back to society has to be inculcated from a very young age.

  2. Eva Bell says:

    This article forces us to introspect. Are we giving back to society something of the bounty that we receive? There are many even in India, who contribute in different ways to the welfare of the marginalized. But they do it in secret without any desire to be recognized. The rich give of their bounty and it makes no dent in their pocket. But when it hurts to give – either money or time or energy – that is true sacrifice and genuine love for one’s fellowmen.

  3. Very relevant blog, esp in today’s India.

  4. Dear Vimala,

    A very thought provoking piece. Yes, we need to give back but not all of us have the initiative, time or energy or even guts to do so. Let’s hope we are able to give back to the society something positive and constructive for all the good things that it has given us.

    • vimala madon says:

      Shail, sometimes the time, or energy, or guts can be found if we get together as a small group, rather than go it alone. Believe me, it works and the satisfaction one derives from such service is immeasurable.

  5. Sonal Shree says:

    Very thought provoking article.

  6. Shernaz says:

    A very relevant blog, Vimala.

    There are those who give back to society in many productive ways…but these are sporadic and distant instances, where often all their efforts are negated once people in power, with vested interests, begin to interfere in the name of helping out.

    • vimala madon says:

      I agree Shernaz. The worst thing is when a person interferes in the name of doing good but is doing so only to get publicity or money for himself. Such people breed distrust in others who would otherwise not have hesitated to help, in cash or kind.

  7. Tanuja Chatterjee says:

    Dear Vimala!
    Your article is wonderful! Yes, I know how committed one needs to be! I believe, after we are sent out into the world, we need to give ourselves selflessly to break the fetters of pain and lift up the weak and slain…and become human beings in the truest sense….afterall, we belong to shared humanity, don’t we?

    • vimala madon says:

      Yes Tanuja. Each one of us must give a little bit of oneself in return for all the good that has happened to us in our lives. There are different ways of doing it – by giving of one’s time or money.

  8. vimala ramu says:

    People do take part in such activities. But talking about it takes the merit away from it. A thought provoking article,Vimala.

    • vimala madon says:

      Yes Vimala, there is no need to talk about it but sometimes in passing if one mentions some contribution one has made it could perhaps motivate another to do likewise

  9. Mira Pawar says:

    Very stimulating blog Vimala! There is so much to be done but very few want to share. The act of sharing seem to have vanished.

    • vimala madon says:

      I think maybe there is a slight change and along with the selfishness there is also a wanting to share among many young people. One reads about it more and more frequently these days.

  10. Inspiring and thought and action provoking.

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