(This feature article, about an NRI banker-philanthropist in Hong Kong, was published in DNA edition dated July 10, 2007.)
The missionaries of the Montford Brothers can recall with precision the moment when good fortune came knocking on the doors – literally – of the institute for the visually and hearing impaired that they run in Chennai. It happened when an NRI serial philanthropist who was on an early morning walk sauntered in and instantaneously offered to rebuild the crumbling residential school building – for which they had no way of raising money.
That act of spontaneous generosity has given a new lease of life to the St Louis Institute for the Deaf and the Blind in Chennai, which has been providing education for handicapped children since 1962. And the experience of both the donor and the donee in this case offers interesting lessons on how when it comes to donating to charitable causes, even a little drop goes a long way if intermediaries are kept out of the equation.
“From my experience, you don’t have to be rich to help others,” says Hong Kong-based private banker D.K. Patel (in picture at right), who has elevated giving to an art form by supporting numerous educational projects in Tamil Nadu and Orissa. “What you spend on a cup of coffee at Starbucks can pay for the monthly tuition of a child in kindergarten in India.”
Patel should know: it was he, who during an early morning walkabout in Adyar in Chennai, “stumbled on” the St Louis Institute and learnt of the school’s needs and offered to help with a new school building. The foundation stone for the new facility, to be built at a cost of about Rs 1.3 crore (which comes entirely from Patel’s pocket!), was laid in Chennai in mid-June.
In Patel’s estimation, it is best to avoid “intermediaries” in the donation exercise as far as possible, and to give directly to the beneficiary. Then again, it is simpler and better to help existing institutions rather than start new ones, says Patel. “A start-up typically requires large sums of money, and one has to face a number of bureaucratic hurdles.”
And given the inevitability of corruption and bribery in everyday life, Patel has a sound bit of advice for potential donors: “Please do not be put off by instances of bribery and corruption. Remember that those whom you want to help are not the culprits, but innocent sufferers. Always have their interest in mind.”
Donating, says Patel, isn’t just about signing a cheque: it is important to take an active interest in the project you want to contribute to. “If you’re donating to a school, make the effort to visit it at least once a year, talk to the teachers and interact with the children, even attend the classes.” Such interactions, he emphasises from personal experience, will open up new vistas for you about what you can do for the underprivileged.”