Friday, June 03, 2011


Every argument between a diehard devotee of Satya Sai Baba and a non-believer will end with the former saying, “Whether you believe in his powers or not, you can’t deny that he has done so much for the community. He has built hospitals, canals, roads, educational institutions…”.

This line of reasoning kills any objections one might have on the means adopted for making the money that later went into building roads, canals, etc. The message is clear: ‘Don’t be obsessed with the methods. Look at his large-heartedness. So many people have made tons of money. Not all have distributed their wealth for the larger good of people, as he has done’.

Without getting into discussions on Sai Baba’s methods of accumulating wealth that he then used for charity, let’s ask why we hold as ‘philanthropists’ only those who give away material goods in some form?

In fact, the word “philanthropy’, according to Wiki, etymologically, means ‘the love of humanity’. It is not to be confused with charity.

In her book, “Bazaars, conversations and freedom”, Rajni Bakshi provides a perspective:

The notion that commodity exchange is a higher form of civilization was a key element in the rise of the market from the eighteenth century onward. It followed that progress in the world would now be measured by the ability to accumulate material goods and money, even if some of the money is later given away through philanthropy. This partly explains why Bill gates as a billionaire philanthropist is treated as a folk hero and Tim Berners-Lee who gifted us the World Wide Web is not a household name.

..The emergence of the Internet itself has been a vast collaborative effort. But it was the crafting of the Hypertext markup language (HTML) and the Hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) that brought order to cyberspace and gave us the easy access Internet that we take for granted. Tim Berners-Lee created these protocols and released them as a global commons.

Berners-Lee’s driving motivation was to ensure that the fundamental value of the web could be created by its users. He designed the hyperlink protocols to serve this purpose. Refusing to patent the protocols he created was for Berners-Lee both a technological and ethical imperative. This was the only way to ensure its universality, as opposed to competing webs.

As Time magazine put it, “You’d think he would have at least got rich; he had plenty of opportunities. But at every juncture, Berners-Lee chose the non-profit road both for himself and his creation.

Berners-Lee gifted away as much money as Bill Gates did. Only he did not accumulate it first for distribution later. His act of charity was in not charging for his invention worth several billions. He was a philanthropist in the classical sense.

Remember this simple distinction, and realise that by not charging you anything for the gyaan that I come up periodically, I am being a true philanthropist.

Update 040611: I realise I had omitted an important angle- the ability of godmen to distribute wealth by doing a Robin Hood act. Rich people, who would otherwise not part with their money, willingly and readily hand it over to godmen once they turn believers. Some of them may do so to atone for the methods adopted in accumulating their wealth. Some may genuinely believe in the power of the godmen. Whatever may be the motivation, money collected using the 'pulling power' of the godman brand, can be used for 'charity' -  to help the poor and the needy.

Look at it this way. When Coca Cola sponsors an event that brings about awareness of climate change, they earn brownie ( or rather 'greenie') points for their generosity. Nobody bothers to think that they earned their money in the first place by selling sugar water as the 'real thing'.


Vaidy said...

We bow to the philanthropist Raj!
:) Jokes apart, a sincere thanks from a regular reader. Keep at it.


rt r said...

Shruthi said...

Absolutely! No denying that. Gyaan yes, laughs too. Great post.

Raj said...

Vaidy, Shruthi: Thanks

Anonymous said...

the gyan thing is very true. thanks for all the posts..