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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book review: The Art of Effective Giving, R. M. Lala, HarperCollins India

The book brings to life, international  philanthropic celebrities like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, the Tatas, Azim Premji, etc. and makes you realise your power to do good.

This book is close to my heart for a number of reasons - the biggest of them being Mr Lala. I happened to be seated across Mr Lala at a philanthropy conference. He asked me to see him to get to know about new tools and platforms for giving. I could not imagine that the expert, who was Director of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust for 18 years and Co-founder & Chairman of the Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy for 15 years, was keen to know more about giving! It was overwhelming and humbling to meet him and I am excited to receive and read an autographed copy of his most recent book, “The Art of Effective Giving”. I found our brief interaction covered in pages 110-112 of the book.

When I called Mr Lala to thank him and mentioned about this book review my colleague, Nitya Kamat, had done for our blog, Mr Lala invited me to meet him again to discuss about using online media!
 – Pushpa Aman Singh, CEO, GuideStar India
“The Art of Effective Giving” by R.M.Lala, brings to life, international  philanthropic celebrities like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, the Tatas, Azim Premji, etc. Facts interwoven with personal conversations between the author and the philanthropist celebrities, bring the latter down from the pedestal of perfect-lives to quotidian dilemmas, “What should I do with my money?” and how their decisions’ generational impacts often outlive the philanthropists.

For instance, it is to Sir Dorab Tata’s philanthropy that India owes her participation in the Olympic Games and Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy Hospital continues to save lives, 150 years after inception.

Aimed at a layperson audience, the book is divided into two main sections. The first section navigates through the turning points in the lives of philanthropists, giving the reader a ring-side view of their journeys from capitalism to “philanthrocapitalism”. The variety of the journeys is striking:  While Bill Gates describes it as “a grand new adventure”, he also “weeps at the story and the suffering of other people”. Warren Buffet, having given away 99 per cent of his wealth, regards philanthropy “a lot harder and riskier than business” while Thomas Boone Pickens, while pledging 1 billion USD to the United Nations, confesses “My hands shook as I signed it away”. Carnegie regards all surplus revenues as “Trust funds” which he is “called to administer…for his poorer brethren”. The author demystifies and simplifies philanthropy, addresses the head-versus-heart dilemmas faced by the philanthropist giants in a chapter-wise, easy-to-read fashion. The first section, in effect, leaves the reader with a healthy feeling of smallness, perhaps wondering “If the giants did it, what’s stopping me?”.

Having sufficiently touched the heart of the reader, the author, in the second section, proceeds to ask the reader to now lend a hand, so to speak, or rather partake in the pleasures of becoming a giver, even if, at a small  level. The second section, though far briefer, is power-packed with stories of impacts of individual giving, and is the actual bungee jump (after the mental preparation in the first section!), plunging the reader into an action-mode, and after having satisfied the adrenalin rush of giving once, to give again.

Broadly, the author, owing to his personal involvement in the sector perhaps, does not dwell on measurable impacts achieved by the philanthropists per se, but, the heart-cry of the book is different: it is “to encourage people to enjoy the joy of giving”.
To this end, the author states excerpts from an interview with Pushpa Aman  Singh, CEO, GuideStar India, where she  shares her motivation to quit the corporate sector and  join the voluntary sector and she motivates people to step out, take a chance and change a life and enjoy  the  journey!

In closing, it is not just another un-put-down-able book, for, at the end of it, I am persuaded to utilize “my power to do good” and loosen my purse-strings for the benefit of a ‘stranger’ street child at a railway station near home… therefore, “The Art of Effective Giving” has certainly hit home.

Get the book online at 40% discount at India Plaza.
Please note that the actual cover of the book and the title is slightly different from the one seen on the website -“Widening the circle:  The Art of Effective Giving”. Don’t let this distract you from the treasures inside the book!

Click here to read more about the author. 

Book reviewed by Nitya Kamat, GuideStar India