As the child of an Indian immigrant father and an American mother from West Virginia, I was exposed from childhood to two America traditions. First, we are the most welcoming country in the world, with over 40 million immigrants. Second, I saw an America that was the most generous country in the world; according to the National Philanthropic Trust, 88 percent of Americans give something to charity, totaling over $300 billion per year. From a very early age, my American heritage told me that it was natural to participate in community service organizations. When Indians give alms, they are usually to religious or local organizations they personally know and trust. Contributing to private non-governmental organizations is a new concept for many.
However, these ideas are changing, and the Indian diaspora community is playing a major role in bridging the gap between the two cultures, setting new examples of community service and charity. When Indian-American billionaires, such as Manoj Bhargava, Vinod Khosla, and Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, pledge to give over half of their fortune to charity, it raises the bar for the rest of the community. As the diaspora community in America has become larger and more stable, it has also absorbed more of America’s volunteer spirit. In recent years, after national disasters, many Indian-American organizations have provided volunteers (especially physicians) to assist with the recovery efforts.
Now that focus on “giving back” is turning to the relationship between the United States and India. While Indian immigrants have always sent home money to relatives, organizations, such as the India Giving Network, are now offering Americans a chance to make impactful investments in the future of India. Many of the organizations in the India Giving Network provide services locally that ultimately benefit our bilateral relationship. For example, a large number of the organizations provide educational support to students in poor areas, giving them opportunities to become involved in the economy, which benefits India and creates a stronger trading partner for America. This online portal, sponsored by the State Department, makes it easier for Americans to find and support credible, transparent organizations in India that increase access to education, clean food and water, medicine, and jobs. By combining the community values of India with the charitable generosity of America, the Indian-American community is beginning to lead the way for all those who see the value of investing in India’s future.
About the Author: Srinivas R. Kulkarni is a Foreign Service Officer and Facebook Community Manager in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Digital Engagement.