According to The India Philanthropy Report 2021 of Dasra and Bain and Company, Indian philanthropists have a bias towards investing on education and healthcare. Gender equality is more than often ignored by most philanthropists despite India being further behind on gender equality indicators compared to health and education. Education and healthcare, according to the report constituted 47% (₹1,926 crore) and 27% (₹1,089 crore) of the overall ₹4,000 crore of family giving in FY20-21.

Are Indian givers shying away from supporting gender causes? Naghma Mulla, CEO, EdelGive Foundation, says that it is all about what can be solved immediately and at scale. "It is easy to invest in education or enable 100,000 cataract operations. It is scalable and looks good on the report card." Issues such as gender diversity or gender violence, according to Mulla are not tangible or measurable. "Even if I want to get into gender-based violence, the community which I want to support has to first accept that there is gender-based violence. Most of the affected communities don't even want to accept as for them it is 'pati ka pyar'. So, what will I fund," explains Mulla.

Deep Bajaj, founder of feminine hygiene brand, Sirona Hygiene, runs the Sirona Hygiene Foundation which focuses on gender equality and period hygiene. The company contributes ₹1 to the foundation from every product that it sells, but a foundation run by a start-up often has limitations in terms of resources. Bajaj says it is a herculean task for him to raise funds as leading philanthropic foundations don't have time to look beyond issues such as education and health care. "Most family foundations have a person who has a clear ROI target, and he/she will chase sectors where there are returns. It is natural for them to go after education or poverty alleviation. In rural India I can convert over 100,000 women to using pads or menstrual cups, but I don't have the money to fund them and I don't know where to go to raise funds."

Shailja Mehta, director, Dasra, says the need of the hour is to find ways to convince philanthropists that investment in gender-related causes are measurable and tangible. "We need to communicate to them that investing in gender-related causes are not as risky or complicated." Mulla of EdelGive agrees. "It becomes our responsibility to simplify these problems. We are placing these issues in front of funders in a way it is more consumable and better understood."

Why Indian philanthropists need to invest through gender lens?

A Dasra whitepaper emphasises on the importance of impact-led investment through a gender lens. It says adopting a gendered approach will create deeper impact and improved returns. So, if a grant maker decides to renovate a dilapidated school in a village with colourful classrooms, a well-equipped library, a playground and free meals, it won't be surprising if the student attendance goes up. While the funder may be satisfied about creating an impact on the ground, but in reality it may not be as impactful. The overall attendance concerns may have been addressed but there could be disparities between the attendance of boys and girls.

A gender lens analysis according to the Dasra whitepaper, could reveal facts such as majority of the girls in the target region perform household chores in the morning and the school timings (8am – 1pm) are unsuitable for them to attend.Also, the absence of a separate toilet for girls (with access to sanitary material) in the school building makes it challenging for menstruating girls to manage their period and forces them to remain absent for some part of the month. The lack of a safe mode of transportation to and from schools makes families hesitant to send girls to school. Had the funder considered the specific needs of both genders – a more conducive school time, appropriate infrastructure to meet the health needs of growing girls, or engagement with the parents to allow girls to re-allocate their time from household chores to studies – the programme would have been even more effective in bringing both girls and boys to school, therefore creating most impact for the funds invested.

"We have 250 million adolescents in the country, a significant portion are girls. We have to create infrastructure for them and understand their needs," explains Mehta of Dasra. Even when it comes to supporting gender violence, there are organisations which support victims of violence, but nothing much is being done to stop the violence at a systemic level. What is missing is an examination of norms that support and condone violence, in addition to interventions addressing the perpetrator, who in many cases is the man of the house. Understanding his attitudes and environment that perpetuate such behaviour and designing programmes to change these, together with curative programmes, could would offer a transformative and comprehensive solution aimed at preventing and addressing the problem.

"We need to be bold and meaningful in our philanthropy. By supporting short-term, quick tangible things, you are not going to change the fabric," emphasises Mehta of Dasra. In fact, Bajaj of Sirona feels that corporate social responsibility itself needs to be re-looked. "There should be funds where private organisations doing good work can get capital. There should be a Shark Tank kind of initiative where one can pitch for CSR funding. If there is a village where girls are not going to school and using cloth instead of pads, I will tell you how I will be answerable to my investors and funders. Currently, there is no forum for us to raise money."

Though at its infancy, Gaurav Gupta, partner and regional director (Asia), Dalberg Advisors, claims that Indian philanthropists have started looking at investment through the gender lens. "Be it education or healthcare, philanthropists are investing through a strong gender lens." A lot of philanthropists, according to him, are supporting family planning and self-help groups and while they may not fall under the gender purview, both the initiatives target women.

"There is definitely a challenge when it comes to issues such as gender violence where there is limited investment, but I suspect these are early days," adds Gupta.