The benefits of philanthropy have come to the fore in recent years with leading businessmen and other successful people donating to the cause of the less privileged. Recognised for her charity work with the “Asian of the Year” award in 2005, Surina Narula maintains that “philanthropy starts with small acts of generosity” and has thus sustained her philanthropic initiatives “intelligently”.
Narula is not your usual philanthropist; she does not go about giving her money easily to ameliorate the many ills that plague our society. Instead, she focuses on what she calls intelligent philanthropy.
“Philanthropy is an integral part of life. It should not be left till when you are rich or old to start helping people. It starts with small acts of generosity. You can always find someone less privileged than you to make a difference in their lives. If you have money to help people with, then do it intelligently. If you yourself don’t understand whom to give and why, hire someone to present you with alternatives. There are many well-researched organisations which don’t exist just to make money for themselves, whom one could support,” Narula told IANS in an interview.
If you look at the causes she has supported so far, Narula’s is a philanthropy enterprise immersed in educating society through various fora.
She is president of the Consortium for Street Children — a network of over 65 UK-based development agencies. She has in the last 25 years organised numerous events to raise money for their support and, more importantly, to raise the profile of street children at an international level. She is also a trustee of PHIA (Partnering Hope Into Action), besides being the founder sponsor and festival advisor for the Jaipur Literature Festival. She was on the Board of Directors for Plan International UK and is a Patron for Plan India, and Honorary Patron for Plan USA and a Patron for Hope for Children.
Her latest initiative is Difficult Dialogues, an annual conference tackling the most vital issues facing South Asia. The third edition in the series (February 9-11 in Panaji) will focus on the question “Gender Equality: For Everyone’s Benefit?”
The conference will see leading experts, policymakers and world famous stars and personalities gather to deliberate the given question. Difficult Dialogues, she says, is a combination of 25 years of experience which has encompassed fundraising, entertainment and social issues, a fascinating mix that is integral to the daily lives of consumers and citizens. This is an event, she maintained, which could combine and magnify these dynamics and create incredible value for its stakeholders.
“Our sponsoring Jaipur Literature Festival, creating an award in London for TVE Global sustainability, fundraising for Pratham, founding an organisation like the Consortium for Street Children which has changed policy at the UN level, volunteering as a board member with many organisations such as Plan International, and sponsoring the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature have all had their influence in shaping Difficult Dialogues.
“The discussion on policy is never held with those who are the ultimate users or beneficiaries. For example, policy is often ill designed and has to be finally implemented through the intervention of NGOs. Instead of duplicating effort, why not have everybody together in a conference and come up with policy recommendations or discussions on what works and what needs to change. Democracy downwards-up is the key word now. The generosity of Goa University and the International Centre Goa, along with the involvement of University College London and Brookings India, has made it possible for us to put together the Difficult Dialogues 2018 event,” she added.
She asserted that Difficult Dialogues is different from other gender conferences because “we are addressing masculinities” and “asking men” how “gender equality” benefits them. Narula maintained that communication has been “a great equaliser of gender” in contemporary times — but even the boon of communication has not been for all.
“Those who have access to the tools of communication have had tremendous benefits. On the other hand, if you go by the statistics, there are villages with no electricity and no schools, forget methods of communication. The law on gay rights has still not been passed. Human rights are linked to caste systems and religious beliefs and are very hard to change and are deeply etched into the Indian psychology. From women being considered not pure during menstruation to child marriages, India still has a long way to go. Education, education and education, is the only way to reach Gender Equality,” she said.
This year, the forum will feature renowned professors of global health such as Professor Sarah Hawkes who leads the University College London Centre for Global Health and Gender, and, among others, Professor of Global Health and Philosophy Sridhar Venkatapuram of King’s College London. UK politician and teacher Baroness Shreela Flather and actress Gabriella Wright will also be present. Through engaging panel discussions, the speakers will grapple with the crucial issue of how Indian gender constructs affect fundamental aspects of daily lives and citizenship.
Attendees can expect to see top government officials discuss new policy directions with a number of leading minds from the professional world, academia, development experts, the media, grassroot workers and a host of celebrities with vivid experiences of the issues at hand.