Giving Back to Society: Doing something thoughtful and making a difference

During college days, I was part of a church in the city I was studying at, Bangalore, Karnataka, India. On one of the long holiday weekends, the senior members of the church came up with an activity of going to Beggar’s Colony and cook a good meal to all the residents there. That was my first experience of participating in doing something thoughtful and making a difference in the lives of others, however small my contribution might have been.

During my days in IBM India, a program was initiated called as Corporate Social Responsibility. In some cases, it was also called as Corporate Service Corps. The objective of this was to inculcate a habit of giving back to the society through valuable community service. We went to several places, cleaning up lot of areas and the likes, essentially doing something thoughtful and making a difference.

There’s really no one I know who hasn’t heard and not been a fan of Taylor Swift. So when she donates her millions to charity, reaches out to her fans to help, wraps ‘Swiftmas’ gifts to her fans, helps spread literacy through Scholastic’s Read program, and makes surprise visits to hospitals, even the fans feel proud of her. That is one way most celebrities try and give back to the community. Media enables us to know about celebrity outreach, but does one really need to be a celebrity or have the millions to give or write a cheque? Not quite.

Giving back to the community has been around as long as there have been communities that shaped individuals. Take Bill and Melinda Gates, for example, who have strived to better the lives of people through their eponymous foundation by providing safe drinking water and fighting HIV and malaria. Or nearer home, Indians like one of Infosys Founders Nandan Nilekani and his wife Rohini Nilekani who work through the Pratham Books that aims at achieving higher and better literacy rates in India’s government schools.

Why do people give back to the community?

Communities are units of human civilization that help shape a person’s life. Most people who think of giving back to the community that they grew up in are those who have benefitted the most from the community. They value this unit and its impact on their upbringing. For some, it has been the local parish that has helped in education. For others, it could be the community leaders who pitched in to provide food for an impoverished family or helped in seeking admission to college. Several others feel indebted to the community simply because of the warmth it provided in tough times. This indebtedness, this feeling that I owe the community something for what it has done for me, is the drive behind giving back. I feel it is the ideal philanthropist’s pipeline where the baton is passed from one to the other. Why baton, I would go on to say it’s a lamp that lights several other lamps and sets a whole community aglow.

How do you begin

Start from wherever you are. Stay connected to the happenings in the community through new age modes like social media and news. Understand what is needed and where you can pitch in. It is not always the monetary contribution that is valued but several other methods can be tapped too.

Speak to community leaders and understand what is needed. It could be anything like

  • Recommending some talented youth for jobs or apprenticeship opportunities
  • Volunteering at a school, old age home, special schools, or hospices
  • Creating facilities like water tanks, libraries, parks, museums, or hostels
  • Hosting needy students at your home for some time during their education. Several people make arrangements for a specific room in the house where such students can stay and pursue education
  • Organize or Contribute to fundraisers
  • Plan and execute plantation drives with the help of local citizens
  • Initiate a citizens grievance redressal forum where people can help solve civic problems
  • Help spread words creating awareness about climate change and the importance
  • Visit homes of lonely people and see if you can help them with chores and care
  • Create facilities for the aged and the disabled
  • Identify a child who needs help in education or livelihood
  • .. and many more ..

How does it make a difference?

  • When we say “Giving back to the community”, most people assume that one must reach a certain high level of affluence to begin. Nothing could be farther from truth. Giving back does not need your coffers to be full but just your heart (that’s why they say, when you have plenty, give with your hands, when you have little, give with your heart!) When your head, heart, and hands are aligned, giving becomes a truly joyful pursuit.
  • Giving back is in effect, staying connected to your community. You know where it hurts and where it needs to be healed. You are aware about the ways in which you can pitch in with whatever you can. You get to know the people – the volunteer groups, the leaders, the fundraisers, and the donors. That way, you can plan and execute better
  • It gives you a sense of satisfaction nothing else can match. Being of some help to your community is a feeling one needs to experience to understand. Not only do you fill in some void, you ensure that problem does not bother someone’s life again.
  • You also create a pipeline of volunteers. Seeing you doing something worthwhile encourages others of your ilk to pitch in thereby increasing the tribe. More members coming forward means more help and better lives for those who need it.
  • You have something to look up to apart from your family and work. Volunteering is a joy that surpasses every need for recreation. Sparing your time every day or every week for community work ensures you derive immense satisfaction that lasts you longer than a bottle of booze would! Pardon me the analogy, but you definitely know what I mean, don’t you?
  • Set examples. Let people know what is needed and fill in the blanks. Reach out to people who want to do something but don’t know-how and are also apprehensive about how to begin. Many times, people want trustworthy causes to begin with. It is here that people from within the community can turn brand ambassadors for donors.

The world is what it is today because of people who thought beyond their own interests. Educators, healthcare professionals, scientists, anthropologists, and many such looked beyond their own lives and dedicated their lives to the community. We reap the fruits of the seeds sown by them years and centuries ago. This baton must be passed down to the next generation for goodwill and a good heart never go out of fashion. The world needs more of this. If only more people come forward to give.

What are you waiting for?

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