Ingrid Srinath’s address at Meet and Greet event

Since August 2016, I have had the rare privilege of helping to create India’s, and South Asia’s, first and only academic centre to focus on social impact and philanthropy. Looking back, as I hand over charge of CSIP to Pankaj Ballabh, I am overwhelmed by the utter generosity we have been showered with by a very, very wide range of individuals and organisations.

I’ve often wondered why it’s taken this long for an entity like CSIP to come into being in a country with as storied a history of philanthropy and civil society, as India’s. Perhaps it takes an institution with the ethos and values of Ashoka University to recognise the value of such an endeavour. Amit Chandra, whose brain child it was, Ashish Dhawan and our other Advisory Council members — Hari MenonVidya Shah and Amitabh Behar — have individually and collectively been our rock, our safety net, our champions and our most thoughtful critics.

I’ve often said that CSIP has the best donors bar none. It’s become trendy in philanthropy, especially post COVID, to speak of patient, flexible, participatory, trust-based philanthropy. CSIP’s donors embodied these principles from Day 0. Few people have exemplified this better than Arnav Kapur and the team at the Gates Foundation whose patience, persistence, and generosity with time, expertise, networks and support – financial and moral — we have counted on throughout the journey thus far. Likewise, Ashu Khullar, Shahin Dastur and the team at Citibank, Archana, Gayatri and the team at ATE Chandra Foundation, Naghma and the EdelGive team, Rohini and Gautam at Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, Kate Mohan and the team at the Target Foundation, Rati Forbes and the team at Forbes Marshall as well as Fiona Dias and Luis Miranda , Govind IyerOmidyarAzim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives (APPI)Global Dialogue, the BMW Foundation and others.

Leaders at Ashoka University, Vice Chancellors, Pro-Vice Chancellors, Venkat, Gitanjali and the Development team, teams in Finance, IT, Communications, Operations and HR, colleagues at other Centres, and numerous faculty and staff members have all provided CSIP critical guidance and support.

The generosity of our partners has been overwhelming. From KashVikramTom and others at the Harvard Business School, teams at the International Center for Nonprofit Law (ICNL)WINGS, the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR), the Center for Effective PhilanthropyCandidAlliance magazineSynergos, and the Lilly Family School at Indiana University, to peers in India like BridgespanGuidestarDasraIndia Development Review (IDR)The Nudge, Indian School for Development Management (ISDM)National Foundation for India (NFI)SattvaIndia Leaders for Social Sector (ILSS)Korn FerrySvaryaCentre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA)Accelerate Indian Philanthropy (AIP), and so many others — to the hundreds of organisations who have participated in and partnered our capacity building programmes, Strategic Nonprofit Management India (SNMI) and Resilience Strategies for Nonprofits (RSN), convening initiatives like the Social Innovation Summit (SIS), research, and case studies including Jai Vakeel FoundationDigital Empowerment Foundation (DEF)StartUp!, Tech4Dev, Dhwani RISInternet Freedom Foundation (IFF)GoonjBreakthroughApnalayaJan SahasInstitute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI)Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy (CAP)AccountAidFinancial Management Service Foundation (FMSF)… The list is endless.

Two exceptional groups who have added immense value to CSIP are our Mother Teresa Fellows and our Research Fellows. Witnessing them breaking new ground in social impact and building our collective knowledge of philanthropy has been humbling. Dozens of nonprofit organisations and leaders, from Muhammad Yunus and Jacqueline Novogratz to Rabbi Shergill and so, so many more, have collaborated with CSIP to share their knowledge, talents, experience and opportunities with students and alumni at Ashoka University.

Most critically, what can I say about the CSIP team? Not only have they navigated these entirely uncharted waters, delivered pioneering research studies and other programmes, and responded to the evolving needs of our stakeholders, but they’ve done so with unfailing grace, integrity and humour — pre, during and post pandemic. Each individual has gone above and beyond the call of their job description to innovate, adapt, leave their unique mark on the sector, and to provide each other the support and solidarity that have been so vital to our functioning, especially in the past 3 years.  It has been an absolute pleasure to learn from them, see them set new standards for themselves and for CSIP, and to torture them with endless bad jokes about millennials. To Sarah, Bindi and Soumya, in particular, and our partners at Outbound and Anahat, a thousand thanks for helping to define who CSIP is and how we choose to be.

One individual we owe a debt of gratitude to, but who has been less visible, is Pushpa Sundar. 20 years before anyone used the term philanthropy ecosystem, Pushpa’s pathbreaking work helped define the need for, and role of, an entity like CSIP. Our strategy has been built on the foundation Pushpa established through the Sampradaan Centre and through her scholarship. Pushpa has never turned down any request we have made, and we are deeply indebted to her.

Both philanthropy and civil society in India are at a critical juncture right now. What roles we define for ourselves and how we choose to build solidarity with each other will determine not just the future of these sectors but, more importantly, the future of all Indians and of our democracy itself.

When we were starting our journey at CSIP, we were honoured with a message from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I’m not a religious person, but his words helped put what we were setting out to do in perspective. He wrote: All God’s richest blessings for your endeavour as you set out on this exciting adventure to make the world a better place for all God’s children. We were meant to inhabit a garden and live in harmony with all God’s creatures and with our human counterparts. We have turned what should have been a garden into a wilderness and splintered what should have been one human community into horrendously squabbling factions. Anything you can do to ameliorate this awful consequence of human sin will be most worthwhile. God bless you richly. Arch.

His words ring even more true today. In fact, I think, if CSIP didn’t exist right now, we would have to invent it.