The World's Greatest Philanthropists

A smile pandemic

The initiatives of the Surat municipal body backed by The Rockefeller Foundation have led to a pleasurable outcome

Photographs by Soumik Kar

Zia Khan doesn’t usually roll up his trousers in public but during a recent trip to Bihar he ended up doing just that. Working with The Rockefeller Foundation, Khan has found that field visits can throw up the odd surprise or two. On this occasion, the head of the initiatives and strategy program team had to wade through knee-deep water to get to a bamboo boat that would take him across the river to Diyara Rasulpur, the village he was to visit. “We got up with the team, rolled up our pants and waded through the water and walked through the village.” The visit to the village, where the foundation was experimenting with a solar plant that charged a battery device used to power light bulbs, left a deep impression. “It was remarkable how life just shut down once it got dark. We visited a home where they had put in a light bulb. There were two kids studying. I don’t think they necessarily wanted to study, but they were. Until that point, it never occurred to me that as a kid there was never a time I wasn’t able to study when I wanted to study. I wish there was a way to have more people experience that.” This is one among countless examples of how the foundation is doing its bit to change people’s lives.

The Rockefeller Foundation is the first name in institutional philanthropy and, since its inception, has given away more than $18 billion in grants worldwide. During its initial years, the foundation used to disburse more foreign aid than the US government and the founder, John D Rockefeller Sr., always pushed his staff to address the root cause of society’s problems. Rather than getting involved in the actual implementation, the foundation involves the important players in the ecosystem that it seeks to influence. The intent is to ensure that those who will gain the most also take responsibility for sustaining future execution. On its part, it helps out through grants and cross-learning from its worldwide network. In India, the foundation has been operating since 1915 and its biggest success was facilitating the Green Revolution. Since then, India has grown manifold and one of its biggest challenges today is dealing with rampant urbanisation. Hence, the current focus here is on rural electrification and urban resilience.  

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