A report from the US Census bureau came out a few weeks ago, noting that as of 2007 Indian-Americans have the highest median household income of any nationality: $91,195. This is specific to those 1.5 million who were born in India. The overall median household income in the U.S. is $50,740, and $46,881 for the foreign-born population.
Indians also have the highest percentage of people with bachelors degrees (69 %) and "the highest percentage of civilian-employed people working in management, professional and related occupations" (69 %). No surprises here, right?
But just where does all that crazy Indian-American wealth go - or for that matter, the time (and energy) of other South Asians? Apparently no one's really sure. Which is why Archana Sridhar and Venu Gupta set up the South Asian Philanthropy Project last April.
The two are Harvard Law graduates, and set out with these questions:
* Where do South Asians give their resources and time?
* What issues captivate the philanthropic imagination of South Asian Americans?
* What portion of South Asian giving is directed overseas?
* How developed is South Asian philanthropy compared to that of other ethnic groups in the United States?
* Are there culturally specific challenges with regard to philanthropy and volunteerism among South Asians?
The site is a great resources for journalists--check out this list of research and policy papers, and another list, of South Asian nonprofits and advocacy groups across the country. It's also useful for desis trying to figure out where to direct their cash. SAPP also has an active blog; recently, Sudhir Venkatesh ("Gang Leader for a Day") led a discussion with Sayu Bhojwani, Sunil Garg and Aly Kassam-Remtulla, around this basic question.
“South Asians are, for the most part, an economically successful group, so why organize their charity along ethnic lines? In particular, perhaps they should think about looking outside their own base to find recipients of philanthropic largesse. If South Asians should not necessarily give (solely or primarily) to South-Asian causes, then how should they approach their philanthropy? Give us some alternatives.”
That followed a piece that Sudhir wrote in Novemer on the NYT's Freakonomics blog, "What Should South Asians Do With Their Wealth?"
With all this in mind, I asked Archana and Venu a few questions about their organization.
Tell us about your group.
The South Asian Philanthropy Project (SAPP) was founded in April 2008 by me and Venu Gupta. We were classmates at Harvard Law School, and since then we have both worked in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. With SAPP, we want to inspire and galvanize charitable giving and volunteering among South Asians living in the United States because of our experiences with fundraising in and beyond our community.
Our goal is to raise awareness around issues of philanthropy and give South Asian donors (or potential donors) more tools to make charitable decisions. More than advocating for any particular cause, we want to create networks that link donors to each other and to organizations in need, and launch a national conversation about giving.
Our approach is three-fold: First, the website and blog, which is really taking off. We were just featured on the Chronicle of Philanthropy website for the blog forum, and our readership is steadily increasing. On the site, we also feature resources about philanthropy among Asian Americans and other groups of color, as well as a list of South Asian/South Asian American charitable organizations. Second, we hope to have an in-person summit or gathering of philanthropists, perhaps this fall. We've been having great interviews with South Asian nonprofit leaders and philanthropists to begin envisioning the event. Third, we are conducting research on giving among South Asian Americans and are hoping to publish a white paper or research article in collaboration with Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy and SAAPRI (South Asian American Policy and Research Institute).
What can you tell us about South Asians and philanthropy?
Well, we would love to tell you a lot more about South Asian
philanthropy and hope we will be able to soon. As it stands, however,
there's very little research available on the giving patterns among South Asian
Americans for a variety of reasons. We do have some information on the salary and education
levels of the South Asians in the United States.
With respect to philanthropy, it is well known that South Asians
Americans often direct their giving within extended family and
social networks, hence making it difficult to study. There is some South Asian specific information that points
to the philanthropic potential of the South Asian community. For example,
it is known that in 2002, the American India Foundation raised $7.5
million from people of Indian heritage in the United States. And, this
doesn't even begin to include giving to religious institutions.
Priya Anand has done some very thorough research on religious giving by
Indian Americans and discusses her findings in her paper "Hindu Diaspora and Religious Philanthropy in the United States." Ismaili Muslims of South Asian origin are also a model group in this regard.
There is more information out there on aggregate Asian American philanthropy and that which motivates Asians generally to give. For example, "Compared with those of mainstream America, giving practices among Asian Americans are more focused, ethnic-specific, ritualistic and institutionalized." -- Stella Shao, Fundraising consultant and founding board member of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP)
It is difficult to find aggregate giving numbers for Asians and even more difficult to find such information for South Asians. Many community leaders, academics, and foundations are beginning to see the need for this information. The emergence of SAPP is a response to this need. We hope to fund and publish original research on philanthropy among South Asian Americans soon.
What's your shortlist of resources for a journalist looking into South Asians and philanthropy?
For a journalist looking into SA's and philanthropy, I would of course recommend the SAPP blog since we try to highlight major gifts by South Asians, grant opportunities, reports, etc. in our almost-daily posts. And for more scholarly work, on our Resources page are a collection of the research studies on related issues. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is not very much on South Asians specifically. The report by Jessica Chao is quite informative, as are the papers by the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy and Priya Anand (mentioned above). The website of AAPIP (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy) is also a great resource.
Also check out Boston University professor Adil Najam's "Portrait of a Giving Community: Philanthropy by the Pakistani-American Diaspora"