India's charities tackle poverty through business

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Media caption,

Flowers from outside temples are turned into products that consumers want

It's a riot of colours - yellow marigolds and bright pink roses spread out in the sun.

But the people spreading the joy this festive season cannot see it themselves - they are all visually challenged.

They take in tonnes of flower waste produced by temples and hotels in Delhi and turn it into organic skin-friendly colours for Hindu festivals.

The Society for Child Development, which runs this programme, says the process does not just reduce waste but creates livelihoods.

It says charity is not a solution. What they look for is a market to sell their goods.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Flower waste is used to make powdered colours sold for Hindu festivals in India

The director of the group, Dr Madhumita Puri, says that though society has been tackling the issue of poverty, it remains one of the greatest unsolved problems of the current generation.

"There is only one solution that really strikes me - that there has to be a business solution, a business solution where everybody comes in," she says.

"What does that person that's in the vulnerable position do? The person has to learn the skills to run a business and that's what our aim is - to provide them the opportunity of getting those skills."

Help entering a market

In training visually and intellectually challenged people in entrepreneurial skills, they seek assistance from corporations and big businesses.

"With corporates, what we would like to do is ask them to provide us help in the end solution. That is when we go into the market - when we go there we need all the help we can," Dr Puri says.

By turning waste into products consumers want, this charity has seen its business grow by 150% in the past year.

But their big gains came after US retail giant Wal-Mart took them on as a supplier.

They produced 18 tonnes of flower powder this season and have expanded their portfolio to make papier-mache lamps and bags made from recycled cloth.

Image caption,
The Society for Child Development now also produces papier-mache products

Wal-Mart says it is not donating money, but skills and expertise to help build the business.

"[We] bring in the capability of logistics, supply-chain efficiency and the process is controlled so the quality control is built in," says Rajneesh Kumar, the vice-president of corporate affairs for Wal-Mart India.

"I think that's what makes the whole difference for them. Bringing them up, from a regional base to pan-India and hopefully someday in the global supply chain."

This strategy means that supporting Dr Puri is not part of Wal-Mart's corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, but part of its regular business strategy.

Next year, it wants to double its order for flower-based powder for the festival of Holi.

More than money

It's not just big corporations - individuals too have always been supportive of charities.

Philanthropy has always been part of society in India. But traditionally, the bulk of this money is given to the poor outside temples and mosques - charity that's motivated by religious beliefs.

But as India's economy grows, mindsets are changing and the business of giving is becoming more than just money.

The India Giving Report, an extensive survey done in 2012 by the Charities Aid Foundation, said that India has the potential to become a global philanthropic powerhouse.

It also found that more than 80% of the population gave at least once a year. The most popular causes supported by Indians were disability, homelessness, care for the elderly and education.

Image caption,
Over 80% of India's population has donated at least once a year, including to disaster relief drives

Most charities say that given the size and scope of India's problems, economic growth alone cannot help everyone.

Philanthropy has a vital role to play, says Anshu Gupta of Delhi-based non-governmental group Goonj.

His group is among those that have benefited from the rise in philanthropy. They led a massive collection drive for the victims of the recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir.

'Create and nurture'

Also helping boost charitable activities is the new government diktat making it mandatory for Indian companies to spend part of their profits on CSR.

Under the new rules, companies with a net worth of more than $83m (£51m; 5bn rupees) need to spend at least 2% of their average net profit over the preceding three years on CSR activities. Some 12,000 companies are expected to come into this range.

The Union Commerce and Industry Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, has warned that the government will be keeping an eye on companies to ensure that they spend this money on meaningful projects.

She also said they will question those who shirk this work. "Corporates are the wealth creators. But they also have a duty to the nation. Through CSR you can create and nurture the wealth of society together with people who live there. Everyone expects the government to deliver, but actually it can only facilitate."

While this is a big step, groups like Goonj say corporations need to get to the root of India's problems to be more effective.

"But the problem is that all the big corporates and big offices are in urban areas. The problems are not within the range of 20-30km of their areas but it might be 1,000km away," says Anshu Gupta.

"So we need to build up their capacities. Corporates need to build up their capacities because of the kind of money which now they have to spend. We need to focus on rural India so that we can solve the problem then and there."

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