I am headed to the American India Foundation (www.aif.org) Chicago fundraiser tonight. On the surface, it is an elegant Bollywood-themed gala that will host over 600 corporate and philanthropic leaders from Chicago. Behind the scenes, the annual event is a primary source of capital that funds AIF’s mission to catalyze social and economic change in India. AIF packs a strong punch for a lean organization that relies on hundreds of ambassadors, volunteers, and supporters. It has partnered with 115 NGOs that has impacted the lives of 1.5 million underprivileged Indians by partnering with and funding vetted Indian NGOs. I appreciate this model because rather than blindly donating to a cause or a country, AIF supports local organizations that can execute, not just ideate. It is also the organization that granted me and 22 of my peers the Clinton Fellowship in 2008 to work directly with the NGOs it funds. I’ve posted candidly about my fellowship experiences working in Gujarati slums with the incredible NGO, Saath (www.saath.org) here. But in short, my 10 months in India were a perspective-changing experience. I learned that through innovation, creativity, understanding, and entrepreneurship, anything is possible; but I also learned that social change requires patience and diligence and takes years or generations, not months.
Tonight’s event will likely raise thousands of dollars which will continue to expand AIF’s reach and impact. But what excites me most about AIF and the general social development landscape is the new market-based approaches. Donor-based investment is critical to charitable organizations, but it is susceptible to recessions, and therefore, not entirely sustainable. Many of AIF’s programs, including the ones employed by Saath, utilize the model illustrated below. One investment recycled for continual empowerment.