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South Asian Philanthrophy Review


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South Asian Philanthrophy Review

  1. 1. Philanthropy and the Arts – A South Asian perspective As arts organisations focus on developing a mixed economy model of funding combining public, private and earned income streams there is a significant opportunity to tap into private giving from South Asian communities based in the UK. Research in the USA looking at philanthropic giving from culturally diverse communities repeatedly references the viewpoint that diverse communities do give but they don't necessarily define their giving using the term philanthropy. By better understanding the language of philanthropy within a cultural and religious context artists and arts organisations can develop more compelling and persuasive arguments to encourage philanthropic giving to support the arts. The language of giving It’s unlikely you will find the words “Dana” “Seva” “Waqf” or “Sadaqa” in a philanthropy toolkit but they could provide the key to unlocking the untapped potential of giving to the arts from the UK’s South Asian community. Dana refers to the Hindu and Buddhist concept of giving, Seva is an act of service within the Sikh faith whilst Sadaqa establishes the concept of voluntary giving in the Islamic faith and Waqf represents the Islamic model of endowments. Whilst the language may be different each term establishes the importance of philanthropy as well as providing a religious and cultural imperative to encourage private giving that can be utilised by arts organisations to engage with potential donors. Reflecting diversity within the arts sector One of the key challenges facing arts organisations is the perception within the South Asian business community that the arts is not reflective of the diversity of society particularly in large urban cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and Bradford. There is a clear challenge for the arts sector to better reflect the diversity of local communities within the workforce particularly at board and senior management level as well as through their audiences. Through discussions with the Institute of Asian Business in Birmingham there is significant interest in working with arts organisations to identify opportunities for IAB members to become board members of arts organisations with a view to better understanding the sector and becoming stronger advocates for the arts.
  2. 2. The importance of outreach and community engagement A significant percentage of South Asian led businesses are located outside central business districts within diverse inner and outer city neighbourhoods. This is in contrast to the pattern of arts infrastructure in many cities where theatres, galleries and arts spaces are located in city centres. Outreach and community engagement at a local level provides an excellent opportunity to raise the visibility of arts activity and highlight the investment case for supporting the arts. A key incentive for a corporate donor is identifying their customer base in the audience of arts organisations. A successful example of this approach has been adopted by Birmingham based NPO Punch Records which has worked with Digbeth based warehouse company Latif’s to forge strategic links around their Desi Moves programme. Unlocking the value of property assets A significant amount of capital within the South Asian business community is tied up in property assets. This may limit a business’s ability to make a significant cash donation but it does provide an opportunity to unlock value and investment through the utilisation of vacant or unused property assets. This represents a greater opportunity where property assets are located in local neighbourhoods and outside of central business districts where there is limited physical arts infrastructure. Reversing the trend of outward investment Historically for religious and cultural reasons the majority of private giving from South Asian communities in the UK has gone to support projects overseas. This includes financial support for infrastructure projects including places of worship, schools, hospitals and orphanages as well as responding to humanitarian crisis and responding to natural disasters and rebuilding communities post conflict. These areas have historically dominated the hierarchy of giving within the community. The primary driver historically for investment in the UK has been the funding of places of worship which was a greater priority for the first generation of migrants settling into the UK. This was followed by a wave of investment in education and school projects particularly within the Muslim communities replicating the faith based education model already established within Christian and Jewish traditions. There are encouraging early signs that younger members of the UK’s South Asian community are equally committed to philanthropic giving. The key differentiator to earlier generations is a greater emphasis being placed on supporting initiatives that will directly benefit communities here in the UK rather than overseas. The
  3. 3. drivers for philanthropic giving amongst younger generation South Asian communities are also different, there is a greater openness to support projects promoting arts, culture and sport as well as raising the aspirations and attainment levels of young people and addressing social challenges that are not exclusive to South Asian communities. This presents the single biggest opportunity to make the case for the arts to a new generation of philanthropists who are more immersed in the cultural fabric of the UK and recognise its potential value. Making a case for corporate support Philanthropic giving within the South Asian community has generally been the preserve of the individual. There is an under developed culture of corporate giving particularly amongst small to medium sized enterprises but this too is slowly beginning to change as businesses grow and expand and subsequently become more interested in developing and nurturing their brands as well as their corporate values and sense of social responsibility. Perceptual barriers to supporting the arts There are perceptual challenges to supporting the arts within the South Asian community. These include the perceived lack of diversity within the arts as alluded to earlier but also include a failure to recognise in some quarters the value of the arts to society and thus regarding it as a low priority in the hierarchy of private giving. With the success of contemporary South Asian music scene in particular, Bollywood and the emergence of a proliferation of digital television and radio platforms there is also the perception that arts and cultural activity is thriving commercially and does not need financial support. This also correlates with the challenge of addressing the very significant challenge that many South Asian businesses are not aware of the high cost of producing or developing an arts experience. To an extent this problem has been exacerbated by the willingness of some arts organisations to accept small amounts of sponsorship income in exchange for brand recognition from a sponsor without providing the true cost or worth of the arts offer. This has created an artificial environment where the limited level of philanthropic giving to support arts activity as a general rule is dominated by donations of under £1,000. The challenge facing arts organisations is to articulate the real cost of creating art and setting a new precedent where South Asian businesses and philanthropists are encouraged to contribute at a significantly higher level of financial support. This precedent is firmly established in other aspects of South Asian philanthropy and needs to be
  4. 4. established within the arts and cultural sector in order to stimulate and nurture further investment in the arts. Lost in translation Efforts to fundraise can get lost in translation. Philanthropic support for the arts within the South Asian community is very much in its infancy. Significant developmental work needs to take place to broker and establish relationships and foster a greater understanding of the potential to generate value for both the arts sector and donors. For some prospective donors the incentive to support the arts may not actually be the arts itself but the other social, economic or regeneration outcomes that might emerge from the process of producing art. A key driver for many South Asian philanthropists interviewed is a desire to raise the aspirations of young people within their community and to become more active members of their society. Arts organisations need to be able to tailor their pitch and offer accordingly. Traditional arts fundraising routes require organisations to articulate the artistic proposition. This approach may have to be adapted accordingly to articulate the other components of value generation that the process of producing and presenting art can deliver. The importance of listening and understanding the drivers for potential interest are paramount to a successful pitch. Sometimes the real challenge is not to respond to the question a potential donor might ask but responding to the wider context within which the question has been framed. Abid Hussain Relationship Manager, Diversity in Arts Practice, Arts Council England