When giving becomes a given

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 01, 2009 05:14 hrs

When giving becomes a given

Want to contribute to a social cause, but don't know where and what?

Today, your contribution is not limited to just funding the education of a child or giving out clothes or food to people in orphanages. Your money can be used for specific purposes such as to buy sandals for school children, to get towels for babies, to give iron tablets for young girls, to pay the salary of an autism professional or even to conduct funeral rites for unclaimed bodies.

Ask Usha Sridhar; she can reel out many more options -- or packages as she calls them. "Why should gifting always limit itself to education, food and clothes? I agree that they are important, but there are also other minor and unusual causes that need our attention and support. It's just about investing right."

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"This is what I call social investment management," says Usha, founder 'The Interface', a unique project which fills the gap in bringing together people who need support and people who want to support.

The Interface, a project under Sarada Foundation, is an endeavour to offer investors a variety of social investment options and a transparent picture of how their investments are used. These gift packages list out some unusual activities like funding funeral rites, providing medicines for cattle, sponsoring tree guards, etc.

Attributing the genesis of the idea to a Diwali gift in 2006, Usha, a commerce graduate and ex-marketing professional, recalls, "I wanted to specifically give money to disabled folks for buying wheelchairs. I had great difficultly tracking a particular NGO who was doing it. However, when I finally managed to find one, there was hardly any response to my follow up calls.

"If being in the same town, I had difficulty in finding the right NGO, I wondered about the condition of people far away from hometown who want to do something for their native village, town or city. That led to The Interface.

"The Interface is a one-stop shop for all your giving needs. My idea is to give investors the assurance and satisfaction that their investments reach the right people at the right time through the right channels," she says.

But how can one be sure whether the amount donated is actually used for the intended cause? "Sarada Foundation is a registered public charitable 80G trust. So the donor gets tax benefit straight away. With regard to the money being used for a specific cause, it is monitored by the work order that I issue to the NGOs," says Usha.

The Interface has about 30 NGOs on its registered panel. The NGOs are recruited after due diligence by its advisory board, which has some eminent people, including N. Murali, Joint Managing Director of The Hindu; L. Lakshman, Chairman, Rane Holdings; and playback singer Unnikrishnan.

"When a work order (a donor request for a specific gifting purpose) is executed, either one of my volunteers goes to the site to check or we get photo proofs of the same from the NGOs. After this, a report on the donation is sent to the donor."

So, how does she benefit? "Actually, I wanted to run this entirely as a service organization. And that is why I run this set up as an online venture from home. However, to cover my courier and travel costs, I am forced to charge 3 per cent of the donated money," she adds.

Usha hails from a family of philanthropists that runs a charity foundation in Madurai called Sarada Foundation. Amidst managing her entrepreneur husband and two grown-up daughters, she also runs The Interface with the hope of rekindling the philanthropic urge in individuals through her various social investment packages.

"After all, you can't force anyone to give," she says with a smile.

For more details on The Interface

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