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by Nita Bhalla
26 February 2009

Last year's floods in Bihar showed how India's middle classes want to help. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri Last year's floods in Bihar showed how India's middle classes want to help. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
As aid agencies around the world grapple with funding cuts amid the global economic meltdown, charities in India are targeting what was up until now an untapped resource – the middle classes.

India's rapid economic boom in recent years has given rise to a large middle–class population who has the income to holiday abroad, buy branded products and dine in expensive restaurants.

Estimates vary on the size of this growing community, but it is believed to number 200 million out of a population of 1.2 billion.

Aid agencies, which have traditionally relied on bilateral donors to sponsor development and emergency relief projects, say they are now waking up to this new source of money.

"There is a large Indian middle class and they have probably not been giving much because we have not been engaging them directly," said Thomas Chandy, CEO of Save the Children India.

Chandy said his organisation was fundraising in India’s bustling business hub Mumbai and the charity is raising about one million rupees ($20,000) every month from speaking to people on the street.

“It’s not a very sophisticated fundraising mechanism – just people coming up to us in the street and us telling them about what we do and the children that we are trying to help,” he adds.

In Delhi’s vibrant business district of Connaught Place, outside the stores selling Levis and Nike, a man carrying a clipboard with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) logo, joins the street–food vendors, shoe cleaners and street children who are all vying for the attention of shoppers and office workers.

People appear puzzled as he goes through his pitch, but they seem more than happy to stop and listen.

Resources and Interest
As in many developing countries, the huge disparity between rich and poor can give the impression that wealthier Indians in their air-conditioned 4x4 cars are either immune to the beggars knocking on their window or too preoccupied to care.

But fundraising managers say this is simply not the case.

"It's not like it was ten years ago," said Clement Chauvet, private fundraising and partnership manager for UNICEF India. "India's middle classes want to help in the development of their own country and have the resources and interest to do this now."

UNICEF India raised $1.6 million last year and Chauvet projects this will rise to $3.2 million in 2009.

The charities use face-to-face contact, telemarketing and direct mailing to target a certain profile.

"The thriving middle class, who are young, a little beyond 30-years-old, urban professionals and who have a sustainable source of income, are the segment which we are looking at," said Kunal Verma, Oxfam India's marketing and communications director.

"These people understand development work much more than they did ten years ago and they also now want to be part of the solution."

Verma said Oxfam India now has around 50,000 donors in the country and he estimates face-to-face engagement will raise about $900,000 in 2009 compared to $460,000 last year.

Agencies say about one to 5 percent of those approached in India end up giving regular contributions - similar to the international benchmark.

The public reaction to last September's devastating floods in the eastern state of Bihar, which left hundreds dead, has also reinforced charities' views that Indians are keen to help.

Aid workers say they were inundated with calls, emails and letters from people offering help.

Although public fundraising is a relatively new phenomenon in India and the amounts raised are still modest, charities say the practice can bring more than monetary rewards.

"The idea is to try and create an understanding amongst the general population that they can help make a difference in their own country," said Sarah Crowe, UNICEF's head of communications for South Asia region.

"The needs are so huge in a country like India that it can't just be one single source of funds. It has to be a joint effort."

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