Farewell To Alms: Corporates give up on charity

Slowdown squeezes corporate donations, puts voluntary organisations & NGOs in a bind.

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MUMBAI: GK Mahantesh couldn���t see the slowdown coming. The 38-yearold lost his eyesight when he was just six months old, but the disability had only made him stronger, steeling him with a determination to overcome the odds. Mahantesh studied hard, acquiring a post-graduate degree in English literature and followed it up with an MPhil. Soon, he landed his first job as a lecturer in a Bangalore college. But his heart was elsewhere.

Mahantesh wanted to prove to the world that disability needn���t be limiting and disabled people too could be independent, perhaps even change the world. He wanted to start an organisation to fulfill his vision-of empowering through education. Time and money stood in his way, but Mahantesh managed to land a cooking gas distribution agency, quit his lecturer���s job, and in 1997, launched his dream project. It was called Samarthanam- a voluntary organisation for the disabled.

Whatever profit the gas agency made, Mahantesh funneled it into Samarthanam. And the years went by, Samarthanam found its feet, and as the country and Bangalore in particular boomed, money ceased to be a problem as companies poured in funds as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.



Emboldened, Mahantesh and his team started reaching out to more and more disabled people. Samarthanam started running schools and homes for the disabled in rented facilities. They desperately needed a proper office to monitor operations. Times were good, and so Mahantesh planned for a new headquarter-a 50,000-sq ft, fourstoreyed building in Bangalore that would have housed a school and disabled-friendly apartments at a cost of Rs 12 crore.

And then came September 2008, bringing along with it the tidal waves of the financial slowdown. It tipped western economies into a deep recession and lashed India too, knocking the country off the 9%-plus growth path it had become accustomed to in the past three years. The slowdown is causing closure of businesses and gobbling up jobs.
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Funds from companies dried up in no time, forcing Mahantesh to postpone plans for his new headquarters. And Samarthanam is not alone in facing the squeeze. The economic slowdown, set in motion by the global credit crunch, has forced companies to take the knife to all kinds of spending. Indeed, CSR funds have been among the first to go off the list.
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