The difficult rise of Global South philanthropists in the West
In my book ‘Rebuilding You’ I suggest that giving away wealth can be harder than making it in the first place. That is particularly true for philanthropists like me who live in the West but hail from the Global South.
Mackenzie Scott, who has donated $12 billion to good causes since 2019, prefers not to be called a ‘philanthropist’ but a “giver”. Scott says that a wealthy person’s donation deserves no more admiration than the donation of a less wealthy individual. Scott’s MO is to give very large sums, unconditionally and without her ongoing involvement.
Scott is one of the people that I truly admire for her “giving” efforts. But I take a different view when pumping millions of dollars of my own personal wealth into good causes. My own MO is simple: to create grassroots movements, funded entirely by my own wealth, and to channel the spending directly at those who need it the most. I’m also so proud of my eponymous grassroots movements that I even put my own name on them.
So why the difference, you might ask? Why do I not subscribe entirely to the Mackenzie Scott methodology for giving away millions of dollars of my wealth?
Firstly, because of Western social and cultural norms that often shut out people like me, who do not fit the established archetype. The Western establishment is inherently suspicious of wealth creators who have emerged from the Global South. We face disdain. Our past mistakes do not get forgiven or forgotten. The world that we hail from, and the wealth-creation environment within it, is not well understood.
The Global South is so far outside of the purview of some Western institutions and media that they simply cannot comprehend the paths trodden by its wealth creators. And so it follows that Western charities also prefer Western donors, even when the purpose of the charity is to help the poorer communities of the Global South. So it is inevitable that some like me choose instead to 'go it alone' when it comes to our giving.
Secondly, because I believe that established charities are too frequently inefficient in the way that they transport their resources to those in need. My approach to giving circumvents these charities by instead finding the right community organizers on the ground within the poor communities that need help. I then engage them to lead new movements, backed by substantial resources far beyond what they ever dreamed possible.
My Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation for example has managed to screen 135,042 patients and to cure 15,614 of cataract blindness in just over one year, because we launched it at the grassroots level, working in symbiotic partnership with a pre-eminent doctor in Nepal. Even those figures mask the true impact: because we are grassroots, we are able to locate the most marginalised and disenfranchised people that most NGOs do not get to.
My third point relates to the question of my preference for putting my name onto the projects that I fund. And here I can be blunt. There are some in the West – especially in the media - who fear the elevation of those from the Global South. They would prefer it if we were less colourful and more deferential, and if the people and communities that we try to help were less brown. And sometimes they try very hard to tear us down.
I put my name on my projects to be in the face of those who would prefer it if the developing world was dependent on the West for its elevation, rather than the self-elevation that is now preached by an expanding cohort of home-grown wealth creators from the Global South. I put my name onto my projects because they represent my brand of giving back to the world directly at the grassroots and at scale, which is a world away from the fancy events and fundraising dinners that preoccupy some charities.
Of course as someone who has been fortunate enough to amass enough wealth to be able to give large portions of it away to good causes, I would never claim to be marginalised. But I wish that the legacy media and institutions of the West would not be so quick to impose their Western bias in understand onto the emerging philanthropists of the Global South. It could help to make the world a little bit better, a little bit faster.
Tej Kohli is a real estate investor and technologist backing ventures in AI, robotics, biotech and esports. He is best known for the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation which in 2021 screened 128,094 people for cataract blindness in the developing world as part of the Tej Kohli mission to cure 500,000 of needless blindness by 2030. Tej Kohli is also the author of the 'Mr Kohli' blog and of 'Rebuilding You: The Philanthropy Handbook'.
About the author
Tej Kohli is a man who has made it his goal to combat extreme poverty in the developing world by curing blindness. The Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation is aiming to cure over 500,000 people of blindness.