Anita Bhatia and Kavita Mehra, Guest Contributors | November 22, 2022
Giving comes in many forms. It is common for philanthropic trusts and donors to offer sizable gifts to larger organizations where heightened visibility and favorable press mentions are almost guaranteed. Giving to smaller, community-based organizations that have roots widely and deeply embedded within the communities they work with is, sadly, much rarer.
But that may be changing, and we hope a new partnership between our organizations can offer one example of how steady support at the ground level can make a profound impact, particularly when it comes to a problem like gender-based violence.
In October, the Ramesh and Kalpana Bhatia Family Foundation awarded Sakhi for South Asian Women, the country’s second-oldest gender justice organization focusing on this community, a $3 million grant spread over the next 10 years. The main focus of the grant is to deepen multigenerational healing within South Asian families experiencing gender-based violence. The largest gift of its kind to any South Asian American social service organization, this uniquely long-term funding will help Sakhi establish the South Asian Safe Families Initiative, which will support survivors and their families through a culturally rooted approach.
Historically, South Asian communities, and the grassroots organizations that support them, have been overlooked due to a lack of research into the demographics and cultural norms South Asian families face. This initiative makes the Ramesh and Kalpana Bhatia Family Foundation among the first to invest heavily in the mental health of South Asian survivors of domestic violence and abuse.
Healing takes more time and a longer commitment
The Bhatia Foundation’s grant to Sakhi is a landmark gift in the history of the South Asian philanthropic space. It also further solidifies the foundation’s commitment to the mental health of South Asian communities and to creating long-lasting, impactful relationships with community-based nonprofits.
Among Bhatia’s other major grants in this space, in 2019, the foundation supported Sakhi to expand programming to incorporate children and youth affected by violence or abuse. This allowed Sakhi to offer unique, culturally competent care to families experiencing trauma. Over the three-year investment, the Bhatia family learned that while it is important to find ways to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma, there is also a need to recognize that such healing can take time. The foundation decided that its commitment needed to stretch beyond traditional expectations. As a result, this latest gift breaks the mold for nonprofit giving in the gender-based violence space.
Over the next decade, Sakhi will use this funding to provide therapy to strengthen the parent-child bond and prevent this toxic cycle from perpetuating. Sakhi will be able to measure outcomes in real time and alter its practices if needed to arrive at the most effective ways of healing. This kind of scalable and meaningful direct impact that can be measured across several years is rare, not only for the South Asian community, but also the entire field of community-based organizing.
The program will bring much-needed relief to a community that suffers steeply elevated rates of domestic violence. According to the latest Together We Rise report by SOAR, 48% of South Asians in the U.S. have experienced at least one form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. Meanwhile, 2 out of every 5 South Asian-American women have reported experiencing physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime, compared to 1 out of 4 women with similar experiences nationwide. The Bhatia Foundation knows that the work of gender justice organizations around the country is unseen, underfunded, and deeply undervalued. The vision is to change that.
We need to think beyond what’s expected
Gender-based violence has become a pressing concern in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, when reports of assaults and violence against women reached alarming levels, leading the U.N. to name it the “shadow pandemic.” The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found that cases of domestic violence have increased by 8% in the United States alone. Yet somehow, this issue has failed to attract philanthropic attention on the scale that it deserves, particularly in this moment of heightened crisis. According to the tracking website Nonprofits Source, giving to health services, education, arts and culture services, and environment-related organizations saw an exponential increase in the past few years, while religious organizations maintained their lion’s share of increase in charitable donations. In comparison, issues of gender-based violence and violence against women have been receiving only 0.5% of official development assistance and philanthropic funding, as reported by the Spotlight Initiative, a global initiative of the U.N. Gender-based violence not only remains severely underfunded, but is also often called the “elephant in the room that has been repeatedly ignored when decisions about public policy and philanthropic programs are made.”
The Bhatia Foundation’s commitment to Sakhi is so unique, in part, because traditional models of gift giving and funding often overlook organizations where their help may be needed the most. While this does not imply that larger, more visible nonprofits are any less worthy or deserving of funding, smaller organizations like Sakhi often employ culturally relevant practices that require a deeper understanding of their communities and demand a greater application of nuance within their programs.
In absence of the visible branding of larger, better-known organizations, smaller, community-based organizations tend to lose out on funding. Academic research that contributes to the decision-making for many funders is also often lacking when it comes to marginalized communities of color. This lack of scholarly attention also leads bigger donors to overlook organizations like Sakhi. By prioritizing direct, ground-level engagement with their communities, organizations like Sakhi not only engender new research where previously none existed, but also do so within limited funding and visibility.
A rare grant that expands the space
Committed to the sustainable healing of South Asian survivors, the foundation and Sakhi understand that working with marginalized communities requires creative problem-solving and innovative solutions. This insight was among the main reasons the two entities decided not only to work together, but also to highlight some of these best practices that could serve as a template and, perhaps, even a source of inspiration to other funder-organization teams looking to make similar changes.
In the field of gender-based violence, there can often be a great deal of focus on more immediate interventions or short-term programming. Community-based organizations like Sakhi center the lived experiences of survivors over a somewhat dispassionate and clinical attachment to measuring of output, which also makes them more suited to effectively apply evidence-based models. This partnership aims to set a precedent for how funders and grantees can meaningfully engage with overlooked communities over longer periods of time.
Donors must make true leaps of faith and invest in the future and the progress of community-based organizations. As the influential research and grantmaking organization Open Philanthropy has pointed out, it’s “important for philanthropists to make deliberate multiyear commitments to causes.” But funders also need to fully trust these organizations by believing in their vision and acknowledging the wisdom they have acquired through their years of engagement with vulnerable and neglected communities.
Giving looks different now
Philanthropy is changing. We are seeing a rise in nontraditional ideas that challenge our perspectives and even push us toward a more just, equitable future of funding. As more funders emerge from tech spaces, where startup culture has paved the way for a more engaged framework of investing, they are now bringing similar models of giving into the philanthropic space. In-depth research into areas of interest, strategic investments into organizations that are meaningful and match the funders’ personal value systems, and making crucial connections that set up nonprofits (especially smaller ones) on a path to success are all part of the new venture-capital-inspired ecosystem of philanthropy. The Ramesh and Kalpana Bhatia Family Foundation, with their continued support for Sakhi, are a part of this change.
For smaller, community-based organizations to succeed and realize their full potential, it is crucial that they have flexibility and autonomy over their spending decisions. Funders, even with the best of intentions, often end up restricting emerging organizations with bureaucratic red tape that can impart a lack of trust in the judgment of community-focused organizations. In contrast, trust-based philanthropy — a radical approach to giving that has gained traction in recent years -- advocates for flexible, unrestricted funding and centers on relationship-building, mutual learning and transparency between funders and nonprofits. This approach is a game-changer for the progress and development of smaller nonprofits and can go a long way in uplifting emerging BIPOC nonprofits that have been historically excluded from the philanthropy table.
We hope the Bhatia Family Foundation’s unrestricted funding of Sakhi for South Asian Women can serve as a new model for funders, and showcase how direct impact can be generated through meaningful application of their power. By providing sustainable and long-term engagement with grassroots movements, funders can generate the kind of valuable, direct impact that encourages us to alter our systems and even reimagine the possibilities of philanthropy.
Anita Bhatia, MHA, is executive director of the Ramesh and Kalpana Bhatia Family Foundation. Kavita Mehra is executive director of Sakhi for South Asian Women.