Atul Satija quit a high-flying corporate career to dedicate his time and energy towards alleviating poverty. After 17 years of corporate success in some of the largest global organisations, he decided to start The/Nudge Foundation to fulfill his passion of working on inequality and social issues facing India. Another compassionate act was signing the #LivingMyPromise pledge where he committed to giving away half his wealth to philanthropic causes.
In 2017, Satija and Venkat Krishnan (founder of GiveIndia) happened to have a conversation where they discussed working through funding challenges that nonprofits face through a tech platform. The two realized their goals and visions were aligned and soon Satija was brought on board as GiveIndia’s Founder 2.0.
Satija was born and raised in Chandigarh. After graduating in engineering from the National Institute of Technology, he worked with companies such as Infosys and Samsung before doing his Masters from Indian School of Business. He then worked with Adobe for two years before joining Google as the head of business development – first in India and then for the Japan and Asia Pacific markets. In 2010, he moved to San Francisco to join InMobi as its Chief Business Officer where he helped scale the organization from a small startup to a global leader in mobile advertising. He has been named in the #40underForty list by The Economic Times in 2017.
In an exclusive interview with The CSR Journal, Atul Satija, CEO and Founder 2.0, GiveIndia and Founder & CEO, The/Nudge Foundation throws light on institutional giving and fundraising for social impact.
Q 1: What prompted you to switch from a long and successful corporate career to giving away half your income and working towards poverty alleviation?
Atul Satija (A.S): I used to work as a weekend volunteer with a nonprofit in Gurugram while I was working with Google then, heading the Mobile Business across Japan and Asia-Pacific. After a few months of volunteering, I was convinced that it was the social sector that I wanted to work for in the long term, and do impactful work.
My plan was to commit the second part of my life to the service of the community. To sign for ‘Living My Promise’ with the pledge to give away at least half of my wealth to any cause close to my heart was probably a natural outcome of my decision to commit my life to service. Of course, my family has played an essential role in making this decision.
Q 2: You’re also serving as the CEO of The/Nudge Foundation, which you started in 2015. How do you juggle top management duties at both these social impact organisations?
The ultimate goals of both The/Nudge and GiveIndia are the same—poverty alleviation. But the routes they take are very different and also complementary in the overall development sector ecosystem. The roles at both organisations have been challenging and, at the same time, full of purpose and meaning.
At The/Nudge, the focus is on alleviating poverty through enabling sustainable livelihoods, food security, skill-development, incubating nonprofit startups and related fields. At GiveIndia, it is about bridging the gap between the givers and those working on the ground and scaling up. Both roles have involved a fair bit of unlearning from my previous stints in the corporate sector while also bringing in fresh ideas.
Q 3: As the most trusted giving platform in India, how has GiveIndia changed people’s attitudes towards contributing to social causes over the last two decades?
A.S: When GiveIndia was founded in 2000, the aim was simple — to create a credible link between people willing to donate and the grassroots NGOs working for the poorest of the poor. The mission was to create a culture of giving in India by promoting efficient and effective giving that provides greater opportunities for the poor in India. That mission continues to this day.
Our own experience, over the years, has been that there are many Indians who are eager to donate to people and organisations who spend transparently with demonstrable impact. GiveIndia started with allowing making online donations easy. Over the last two decades, we have added many layers to giving, like employee giving, CSR contributions, monthly giving, fundraisers, crowdfunding, etc. All these initiatives have changed the giving ecosystem in India.
Q 4: In what capacity does your platform work with corporates on their CSR programmes?
A.S: GiveIndia’s Payroll Giving programme has been running for a long time. Through this initiative, employees can contribute a small amount from their salary every month to a cause close to their heart. The programme has been a huge success. It has helped companies in engaging their workforce to causes they care about.
Over the years, we have noticed that corporates that encourage employees to participate in effective social/ CSR practices have higher employee morale and a sense of belonging to the company they work for. More than 150 corporate partners use the platform to channel their company’s CSR funds for various causes. This will increase in the coming months and years.
Q 5: GiveIndia has raised nearly ₹700 crore in the last 18 months of the pandemic. How did your team achieve this feat?
A.S: It’s a team effort where everybody is completely aligned with the organisation’s vision, purpose, and values. This was evident during the ICRF last year and this year when the employees went the extra mile to meet the needs of the people. Much of the country was in lockdown, but it was the busiest time for us.
The fact that GiveIndia became the go-to nonprofit for tens of lakhs of individuals, corporates and foundations, who wanted to contribute to India’s fight against COVID’s effect on the well-being of the people, helped in generating the funds.
Q 6: Did corporates came together in a big way to pool funds and resources for the pandemic?
A.S: When Covid first hit India, and its effects were clear, GiveIndia immediately swung into action to respond to people’s needs on the ground. While we had a large number of our NGO partners reaching out to us for help, we also had a lot of our corporate partners coming forward and asking us how they can contribute. They donated generously for various humanitarian, health and cash-relief programmes under the India Covid Response Fund (ICRF) that we launched in 2020. Thanks to corporate support, individual donors, HNIs and others, we could reach millions of people in need through our NGO partners.
Q 7: Tell us about GiveIndia’s latest initiative, the Institutional Giving practice. What is the aim of the practice?
A.S: India Inc. displayed remarkable commitment and philanthropic spending during Covid-19, which helped GiveIndia reach the needy with great agility and bring in collective leverage for all donor segments. Through our Institutional Giving practice, we can carry forward the relationship with corporates for impact-driven results. We offer our capabilities on governance structures, advisory, technology and the vast GiveIndia nonprofit ecosystem that stands at 2200 NGOs. For every partnership and grant, we together can deliver the most meaningful impact on the ground through the Institutional Giving practice.
Q 8: In your opinion, will the pandemic be a boon or a curse for social entrepreneurs?
A.S: I don’t see it from that perspective at all. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of our citizens. And it pushed many into abject poverty. But it also resulted in the outpouring of compassion from ordinary people, corporates, foundations and others towards those affected by Covid. People in the social sector, whose only aim was to serve more and more people in the hour of extreme need, stood out with their work on the ground.
So, whether there is a pandemic or not, service to the community is a never-ending process. Social entrepreneurs committed to service will always find causes and the people willing to come to their help. And there is so much to do!