Civil war. Bloodshed. Violence. Injustice. Ram Gidoomal has seen it all. Born in Kenya to parents forced to flee from the horrors of Partition; escaping from East Africa to start all over again in London with the bare minimum (£2,000) allowed to families leaving Kenya; he’s a double refugee who has carved out an impressive career as a businessman and entrepreneur. Now the Chairman of Stewardship and the Lausanne Movement, and a CBE into the bargain, Ram’s early experiences have informed his life of philanthropy and generosity.
Ram had a wide-ranging experience of world faiths during his upbringing. “I come from a Hindu family, was brought up in the Sikh faith and was educated at the Aga Khan Muslim school in Mombasa. I became a follower of Jesus in a pub in South Kensington as a result of what was then called Campus Crusade, but is now Agape. Up to then, I had seen lots of different ways of giving. My father gave very generously towards the building of new Sikh and Hindu temples and I’d seen the generosity of Muslims who had built schools and hospitals. However, I was used to seeing giving as a way of paying for one’s past misdeeds. Once I started reading the gospel, I realised that there is nothing we can give that will buy us favour. Jesus paid for it all. My epiphany came when I realised that our sole motive for giving is as an expression of thanksgiving.”
The whole question of why we give and for what purpose is at the heart of Ram’s generosity journey. “Once, at a house group meeting, we were all asked why we gave. The responses were things like: because it’s the right thing to do; the Bible tells us to do it; we are meant to tithe our income. Not one—and most had been born into very seasoned Christian families—mentioned the driving principle of giving which is nothing more or less than an expression of gratitude to our Saviour. It’s such a powerful generosity driver. When I spoke about philanthropy on Woman’s Hour some years ago, that’s the point I made on air. They must have liked it as it was one of the segments repeated on the Weekend programme—I was delighted.”
Ram remembers the steep learning curve he was on in his early days of faith. “I used to get a grant when I was at university. I looked at all my expenses, deducted them from my grant and gave 10% of what was left. I was so taken aback when a Christian friend told me he gave 10% of his grant as soon as he got it. It really challenged me and I admit, I couldn’t hack it! I started to consider how I spent my money and it was the beginning of my real understanding of what giving means. We have to give God the first fruits, whether in time, money, gifts or energy.”
As Chair of the Lausanne Movement, Ram has been able to exert his generous influence worldwide. “We found that not one Bible College in the world had a module on stewardship: giving and generosity. Not one! Pastors were being trained to lead their congregations without this vital knowledge. We challenged many institutions and I’m pleased to say that from 2007 they started responding and running courses on stewardship.”
Ram’s driving principle of extravagant generosity shocked some of his family members. “When some of my relatives asked how much I give, I shared with them and they couldn’t quite take it in. I’m delighted though that these principles have continued to the next generation. My children sometimes put me to shame with what they give and how. I am so pleased and proud to see that generous impulse running through my family. My grandchildren, then aged between 3 and 7 years of age received Stewardship gift vouchers last Christmas. They took several months of deep consideration and discussion before they decided where to give them. My prayer for them is that they will learn this vital principle and grow up with it as part of their DNA of generosity.”