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The high of giving

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CAUSE COCKTAIL: Patrons can choose the charity their money goes to. (Below) Nick Vilelle and Raj Ratwani

Can Cosmopolitans and charity go together? Hard to believe but that's the idea behind the philanthro-pub started by an Indian-American and his university chum.

Five years ago, a discussion between Indian-American Raj Ratwani and his university friend Nick Vilelle yielded a unique idea. How about raising funds, they asked themselves, by first setting up a pub and then ploughing its profits into NGOs? They conceptualised a full-service bar run professionally and capable of competing with the best in the area. Only its purpose would be different.

Called Cause DC, the 'philanthro-pub' finally opened in Washington on October 24. Run by Ratwani and Vilelle, the launch was attended by politicians and local business leaders. The first night also saw about 100 customers turn up for a drink. "Since then, we've had about 75-150 guests every day, " says Ratwani.

Ratwani believes that there are enough people in the 20-40 age bracket who want to give back to society but do not have the time. "But at the same time, these people often meet up with friends and go out for drinks. We wanted to find a way to incorporate the idea of giving back to society into everyday behaviour, " says Ratwani, who has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the George Mason University in Virginia.

The drinks list has an extensive wine and beer section, with a focus on local brews. There are also cocktails named after human rights leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. The chef, Adam Stein, is known for his commitment towards the use of fresh and sustainable ingredients, a belief that fits in well with the pub's own philosophy of supporting sustainable causes.

Ratwani broached the subject with Vilelle after the latter had returned from Swaziland where he was working with a non-profit organisation. They hammered out a business model and the project took off last year. "We acquired the space, re-did the interiors, trained the staff and got the licences, " says Ratwani. "We now own the building in which we operate. "

A large part of the funds - $25, 000 - came from crowdfunding, and donors have their names engraved on the tables and barstools as a mark of gratitude. Ratwani and Vilelle also dipped into their savings to fund the project. Some money came from investors, but it was a small amount. "It's difficult to get investors to fund a new idea, " says Ratwani.

A number of friends came forward to help, which kept the costs low. While one became their lawyer for free, another did the publicity. A third friend designed the logo, and two others helped with the artwork. As Ratwani says, "These things cost a lot of money, which we managed to save. "

The goal now is to donate $100, 000 in the first year itself. Four charitable organisations made it to the list after careful vetting. Each of them serves a different cause - poverty alleviation, growing food for low-income citizens, providing academic coaching for children from vulnerable communities and supporting small entrepreneurs with ideas that can bring about social change. All of them are local charities except the last, which operates in South America. The guests get to choose the organisation where they want the profits to go.

However, Ratwani says the money the pub will raise is only a small part of the overall objective of the philanthro-pub. "What is more important is building awareness about different charities, and the social causes they take up, among our guests, " he says.

If the pub succeeds, Ratwani plans to extend the model to other countries. He says he would like to open a philanthro-pub in Delhi as well. "The youth in the city face the same problem - they want to give back to society but are too busy with their everyday lives to make a contribution, " says Ratwani, whose parents migrated from Rajasthan and who still has cousins in the state.

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