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India’s Software Tycoon Pledges Generous Donation to Charity

  • Anjana Pasricha

Azim Premji, the chief of Indian IT giant Wipro Limited.

Azim Premji, the chief of Indian IT giant Wipro Limited.

India’s third richest man has pledged $2.3 billion to an education charity, his second big donation. The philanthropic gesture is an exception in a country where the super rich are slow to give to charity despite massive wealth creation over the past decade.

Software tycoon Azim Premji’s transfer of $2.3 billion worth of shares in his I-T company Wipro to his foundation will enable the charity to significantly scale up its work. The foundation focuses mostly on improving the quality of rural education.

Premiji already tops the list of India’s philanthropists. In 2010, he gave away about $2 billion to the foundation. He has also become the first Indian to join the Giving Pledge initiative of American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, which encourages the world’s super rich to donate at least half their fortune to charity.

But there are hardly any more examples of giving on a scale as generous as Premji.

Although two decades of economic boom have catapulted many in India into the category of the super rich, charitable giving by the wealthy is still tiny. The country has about 50 billionaires and 125,000 millionaires, but is also home to millions of people living in abject poverty.

Deval Sanghavi is co founder of Mumbai-based Dasra, which evaluates and connects non profit organizations to philanthropists. Sanghavi says the appetite to give is growing among the super rich, but there is a long way to go in a country where poverty poses huge challenges.

Philanthropy analysts say reluctance on the part of the newly wealthy to give away their money stems from a lack of trust in Indian institutions to spend the funds properly. They point out that Indians have a long culture of giving, but much of it goes to household staff, the community and religious institutions.

George Mathews at the Indian Institute of Social Sciences in New Delhi says Indians tend to be “inward looking.”

“If I belong to a particular community, I would like to see that my community prospers, if I come from a particular region, my attitude and approach will be, my region must prosper. They have to change their mindset," he said. "They have to take Indian holistically. What we need is an approach that whatever we are achieving, a part of it should be shared for the prosperity of the rest. That attitudinal change has to happen, it has to come from education and public discourse and other opinion making system.”

There is a silver lining when it comes to the coming generations. A 2012 report by global consultancy Bain on philanthropy in India says younger people are increasingly spearheading philanthropic activities.

Sangavi says that is a growing trend in family-run companies, which account for 70 percent of India’s top corporations.

“The next generation of these large families has come back being educated abroad and have limited professional roles to play in their companies that their parents or grandparents have started. Therefore, they are using their skills and their acumen to focus on philanthropy more effectively," he explained. "So, they definitely have been much more bullish. And, they also have aspirations of using their wealth to create social change beyond business.”

That social change is sorely needed. The report by Bain notes that there is significant room for improvement for private giving in a country which is home to both one of the world’s fastest-growing wealthy populations and to one third of the world’s malnourished children.