“No man can become rich without himself enriching others. The man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” – American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Over the weekend, Bengaluru-based Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of tech giant Infosys, and wife Rohini announced their commitment to donating 50% of their wealth (reported to be to the tune of around USD 1.7 billion) under the Giving Pledge — a philanthropy movement launched by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and wife Melinda seven years ago.
Its aim is to help address society’s most pressing problems by inviting the world’s wealthiest to commit more than half of their wealth to charitable causes (either during their lifetime or afterwards).
In a statement, the power couple explained why they had decided to join the Giving Pledge movement. This is what they said:
“We see that inequality is increasing sharply in most countries. We see the young and the restless in this interconnected globe, unsure of their future, wanting more but anticipating less. We see a growing politics of polarization, of divisions, of brinkmanship. It is as if the world holds its breath.
What should we do at this time? That is a question every citizen must ask. Those of us who have wealth beyond all our wants must ask that very sharply. Wealth comes with huge responsibility and is best deployed for the larger public interest. So what must the super-wealthy do?”
With this, the Nilekanis joined three other Indian billionaires — Azim Premji, Kiran Majumdar Shaw and PNC Menon — to bring the total number of members in this elite network to 171 from 21 countries.
Here’s a look at the four Indian signatories of the Giving Pledge. Interestingly, all of them belong to India’s IT city and philanthropic hotspot — Bengaluru!
1. Azim Premji
“I strongly believe that those of us, who are privileged to have wealth, should contribute significantly to try and create a better world for the millions who are far less privileged. I will continue to act on this belief.” – Azim Premji
Tech magnate and Wipro founder Azim Premji, often referred to as India’s Bill Gates for his tech wealth, is Asia’s most generous philanthropist. In 2001, he earmarked an initial $125 million worth of shares in Wipro to establish the education-focused Azim Premji Foundation. He followed this up with several hefty donations to the same foundation that helped him join the ranks of the world’s top five givers
In 2013, the Indian billionaire officially signed the Giving Pledge in 2013, days after which he donated $2.2 billion, or a 12% stake, in Wipro, to the Foundation. With this new endowment, Premji had, in totality, given away more than Carlos Slim Helu, the world’s richest person, who’s gifted $4 billion to his foundation!
Premji also co-hosts philanthropy meets with Bill Gates in Bangalore that is attended by several of the India’s richest tycoons. Lately, he has also emerged as one of the most outspoken trail-blazers among the country’s ultra-wealthy on the issue of giving back. In fact, he actively supported the government proposal to tax the super-rich.
2. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
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“My philanthropic efforts are largely directed towards making a difference to global healthcare especially in the developing world. I am particularly concerned about the unbearable financial burden that debilitating diseases like cancer impose on patients in poor countries. I am also conscious of the fact that two thirds of the world’s population have little or no access to an acceptable quality of healthcare.” -Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
In 2016, Kiran Majumdar Shaw, the founder of Biocon, became the second Indian to sign the Giving Pledge. Among Time magazine’s list of ‘100 most influential people in the world’, the biotech billionaire had been active in Indian philanthropic circles even prior to this, especially when in using her wealth to fund research to treat cancer.
Started in partnership with Dr Devi Shetty, the Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center (MSCC) in Bengaluru has 1,400 beds and provides affordable cancer care that relies on economies of scale and early-stage diagnosis. To encourage affordable innovation, she also supports scientists and research clinicians at the Mazumdar Shaw Centre for Translational Research (MSCTR) and at the Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, Boston.
Shaw has also adopted a large number of Primary Health Centres (PHCs) in rural India to transform them into technology-enabled telemedicine centres that can bridge the burgeoning gap in medical resources.
3. PNC Menon
“With my pledge, I hope to inspire others from India and all corners of the world to partake in philanthropy. Based on my experience, the act of giving creates a degree of happiness that is immeasurable, and I am fortunate that my wife and children share in this belief.” – PNC Menon
In 1979, a 27-year-old college drop-out from Kerala left for Oman with just a few hundred rupees in his pocket. Today, he is among the richest men in India. With such an inspiring rags-to-riches story, its not surprising that PNC Menon (founder of Bengaluru-based Sobha Developers) believes its “his responsibility to use his wealth to help less fortunate ones”.
The real estate tycoon has undertaken a multitude of social initiatives at human development through education, health, employment, water, sanitation, housing and social empowerment. For instance, Sobha Academy works to provide education, clothing, food and shelter to the disadvantaged children while Sobha Vocational Training Centres provide skill training in vocational occupations to underprivileged youth
Menon has also adopted two economically backward panchayats in Kerala’s Palakkad district – Vadakkenchery and Kizhakkenchery – where he runs several old-age homes, educational institutions, healthcare centres and rehabilitation schemes for the downtrodden.
4. Nandan and Rohini Nilekani
“We thank Bill and Melinda for creating this unique opportunity to realise a moral aspiration inspired by the Bhagwad Gita – “Karmanye Va dhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana, Ma karma phalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani”. We have a right to do our duty but no automatic right to the fruits from the doing. It is critical that we do not slip into inaction fearing that we may not be able to reap direct reward. It is to this ideal that we pledge.” – Nandan and Rohini Nilekani
Known for their inspiring dedication to social causes, Nandan and Rohini Nilekani have been backing various philanthropic initiatives for nearly two decades. In 2014, the couple also founded EkStep, an ambitious non-profit initiative that uses open learning platforms (such as smartphones, tablets, apps and mobile gaming technology) to teach math and language skills to India’s underprivileged, school-age children.
Nandan has also given money to rebuild IIT Bombay’s hostel campus and established the Indian Institute for Human Settlements to find solutions for India’s urban challenges. Furthermore, Rohini’s efforts in founding Arghyam, a foundation focusing on water and sanitation issues, earned her a spot in Forbes Asia’s annual list of Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy in 2010.
Both the Nilekanis have also zeroed in on media to support independent, data-oriented and unbiased publications. In fact, Rohini (a former journalist), along with Azim Premji, is among the top contributors to the recently formed Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation (IPSMF) — a not-for-profit trust that funds independent media outfits that provide socially relevant content.