While India debates whether there should be a tax on the super-rich, Wipro chairman Azim Premji has taken the bold step of signing off a huge chunk of his wealth to charity — sending an unequivocal message that the Information Technology (IT) sector is leading in India’s efforts to boost corporate philanthropy and that sharing wealth is a great ideal.
Premji first signed the Giving Pledge — a commitment under initiative launched in 2010 by legendary investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates to give a part of their wealth to charity.
A day later, he donated 12% of his shares in Wipro —worth about $2.2 billion or Rs.12,300 crore — to the Azim Premji Foundation.
Now, consider the fact that India was in 1991 mortgaging gold to raise a mere $600 million for the government. If the rupee has since shown more strength than weakness, entrepreneurs like Azim Premji deserve full credit.
India’s foreign exchange reserves at that time was also only around $600 million. Today, it is close to $300 billion — 500 times the amount.
The IT/and IT-enabled services sector accounts for about 2.8 million direct jobs, and exports that roughly equal a quarter of its foreign exchange reserves that enable easier imports. This creates a virtuous circle for India's economy.
For both his charity and leadership in the sector, Premji probably deserves the highest honours India can give as a signal of respect.
So that brings me to the big mystery. Why is India’s IT sector still heavy on services and not on products?
Premji himself once said that he “respects” products but never showed an interest in it. It is true that software products involve higher risk, but then, they also involve higher reward and give a sense of national pride.
Surely he can also think a bit of his wealth in products? It might just complete the halo around his head.