The Tatas, one of India's leading industrialist families, have been honoured with the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy that is considered the 'Nobel Prize of Philanthropy' at Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Sons, accepted the medal on behalf of the family in the presence of former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam.
The Tata family is one of the four recipients of the honour given every two years since 2001 in memory of Andrew Carnegie, an American industrialist and philanthropist. It is given to those "who have dedicated their private wealth to the public good and who have sustained impressive careers as philanthropists".
The award's citation said the Tata family gives away eight to 14 per cent of the net profits from its company each year to science, medicine, social services, performing arts and education. Funding from them has also established pioneering institutions in social sciences as well as cancer research and treatment.
The family's philosophy of "constructive philanthropy" has played a role in changing the traditional concept of charity throughout India, the award citation noted.
Accepting the award, Ratan Tata said the family was pleased to have helped in a "small way" and would continue its efforts. He pointed out that a large majority of people still "live below the poverty line, particularly in the part of the world I live in".
Tata exhorted wealthy people around the world to contribute to philanthropic causes, particularly in developing countries.
Besides Tatas, the other three recipients of the medal are the Heinz family, the Mellon family and Eli Broad. The Heinz 'ketchup' family has set up endowments in the arts, environment, health and education.
Andrew Mellon's personal collection helped set up the National Gallery of Art and National Portrait Gallery in Washington.
Eli Broad is a reputed business leader whose Los Angeles-based Broad Foundation focuses on education, arts and scientific research.
Past recipients of the Carnegie medals have included the Gates and the Rockefellers.