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The fine art of giving

With the announcement that he would donate Rs 8,846 crore of his equity in the company to the philanthropic trust he controls, the founder and chairman of infotech giant Wipro Ltd., Azim Premji has set the bar very high for other mega rich businessmen of the country.

india Updated: Dec 03, 2010 22:33 IST

With the announcement that he would donate Rs 8,846 crore of his equity in the company to the philanthropic trust he controls, the founder and chairman of infotech giant Wipro Ltd., Azim Premji has set the bar very high for other mega rich businessmen of the country.

The 28th richest man in the world, and India's third richest, could not have made a better and more sound investment choice than this. His Azim Premji Foundation is already working in the rural areas of the country to improve the quality of education and is now in the process of setting up a university for the poor.

This endowment will be a welcome addition to the kitty of a sector that has the capability to transform India but is badly handicapped due to the lack of adequate funding. Other IT majors Infosys, MindTree, TCS and HCL also support programmes that support social equity.

At a time when India's economic footprint on the global stage is rising, the gap between the different strata of society has also been increasing. This is not a positive development and the underprivileged sections need to be equipped with life skills so that they too can be a part of the growth story.

A very basic requirement of this life skills development is to educate them and make them employable. The fact that most of the heads of these IT majors are themselves first-generation entrepreneurs proves that education, more than anything else, is a great leveler. At the same time, the improved economic conditions will also push up people into the middle-class bracket and make India a much more attractive market.

According to Forbes, which keeps a tab on the purses of the rich and famous, India has 69 billionaires. Yet how many consider philanthropy as a priority when it comes to spending? Industry reports indicate that Indians spend about Rs 30,000 crore a year on charitable causes and this includes the money spent by companies on their corporate social responsibility programmes. This is not enough and Indians, especially the corporate czars, have much more ability to give.

In a foreword to Corporate Social Responsibility in India, MS Swaminathan correctly says: "Just as good ecology is good business, good philanthropy will also be good business in the long term." Should the country institutionalise CSR interventions to deal with malnutrition, education, health, unemployment and poverty? The government would welcome a helping hand, wouldn't it?