Move over, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg: you have company! According to BBC News, one of India’s richest men – software billionaire Azim Premji, of Bangalore’s Wipro Systems – has pledged a cool $2 billion to fund rural education and development projects in India. (See Are India’s Rich Not Philanthropic Enough?, by Southik Biswas, BBC News, 07.Dec.2010.) As BBC News points out, Mr. Premji sets a great example for other wealthy entrepreneurs in India to use more of their wealth in a public-spirited way – one that gives back to society. Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg have inspired a lot of giving in the United States, and one hopes that Azim Premji’s massive donation will spur a wave of corporate and personal philanthropy in India, as well.
For the moment, however, it is too early to tell. According to BBC News, India has about 60 billionaires, 10 of whom control 12 percent of India’s GDP, while India’s 100 wealthiest people control about a quarter of the country’s GDP. Nonetheless, the BBC says, Mr. Premji’s donation is comparatively unusual; although the Tata family and a handful of other Indian philanthropists have channeled significant sums into education, disease prevention, and rural development projects, “Mr. Premji remains an exception in the world of Indian business.” We hope that, by Mr. Premji’s exemplary generosity, this will change.
For our part, the Murthy Law Firm is committed to setting an example of good corporate citizenship. The firm’s founding attorney and CEO, Sheela Murthy, actively supports several U.S. charities through the MurthyNAYAK Foundation (MNF) and the United Way of Central Maryland. Among them: the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, YWCA of Central Maryland, ASHA for Women, and a host of others. In addition, Ms. Murthy and her husband, documentary filmmaker Vasant Nayak, fund several educational projects in India, including the Chennakeshava School in Bangalore, where the MurthyNAYAK Foundation provides breakfast and daily transportation to 1,600 elementary school students from the poorest neighborhoods in the city. MNF also funds the multi-faceted rural education initiatives of the Agastya International Foundation, a trail-blazing effort to unlock the imagination, curiosity, and innate creativity of rural Indian students, bringing mobile science and art education programs right to their schools and communities.
Ms. Murthy could be content to provide funding to development projects in India. As a member of the United Way’s Leadership Council for India, however, she is deeply involved in building a culture of philanthropy in India, along with the institutional infrastructure needed to support it. Although these structural underpinnings take time to build, they are the necessary foundation for a transparent, accountable, and trustworthy system of philanthropy, one that gets the money where it’s needed, and where donors intended for it to go. The thinking behind this is straightforward: more wealthy individuals will become philanthropists if they know their gifts will be put to good use, under sound financial stewardship. Hopefully, Azim Premji’s gift will set an example that other wealthy Indians will seek to emulate and, in the process, create a stronger culture of philanthropy in India.
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