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Corporate Philanthropy
 
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INDIA INC: PHILANTHROPY IN EDUCATION
Breaking The ‘class’ Ceiling
While there have been Welcome Instances of Individual Largesse Towards Education, B&E’s Anindita Chakraborty provides an as-is-where-is Analysis of The State of Education Philanthropy in India
Issue Date - 03/02/2011
 
Concepts like “philanthropy” and “corporate donations” in the field of education aren’t new to India Inc. Our nation has witnessed such ideological initiatives from wealth generators since quite some time. Perchance the legacy started with the Tata Group founder Jamshetji Tata laid the foundation for the same back in 1892 for encouraging education through donations. Sir Ratan Tata Trust (founded after the death of Sir Ratan Tata, the younger son of Jamshetji), a public foundation for grants, was founded in 1919. The Trust looked towards being a catalyst for India’s development by giving grants to institutions in various areas; and the focus was particularly in the direction of education and medical aid. Since then, a number of other corporations have made significant contributions towards the education cause over the years.

Notably, the recent times have seen a new trend among the top honchos of India Inc. – which is, to work independently of their corporate CSR activities and donate huge sums individually. Cut to the decade that just brushed by (2000-2010) and we saw Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of software company Infosys, donating $5 million between 1999 and 2002 to IIT, Mumbai. Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, with his own foundation Azim Premji Foundation, is aiming to add value to primary education at the grass-root level. Social activist Rohini Nilekani donated Rs.1 billion to Arghyam, her own foundation, started in the year 2001. In October 2010, the Tata group donated $56 million to Harvard Business School. Even N. R. Narayana Murthy donated $5.2 million to Harvard and its publishing concern for a series on Indian literary heritage.

India currently has 69 billionaires; more and more wealth is getting concentrated among the top 5% of the country. On the other hand, nearly 40% of the 1.2 billion Indian population is still impoverished and 35% of its population is still illiterate. Only around 15% of Indian students manage to reach high school and just 7% manage to graduate. The educational scenario has definitely improved over the years but the hard facts still pain us immensely, and make us realise that there is still a long way to go.

 
Clearly, while private investment is one way out to save India’s education scenario (and should be considered equivalent to philanthropy only, given that it was the government’s job to give education to the masses), there are organisations with finances, yet without the inclination to get into the business of education – and philanthropy is the best solution in such cases. There is more to it than just donating for a cause. Personal interests also play a major role behind hefty educational donations as they help in wealth generation in the long run. Rohini Nilekani, Chairperson, Arghyam, wrote in one of her articles, “In a modern nation state, such shrewd wealth creation is tolerated only when it is widely believed that a large social purpose is being served. This puts the onus squarely on the wealthy to prove their work and philanthropy becomes a subject of national importance, especially in a country where such glaring inequality still prevails.” The spin-off benefits are immense as well, since the image that these leaders build for themselves also creates a halo around their organisations, giving them invaluable goodwill for the long run.

But a number of these leaders are intent on carrying these initiatives beyond mere grandstanding. Azim Premji opined once on the importance of the cause, “Education is perhaps the most powerful enabler of human life and equity... for it takes the collective imagination and effort of a society to will itself to newer heights.” The exemplar Narayana Murthy said during the AIF Annual Summit, 2009, in New York, “It becomes the responsibility of the civil society and the corporations to add value to the efforts of the government in making sure that the society becomes better, be it through educational initiatives, health care initiatives or nutritional initiatives.”

If one takes a long term view, and the one that – although sounding suspiciously clichéd – is correctly held and followed by social economists, the poor of today have to be given the opportunities to move up the pyramid, since they can be the drivers of the markets of tomorrow. The idea of sustainable and holistic growth is a global trend, and visionary leaders realise that in the contemporary world, society is rating them according to not only the worth of their donations, but also the intent that is behind such donations.

          

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