Rich Indians must give away their wealth: Azim Premji

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BENGALURU: You need a cultivated sense of insensitivity to be in politics. This was IT czar Azim Premji’s tongue-in-cheek reply when asked why he wasn’t in politics. “Why am I not in politics? Because I think it would have killed me in a couple of years,” he said.

The Wipro’s billionaire founder, who has given away almost half of his stake holding in the company to philanthropy, was responding to a question from the audience at the Indian Institute of Management’s first global alumni conclave and leadership summit IIMBUE, on Saturday, 12 December 2015.

A philanthropic mindset should be imbibed in all from a young age and rich Indians should be more forthcoming in giving away their wealth in a poverty-ridden country, premjiPremji said. “My biggest influence in philanthropy was my mother, a doctor who never practised medicine but founded an orthopaedic hospital in Mumbai for children suffering from cerebral palsy. She was the chairperson when she was 27 till the time her health started failing at 76. She had to raise money to fund the hospital as the government funds never came on time,” Premji recalled during the fireside chat.

“The Americans are absolute leaders in philanthropy because their families are larger in terms of interrelationship and wealth sharing. However, a majority of wealthy Indians believe in leaving their wealth for the next generation, which is a deterrent,” he told a packed audience.

Premji, whose Azim Premji Foundation works to improve the quality of education across many government schools in India, has given away about $8.5 billion in charitable causes. The not-for-profit organization works in eight states which together have over 3.5 lakh schools.

“The more wealth one takes, the more one sees it as a fiduciary responsibility. I give it away as I like to in a country which is so poor and where there is so much misappropriation of funds,” Premji told Biocon CMD Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who was the moderator at the event.

Premji applauded the new generation of wealthy professionals, who he said were more forthcoming in contributing their time and money to philanthropic causes unlike the previous one. “The older generation needs to be persuaded, given examples and it is a long-drawn process where it is tougher to make breakthroughs,” he explained.

Mazumdar-Shaw opined that across the world, philanthropy is still associated with entrepreneurial initiatives and is not expected from a salaried person such as investment banker and hedge fund manager. “Bankers are the most scrooges,” Premji said, amid a roar of laughter from the audience.

Asked whether leaders inspire such philanthropic culture in their organizations, Premji said though people are getting influenced, his was a mixed experience. “Employees are forthcoming in terms of their time but are disappointingly forthcoming in money. They should be giving more than they do and software professionals are well paid,” he remarked. But he regretted starting his foundation too late in life. “We only started 15 years back and that too in a small way in education in villages. The operations have scaled up only in the past four or five years. It began much later than when I made significant wealth.”

Premji also stressed on the need to take up philanthropy as an active profession. When asked if philanthropic courses can be introduced at B-schools, Premji replied in the affirmative. “A well designed course can generate a lot of spark and philanthropy should be a profession.”

(13 December, 2015)

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