Saturday, December 4, 2010

The art of giving: Azim Premji shows the way!

Click on the latest Forbes List of Top 10 Billionaires in the world and there are two Indian names, both within the top five. Now do the same with the list of top 10 philanthropists in the world and not a single Indian name emerges! Why? What explains this huge disconnect between wealth and giving? Why are Indians more niggardly when it comes to parting with their wealth? One reason could be cultural. We tend to be much more inward-looking and family-oriented than our western counterparts, notwithstanding the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) worldview that many Indians profess. Another could be that many of the newer Indian billionaires are yet to get comfortable with their wealth. And a third, no less important, could be our unimaginative tax policies that almost dissuade charitable donations. In a rational world, you would expect those who have more to give more, even if it was Karl Marx, the avowed enemy of capitalism who said, 'from each according to his ability … Those whom fortune has favoured must be more willing to share their wealth with those less privileged. That has been the guiding philosophy of many American philanthropists who set up some of its great universities. But not in India, or so it seemed! Till now when, thanks to an astoundingly generous act from Azim Premji, chairman, Wipro Foundation, an Indian is all set to make it to the list of top philanthropists in the world. Compare the size of Premji's endowment (approx $2 billion) with the average $ 4.1 billion given by top 50 US philanthropists last year (according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy) and the scale of his generosity is manifest. The Azim Premji Foundation has been engaged in improving the quality of schooling in Karnataka and with this latest endowment should now be able to contribute even more. Admittedly, it may be difficult for many of India's corporate leaders to match Premji's generosity, though it is worth noting that the top donors in the US last year Stanley and Fiona Druckenmiller — are not the richest. But the good thing is, over the years, there has definitely been more giving than in the past. Now with Premji showing the way, will others follow? And will tax policy foster the culture of giving to advance the collective good? (in syndication with - The economic times)