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With $21 billion, Premji Azim among world’s top philanthropists

Wipro boss’ fresh bequest worth $7.5 b takes total pledge to 67% of earnings from tech co’s shares.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Mar 14, 2019, 02.55 PM IST
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Azim Premji raises philanthropy bar with $21 billion total pledge
Azim Premji raises philanthropy bar with $21 billion total pledge
Azim Premji, India’s most generous billionaire, has announced a fresh bequest to his eponymous philanthropic initiative that boosts his total commitment to Rs 1.45 lakh crore ($21 billion), making it one of the five largest private endowments in the world and the biggest in Asia. This has cemented the 73-year-old billionaire’s place alongside the world’s most influential philanthropists including Bill Gates, George Soros and Warren Buffett.

On Wednesday, Premji announced that all earnings from approximately 34% shares of India’s fourth-largest software services exporter Wipro — worth about Rs 52,750 crore ($7.5 billion) — would be transferred to the endowment that supports the Azim Premji Foundation.

With this, Premji has committed earnings from 67% of Wipro’s shares to the charitable foundation. The Premji family and entities controlled by them hold a 74.30% stake in the software exporter.

Premji’s largesse has “stretched everybody’s target”, said Rohini Nilekani, who along with her husband, Infosys cofounder Nandan Nilekani, has committed half of their wealth to philanthropy.

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“It takes a bold mind like Azim (Premji) to commit so much,” said Nilekani. “He will really be able to innovate and find ways to address increasingly complex societal problems in India.”

Premji’s announcement comes at a critical moment for Indian philanthropy.

Donations have Declined
The Indian Philanthropy Report released last week by Bain & Company estimated that excluding contributions by the Bengaluru based software mogul, donations of Rs 10 crore and above have declined 4% in India since 2014 even as the proportion of the ultra-rich — those with a net worth of over $50 million — grew by 12%.

“Premji’s grant for the nation matches only what Jamsetji Tata and Dorabji Tata have done from a historical perspective,” said Amit Chandra, managing director, Bain Capital.

“Over the last 150 years, he stands out remarkably tall for what he has really done in the last 10 years,” Chandra said.

The education-focused philanthropic initiative launched by the Wipro chairman over a decade ago is focused on improving the quality of teachers in some of the country’s most remote locations and also runs the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru. “All our activities are scaling up substantially,” said Anurag Behar, chief executive officer of Azim Premji Foundation. “The important point is that we need funds for eternity.”

The foundation will use the returns from Premji’s bequest, including dividends, to fund all activities, as well as new initiatives such as setting up a second university in North India.

For starters, the university in Bengaluru plans to increase intake of students by five times from the existing 1,500 every year. It will increase the field work in the most disadvantaged parts of Uttarakhand, Karnataka and Rajasthan to improve quality and equity in education. The foundation will also step up funding to other nonprofits.

The initiative to support other nonprofits by providing multi-year grants was started in 2014 and has helped the Premji foundation move beyond education, which is its primary focus. In the last five years, these grants have supported over 150 organisations engaged in a range of domains across India.

Deval Sanghavi, cofounder of Dasra, a venture philanthropy fund, said, “The large commitment by Premji will help smaller donors who don’t have capacity to do research or build capability create impact by co funding such initiatives,” said Sanghavi.

In recent years more Indian billionaires have stepped up their philanthropic activities. Apart from the Nilekanis, Biocon founder Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Symphony Group’s Romesh Wadhwani and realty tycoon PNC Menon have pledged part of their wealth to the Gates-inspired Giving Pledge.

“It is hugely inspirational to each and every Indian, billionaire, millionaire and ordinary Indians. Even if we have do not have exceptional amount of wealth, I think we have time to give, services to give, for building a better India,” said Bain’s Chandra.
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