People aren’t usually happy to be proven wrong. A few months back, I wrote a rather cynical piece for this blog suggesting that US billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet might find it a challenge to convert India's wealthiest businessmen into followers of their remarkable Giving Pledge.
But I was wrong. Azim Premji, founding chairman of Wipro and one of the wealthiest businessmen in India, has announced he has set aside nearly $2 billion for an irrevocable trust that will finance social and non-profit initiatives to be undertaken by the Azim Premji Foundation. Premji transferred 213 million equity shares from his company to the trust to finance the pledge.
This is the largest private endowment ever created by an Indian. Most of the money, Premji said in a statement, will go towards furthering elementary education in India and setting up the proposed Azim Premji University.
Premji's gesture is commendable. Over the last year or so, I’ve found it puzzling why several Indian industrialists like Ratan Tata and Anand Mahindra, both undoubtedly two business leaders that make India proud, have chosen to give millions of dollars to their alma mater Harvard University. In fact, a magazine that covers governance issues recently highlighted in a cover story how ironic it was that this was happening even as St. Stephen's College–India's most prestigious higher education institution–didn't have the money to replace broken blackboards.
Premji, thankfully, has set his sights on doing the right thing. We need to direct all the wealth we can toward nurturing elementary education in this country and we can only hope that his overwhelming gesture will inspire others.