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India has only a few businessmen with a 'heart'

Last updated on: September 10, 2010 13:55 IST

India has only a few businessmen with a 'heart'

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Bhupesh Bhandari

If all goes well, the money spent by companies for corporate social responsibility may increase in the days to come, believes Bhupesh Bhandari.

Bill Gates, at that time, was an infrequent visitor to India.

At a public function, attended by top-notch businessmen, he talked about his work and business philosophy.

Then someone from the audience asked if it was true that he would give away his wealth to charity.

The businessmen in the audience gave out a short and meaningful laugh before Gates could answer in the affirmative.

Hard-earned wealth is not meant to be given away to charity, certainly not in India.

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Image: Bill Gates holds baby Cecil Massango during his visit to the Manhica Health Research Centre in Mozambique.
Photographs: Juda Ngwenya/Reuters
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India has only a few businessmen with a 'heart'

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Warren Buffett too has pledged a large chunk of his wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates has since then given $22 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Warren Buffett, the third-richest man in the world with a personal fortune of $47 billion, too has pledged a large chunk of his wealth to the Foundation.

Gates and Buffett are now on a mission to ask hundreds of American billionaires to earmark at least 50 per cent of their wealth to charity.

Several of them have already converted to the cause.

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Image: Buffett waves his ukulele with The Quebe Sisters Band. Buffett played 'I have Been Working on the Railroad'.
Photographs: Rick Wilking/Reuters
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India has only a few businessmen with a 'heart'

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Indians spend about    30,000 crore in a year on charitable causes.

Cut to India. Some time in early 2007, Business Standard did an analysis of the charity done by the 36 Indians on the Forbes list of billionaires.

Their combined worth was over $190 billion, but the money they had set aside for charity was not even a fraction of that.

Most of them had nothing to say when asked about their contribution to philanthropic causes.

Things may have improved since then, but not dramatically. All told, industry estimates suggest, Indians spend         about    30,000 crore (  300 billion) in a year on charitable causes.

This is not a small amount. But there is a catch here: This number includes the money spent by companies on corporate social responsibility.

If that is taken out, contributions by businessmen would not add up to a lot.

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India has only a few businessmen with a 'heart'

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In India, companies are at the forefront of charity, not individuals

So, the difference is that in the West, charity is driven by individuals, while in India it is done by companies.

Businessmen say there is a historical perspective to it. Punitive taxation in the pre-liberalisation days meant businessmen did not have huge piles of wealth.

The stock market boom, which has spawned dozens of billionaires, is a recent phenomenon. So, they couldn't do charity in their personal capacity.

But tax breaks were given to companies (and also individuals) if they gave their money for charitable causes. The legacy carries to this day.

Companies are at the forefront of charity, not individuals. For instance, the corpus of the Bharti Foundation, which wants to put as much as   200 crore (  2 billion) into education, is contributed by various Bharti companies.

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India has only a few businessmen with a 'heart'

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Azim Premji funds his charity with his personal wealth

But there are signs that things could change in the future.

The Azim Premji Foundation, for instance, is funded totally out of the personal wealth of Wipro chairman Azim Premji.

Nandan Nilekani along with historian Ramchandra Guha has started the New India Foundation which supports research in social sciences.

Ex-bureaucrat and Tech Mahindra honcho Vineet Nayyar has donated shares worth   30 crore (  300 million) to the Essel Social Welfare Foundation, which is run by his wife.

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Image: Azim Premji during a graduation ceremony in Stanford.
Photographs: Reuters
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India has only a few businessmen with a 'heart'

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Ramalinga Raju has his heart in the right place.

Perhaps the best example of charity in India is the Emergency Research Management Institute, which runs emergency ambulance services in various states.

It was, believe it or not, started by Ramalinga Raju, the scam-tainted ex-promoter of Satyam Computer Services.

It was known for its efficiency and reach. In narrow lanes, where ambulances cannot manoeuvre their way, it would send paramedics on scooters.

Once the Satyam scam broke out and Raju was put behind bars, there was the danger that it might collapse. But the GVK group stepped in.

ERMI is alive and kicking. It operates 2,600 ambulances in 10 states, and wants to raise its fleet to 10,000 by the end of next year.

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Image: Ramalinga Raju after being release from jail.
Photographs: Reuters
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India has only a few businessmen with a 'heart'

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Very often charity is meant to placate affected parties.

You can argue with some justification what difference does it make if the money is coming from the pocket of the businessman or his company.

Indeed, for the beneficiary it really doesn't matter what's the source of the aid.

But charitable work carried out by companies is often aligned to their business interests. Very often, it is meant to placate affected parties near factories.

Thus, information technology companies push computer education in schools; this may help them get customers in the days to come. Some retailers have run contact programmes for small green grocers.

It's good but it also helps quell opposition from an affected party.

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Image: IT companies push computer education in schools.
Photographs: Courtesy, Holistic Care Foundation
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Money spent by companies for corporate social responsibility may increase soon.

Corporate social responsibility, as companies and businessmen alike will tell you privately, has become an integral part of business.

Thus, pharmaceutical companies, not just in India but the world over, run elaborate charities because they always walk on a razor's edge - any negative word about their medicine can cause ruin.

Some bit of philanthropy in India is also to build the image of the country globally, experts reckon, especially as homespun companies have turned aggressive buyers of distressed assets worldwide.

Still, if all goes well, the money spent by companies for corporate social responsibility may increase in the days to come.

The proposed Direct Taxes Code has laid down that trusts, societies and not-for-profit companies will get tax breaks only if they spend 85 per cent of the money allotted to them.

That could mean improved corporate social responsibility in the days to come.


Image: Azim Premji Foundation tries its best to improve the state in education in government schools.
Photographs: Courtesy, Azim Premji Foundation
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