Image courtesy: Reuters
And so their trip has begun. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the second and third richest men in the world - behind only Mexico's Carlos Slim - have arrived in India for their much-heralded visit. Gates and Buffett's busy schedule, which will take them through Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai, will see them meeting with successful entrepreneurs who may be interested in joining their Giving Pledge. The Pledge, which they launched in 2010, asks all its signatories to pledge at least half of their wealth to good causes; so far, it has attracted the signatures of 59 American philanthropists, and Gates and Buffett have gone to China and now India in search of wider support for their initiative.
What will Gates and Buffett find on their travels through the country? Given the time that we have recently spent in Bangalore, we at the Institute for Philanthropy can offer some thoughts. Each year, we direct The Philanthropy Workshop, a programme which educates wealthy philanthropists from around the world on how to give money away with the greatest impact. In March, we paid a visit to Bangalore, where we met with some of India's leading entrepreneurs to discuss the work that they are doing to help the society around them. What we discovered makes for encouraging reading.
Gates and Buffett will find a country where there are several families who, like America's Rockefellers, have a long tradition of charitable giving. Indeed, Buffett will spend a day or so in Bangalore visiting TagueTec India, his only investment in India; one of TagueTec India's customers, Tata Motors, is owned by the Tata family, who for many years have funded widely and generously in the areas of research, education and disaster relief. The Tata Group's ethos of strong corporate social responsibility is one echoed by several companies throughout the country, not least the Aditya Birla Group.
Meetings in Mumbai and Delhi
When Gates and Buffett move on to Delhi and Mumbai, where they will be greeted by wealthy Indian inheritors and entrepreneurs, they will find individuals who have already emerged as leaders in a dynamic new wave of philanthropy. These are leaders such as Rohini Nilekani, a former journalist and the wife of Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys Technologies. Meeting with Mrs Nilekani in Bangalore, we and our network of philanthropists were inspired by her extraordinary leadership, and struck by her optimism for strategic giving in India.
Her optimism is well-placed. Buffett and Gates will find a growing culture of thoughtful philanthropy, embodied by DASRA's Indian Philanthropy Forum, a community of donors who have come together to bring about positive social change in their country. That is not to say that Buffett and Gates will see an immediate impact as a result of their visit. In our experience, it is generally a few years after a country has enjoyed an economic surge that we begin to see an equivalent surge in giving by wealthy individuals and families. In America, for example, there was a sharp rise in prosperity in the 1860s, and it was not until the 1890s that we first saw the emergence of great givers such as Andrew Carnegie and John D Rockefeller. Having said that, we have also been surprised by the speed with which India's philanthropists are stepping forward. A notable case in point is the software magnate Azim Premji, who is often described in the Western media as India's Bill Gates; recently, Premji announced a pledge of $2 billion to improve education in India. In fact, the strategic approach that he is taking to transforming the education system will look very similar to that of Bill Gates in the fields of global health and development.
In India, we discovered a group of people who have an impressively global outlook both in their business and giving, and who are adapting their learning about giving to a domestic context. It is our hope, and belief, that Gates and Buffett will discover the same; and that there will be several success stories of Indian philanthropy to follow, long after they have returned home.
Dr Salvatore LaSpada is the chief executive of the Institute for Philanthropy, a UK-based organization that works towards increasing effective philanthropy in the UK and internationally. Dr LaSpada has also worked as director of The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW) at the Rockefeller Foundation.
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