Dear Mr Nilekani

The moral, ethical and pragmatic thing to do is not merely to open up your wallet to social responsibilities, but to political responsibilities as well.

Indian philanthropers must open their wallets to improving governance

You are right. Indeed “if the 21st century truly has to be India’s century, then the rich will have to open their wallets wide open”

Similarly in India, the number of charitable organizations began to explode at the same time in the 1980s that the market began to loosen up, and now there are close to 40,000 such Indian organizations, run primarily by individuals, private bodies and businesses.

Giving by Indians has certainly soared, but not enough. In a country with as much stark poverty and income disparity as India and which has just tentatively embraced free market ideology, it becomes all the more critical that the rich embrace philanthropy. It is the moral and ethical thing to do—but not only that. For the rich, philanthropy is also pragmatic. [Nandan Nilekani, Mint]

But giving in the Indian context is not merely about more charity. Indeed, it is about investing in institutions that can improve governance. As you point out “the performance gap between public governance and the private sector (is continuing) to grow”. A marginal investment in improving governance, therefore, will take you much further in helping India become “a modern equitable free market democracy”.

The moral, ethical and pragmatic thing to do is not merely to open up your wallet to social responsibilities, but to political responsibilities as well.

8 thoughts on “Dear Mr Nilekani”

  1. Nitin:

    Well said. Many of India’s freshly-minted millionaires and billionaires are keen to spend their wealth on outdoing who can outspend who just for the sake of ego and status. Honestly, does Mukesh Ambani really needs to build a $1 billion house in Mumbai? This is obnoxious behavior expected of the nouveau riche.

    If Mukesh Ambani wants to be remembered– and he does– he needs to give his money away through some charitable foundation. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet names will be remembered forever because they gave their billions away instead of passing it on to their kids.

    But given the dynastic nature of many of the business elite, they will simply pass their fortune to their children.

  2. Niraj,

    I believe Mukesh Ambani continues to support the Observer Research Foundation: among the few corporate leaders to fund a think-tank. Dhirubhai Ambani started funding it.

  3. Nilekani could have added Yale University to the list of BHU and Aligarh! But then Elihu Yale didn’t earn that kinda money honorably in Madras!

    And btw, India Today while doing “the richest person in the world” story on Mukesh, did apparently ask him why he doesn’t bother about charity. Guess, he brushed aside that question.

  4. Nilekani is a little bit of a joker. In 2000, he came to his alma mater (IIT Bombay) to give something back and wanted to give all of the 6 crore rupees to his hostel alone and nothing for the institute! He was talked out of that plan to give most of it to the institute and give 1 crore to the hostel. That was more than enough to buy any conceivable machine for the kitchens and fancy furniture, etc.

  5. Manu

    I would not deny him the pleasure of fixing the hostel: who can deny the formative effect of the hostel, rather than the institution, on a person’s character, fortunes and education? I got my degree from a university, but got my education from the hostel 🙂

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