Philanthropy in India lags behind citizens' financial success

Bill Gates is slated to pick up the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development from India's president. He will be the first businessman to receive the prize since it was instituted in 1986.

In theory, it could have been an Indian businessman receiving this prestigious award. But it isn't. The reason: The Gates Foundation has invested almost $1 billion in the past decade on philanthropic work in India.

India has its fair share of billionaires, multimillionaires and millionaires who could be giving away a good proportion of their money for the betterment of their country but aren't, at least not on even a fraction of the Gates scale.

Amid the broad adoption of U.S. business culture in Indian industry, this lack of dramatic, sustained, well-organized individual giving – practically a competitive sport in U.S. business circles -- is sadly conspicuous by its absence. (Corporate social responsibility, a growing field, is a different beast.)

Wealthy Indians don't give much. Some say it's because the tax regime has not been favorable to the accumulation of great wealth in individual hands. The more jaded say it is connected to a lack of community spirit. Others maintain it is because there are no good outlets for their donations: there are few prominent national charities or foundations that instill trust in potential donors or are transparent enough to demonstrate that funds are being put to good use.

Fortunately, this aspect may be changing.

One such individual coming to the fore is Shiv Nadar, chairman of HCL Technologies, who says he has put $94 million of his own money into his educational initiatives. Now 64 years old, Mr. Nadar says he wishes he had gotten into philanthropy sooner. "I read something that if you knew grandchildren were so much fun, you should have had them before children," he says. "So if I had known not-for-profit was so fulfilling, I should have got started there much, much earlier."


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