It is not known how many of the 70 rich people who attended a meeting organised by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett and Wipro chairman Azim Premji in New Delhi promised their money for philanthropy. Gates and Buffett, who used to alternate as the world’s richest person, had started an initiative under which the rich were encouraged to pledge 50 per cent of their wealth for charitable activities, either during their lifetime or after death. The Microsoft founder set an example by setting up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which instantly became the world’s largest transparently operated private foundation. Buffett strengthened the Foundation that supports health-related projects the world over with a contribution worth several billions.
Already, 59 wealthy Americans have signed ‘The Giving Pledge’ initiated by the two ‘philanthrocapitalists’. Nobody from India has so far signed the pledge, though taking a cue from the initiative, Azim Premji has transferred stocks worth $2 billion to a trust he floated for promoting school education and rural development. At the Delhi meeting, Gates praised the philanthropic traditions of Indians. Incidentally, the day the newspapers carried Gates’ praise, they also carried reports about two instances of philanthropy, Tamil writer R Chudamani leaving all her possessions to charity and Asha Motwani donating $1.5 million to IIT Kanpur in memory of her late husband Rajeev Motwani.
While the US reportedly receives about 2 per cent of its GDP from philanthropy, no such figures are available for India. But what is indisputable is that India lags behind the West in this regard. One of the reasons is that even those who want to give do not know to whom it should be given. The trustworthiness of most of the NGOs is such that few dare to donate money to them. That is why Anand Mahindra of Mahindra group, Narayana Murthy of Infosys and Ratan Tata of the Tata group found it safer to donate $10 million, $5 million and $50 million respectively to Harvard University for its projects. The number of Indians joining the Forbes list of billionaires has been increasing with each passing year. They need to invest a portion of their money in philanthropic projects, rather than in houses like Mukesh Ambani’s ‘Antillia’, the cantilevered sheath of steel and glass soaring 27 floors into the sky in Mumbai.