Monday, February 27, 2012

Impressive Investment in Education

Impressive investment in education.

Azim Premji, who turned his father's vegetable oil company into one of the world's leading software service providers, is looking to raise more money to help the educational fund he has set up.

Mr Premji, who is estimated to be worth $7 billion, has donated more than $2 billion and is ready to commit more.

"If there is a requirement of more funds, we will donate more," says the man regarded as the biggest philanthropist in a country where the wealthy have been criticised for not giving back enough.

The Azim Premji Foundation, he says, chose education because it is what helps build the nation, and also because in countries such as India the educators are not as qualified as they seem.

"India has millions of teachers but a bulk of them have not even gone through formal schooling," he says.

As for infrastructure, thousands of village schools lack electricity, have no seating or even basics such as a blackboard for the teachers.

"We are working with the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation on setting up something in India where each of the members would contribute about $100 million to $150 million as the seed funding," Mr Premji said.

As many as 50 rich Indians and other members are expected to join the foundation and to pledge large sums of funds over a period of years and not just as one-time payments by donors.

"In India itself, if the rich can buy private planes for $60 million, they surely can come up with the funds," he said when asked how many families were willing to make large pledges.

Mr Premji himself is a down-to-earth person who is famous for "upgrading" his car from a Ford Escort to a Toyota Corolla despite being able to afford any car in the world.

"I don't understand the need to have a private jet in India where the air connectivity is so good. It would only make sense where companies that have lots of plants and company executives want to visit as many sites as possible but for other than this it does not make sense to me," he says.

Mr Premji says he only travels economy class to distances of less than four or five hours.

But he acknowledges that it is not that easy to pass on this message of frugality to the younger generation. His two sons are frugal but not like their parents.

"There is a lot of peer pressure so they try to compromise between the two sides," he said, noting that when his elder son Rishad married he did not hold the typical lavish Indian wedding but a simple family function.


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