Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Tech money for social good: From Kris Gopalakrishnan to K Dinesh, Azim Premji, Nandan Nilekani, and more

Philanthropists from the technology industry have not just been at the forefront of using their money for impact, but have also often backed underfunded, 'risky' causes with patient capital

Divya J Shekhar
Published: Jan 31, 2024 11:57:21 AM IST
Updated: Jan 31, 2024 12:38:57 PM IST

Tech money for social good: From Kris Gopalakrishnan to K Dinesh, Azim Premji, Nandan Nilekani, and moreSix of the top 15 philanthropists in the country, by value of contributions, are from the tech industry
Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys, calls the IT services companies the “first generation of startups who have succeeded and have created a large, some $230 billion industry”.

He puts companies like Wipro, TCS, HCL and Infosys in the first generation; Cognizant, Mindtree in the second; Happiest Minds in the third generation, which includes Flipkart and the other internet startups that came after 2008. According to him, the first generation is also leading the way in setting an example when it comes to philanthropy.

His observations are on-point. According to the EdelGive Hurun India list 2023, leading the country’s businesspersons and professionals in philanthropy is HCL Co-founder Shiv Nadar, who donated ₹2,042 crore in FY23, which is almost ₹5.6 crore per day. He is followed by Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, who donated ₹1,774 crore, almost a 267 percent increase from his donation in FY22.

Six of the top 15 philanthropists in the country, by value of contributions, are from the tech industry, including Gopalakrishnan, and preceding him is fellow Infosys Co-founder Nandan Nilekani, with a contribution of ₹189 crore in FY23. The youngest in this cohort are the Kamath brothers of Zerodha, with a contribution of ₹110 crore.

As per the India Philanthropy Report 2022 published by Dasra and Bain & Company, while tech entrepreneurs constitute about 8 percent of total ultra-high net-worth individual (UHNI) wealth of around ₹85 lakh crore, the sector contributed 35 percent of the total philanthropic donations of ₹4,500 crore in FY21.

As Neera Nundy, partner and co-founder at Dasra writes in her column, “The potential of tech-driven wealth generation and increasing engagement in philanthropy offers an opportunity to catalyse change, setting the stage for a decade of innovation, collaboration and sustained development for India on a global stage…”

These philanthropists also stand out for their scale of giving, and the causes they support. “Tech donors typically don’t give small. Several of them have made multi-crore funding commitments to causes that are often underfunded. This is unique because it is an approach that swings for the fences, and is aimed at ambitious and innovative social change,” says Pritha Venkatachalam, partner and co-head, Asia and Africa at the global philanthropy and nonprofit advisory organisation, The Bridgespan Group. “Most business families have programmatic approaches to philanthropy, but tech philanthropists are thinking about societal or systems-level change.”

These causes could range from research into the human brain, as Gopalakrishnan is funding with a ₹750-crore bet, or building capacity and institutions, as shown by Ashok Soota of Happiest Minds, and the Bagchis and Parthasarathys of Mindtree.

Nithin Kamath of Zerodha has earmarked $100 million (around ₹750 crore) for climate change at the intersection of livelihoods, afforestation, environmental conservation and rejuvenation. Rizwan Koita of health care technology firm CitiusTech, along with wife Rekha, helps non-profits scale up and leverage technology to improve social outcomes.

Last year, Nilekani donated ₹315 crore to his alma mater IIT-Bombay for building infrastructure, research in emerging areas, and nurturing a deeptech startup ecosystem. As he tells Forbes India, “Philanthropy can be a means to seed innovative solutions that require initial risk-taking and long-term vision, which for-profit entities might not be willing to undertake due to the lack of immediate financial returns.”

In the pages that follow are stories of how entrepreneurs from India’s technology industry use their money, expertise, time and networks to understand the social sector and identify areas where their contributions can make a difference.

(This story appears in the 09 February, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)