Historians believe that the word philanthropy comes from ancient Greece where it was first used in a mythological tale that tells the story of how Zeus, the king of the gods, tried to destroy primitive creatures (that looked like humans). They were saved by Prometheus, a Titan, who out of his “philanthropos tropos” or ‘humanity loving character’ gave them two gifts: Fire, symbolising all knowledge and skills and “blind hope” or optimism. The Greek word philanthropia was translated into Latin as ‘humanitas’ (humaneness). In modern times, philosophers defined it as “the private giving of time or valuables…for public purposes”.
In the following pages, you will find stories of 10 “philanthropic” individuals and organisations that have given their time, wealth, ideas, knowledge, and expertise to solving some of the most pressing problems of our time. But, more important than that, as the Greek mythology correctly understood, they have given us “optimism” by showing us that a clean heart and good intentions can achieve so much.
The jury led by Narayanan Vaghul deliberated for several hours to pick these 10 names. And as you flip the pages, you will see they picked a diverse bunch—entrepreneurs, bankers, private equity investors—as well as some of India’s wealthiest families, and some who came from very modest backgrounds. On November 21, the night of the first Forbes India Philanthropy Awards, they will share the same podium, proving that “it takes all kinds to make this a better place”.
When we launched Forbes India four years ago, we were clear that we would not measure success of an individual or an enterprise only by how successful they were in business. Yes, we were concerned about shareholder wealth but we were also interested in “the purpose of wealth”, in organisations that believed in “creating shared value”. This year, we decided to take that dialogue further and institute the Forbes India Philanthropy Awards.
India’s entrepreneurs are at an interesting juncture; post 1991 many of them have created global businesses and amassed millions of dollars. But they are not interested in squandering it away, or using it to buy private jets or mansions, or leaving it behind for their children either. Instead, they are actively putting it to use to solve some of the country’s biggest problems—education, livelihoods, environment, water and sanitation. What’s more, they are bringing in the same level of passion and energy to philanthropy that they put in running their businesses and building organisations. Many are even bringing in the best people and best practices from their business into these philanthropic organisations. It is this cross-fertilisation of ideas that is the most interesting part of this journey.
Look at a few examples. Hemendra Kothari is working to preserve wildlife and rehabilitating villagers, Ajay Piramal has spent crores to find scalable solutions to alleviate rural poverty, Sunil Mittal is building schools in villages for educating girls, the Godrej family has donated millions to conserve the environment and protect our heritage and culture. The list is long.
While these entrepreneurs are leading the way, corporations, too, have shown that you can build a successful business while doing well for society. Britannia has become the first company in India to sell food that is completely free from trans fat. Fabindia is not only the country’s most profitable retailer; it has also protected the artisans’ livelihood and made them shareholders in its business.
Many of us have only heard about the fervour of nation-building in the ’50s and ’60s. Today, we see nation-building of a different type. Professionals like Nandan Nilekani and Ramesh Ramanathan have left rewarding corporate careers to pick up causes that could change the face of this country.
Dileep Ranjekar, co-CEO of Azim Premji Foundation, once told me that for large-scale change to happen, two things were important—a good government and a bunch of good philanthropists. In the US, it was the philanthropists who built the best universities, hospitals and museums. In India, we have a great example of this in Tata Trusts, whose vast charitable work has touched every Indian’s life in one way or the other.
India’s problems are too big, too complex and too challenging. But they are not impossible to solve. As our winners show, all it takes is the right intention and some perseverance.Abraham Moses: The Good Samaritan Tata Tea: Champion of Cause Marketing Nachiket Mor: The Crossover Leader Lord Raj Loomba: Distinguished NRI Philanthropist Ashish Dhawan: Next Gen Leader in Philanthropy
Azim Premji: Outstanding Philanthropist
Narayanan Vaghul: The Corporate Philanthropy Catalyst The Murugappas: Distinguished Philanthropic Family
Tata Trusts: Outstanding Corporate Foundation Jain Irrigation Systems: The Good Company
(This story appears in the 07 December, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)