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Azim Premji is an Indian philanthropist and the chairman of Wipro, Ltd. According to Forbes, Premji is currently the second richest person in India with a personal wealth of $17[…]

The Billionaire explains why he’s decided to give most of his fortune to charity.

Question: What motivated your decision to give most of your rnfortune to charity? 

Azim Premji: I think it is rnbasically fundamental in terms of when much is given, much is expected rnto be given back in return. And there is so much people can consume in rnterms of wealth and require in terms of wealth. If one has been blessed rnor have been fortunate enough to have got much more than normal wealth, rnit is but natural that one expects a certain fiduciary responsibility inrn terms of how that wealth is applied, used and leveraged for purposes ofrn society. 

Question: Why is philanthropy not as rndeveloped in India as it is in North America? 

Azim rnPremji: The concept of the strong linkage to the family is breaking rndown in Western nations. So the obligations which I think to an extent, rnnot only Indian, but many people feel toward their families is much lessrn in terms of Western people and particularly American people. So, when rnyou take a philosophy approach that you do not have to leave wealth to rnyour families, you are going to have to tell yourself, "Do you take it rnto the grave, or do you donate it for some more worthwhile purpose?" Andrn this also reflects in the way that families get structured. You know, rnchildren live separately; children put old parents into homes instead ofrn putting them into their homes. What the children expect from the rnparents, what the parents expect from their children. 

Question:rn What is your philosophy when it comes to philanthropy? 

Azimrn Premji: We’ve been focusing on primary education in India for the rnpast nine years, both in Wipro, Ltd., as well as in the foundation that Irn set up. You have to make a bet to where you think you can really make arn contribution, where you could really build an depth of understanding. rnSo it was really very clear from day one that we had to have focus. Two,rn it had to be a cause which was relevant to the country in terms of rnneed. A critical cause in terms of need where you saw a gap between whatrn could be and what it was. And three, it should be an area where it rnshould have an access beyond just a specific educating of a child. We rnconcluded that if we could educate children better in our country, you rnwould have better citizens. But importantly, we also realized that if rnyou educate the girl child, when she grows up and starts a family, she rnhas a smaller family, which is a huge requirement in terms of the growthrn of our population, which is more manageable. And three, again, if you rneducate the girl child, when she grows up and she starts a family, or rnlooks after a household, she has much higher consciousness on primary rnhealth care. 

Question: What are the best methods for rnimproving education in India? 

Azim Premji: I think, rnyou know, what you must understand is the state of education in India. rnYou have one side, the cities, which have very good schools, average rnschools, and not so good schools. The level of education in these citiesrn is fairly good. They get fairly good teachers. On the other side, you rnhave the villages of India, where 65% to 70% of the people of India rnlive. And there we have education, which is in the villages, and 90% of rnthat education is run by the state governments, partly funded by the rncentral government. Where the state government does not charge any fees,rn gives free uniforms, gives a free mid-day meal, which is very often thern best meal the child gets, and where there are six million unionized rnteachers in the states' governments, multiple state governments that we rnhave across the country. Standards of education there are very, very rnlow. The commitment of the teachers is very, very low. The quality of rnthe teacher, the training of the teacher, is very, very low. So, there rnis an enormous amount one can do to upgrade the quality of teaching, thern quality of the teachers, the way the curricula is actually learned, thern way it is facilitated to learn, the way you can community intervene to rnget community pressures building up on the education system to demand rncertain standards. The way you can train the teacher-training rninstitute. 

There are 600 districts in India. Every district in rnIndia has a teacher-training institute. And every teacher in the state rngovernment school requires spending 15 days of retraining in these rninstitutes. Most of these institutes are in shambles and many of them rnhave teachers who are worse than the teacher they are supposed to teach.rn So, there’s an enormous amount of leverage one can do in terms of rnupgrading this entire infrastructure. 

Always the government rnspends a lot of money, there’s an enormous amount one can do in trainingrn and upgrading the quality of the state function. That’s precisely what rnwe do in our foundation. And we have been successful now because we havern been working for nine years in this. We're involved now with over 2.5 rnmillion children. 
Recorded on May 7, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown