>> Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Tata’s donation of US $ 50 million to Harvard has become a matter of heated discussion.
Even by the standards of American philanthropy, the Tata donation is significant. And he isn’t the only Indian to be pouring money into Harvard. In May this year, the family of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy decided to give US$5.2 million for creating the Murthy Classical Library of India(which will, among other things, have 100 books from Indian languages translated into English). The Mahindra Group has donated $10 million to the Harvard Humanities Centre.
The Tatas, the Murthys and the Mahindras have favoured Harvard in different ways and for different reasons, but this raises a question: why are they more favourably inclined to a Harvard than, say, an IIM or any other Indian Institution. One answer is that they have been associated with these institutions in some way. But, equally, it seems that they are less sure about how useful their contributions to Indian institutions would be. The Harvards of the world emphasise excellence over every other ideal. The same cannot be said for our politician -controlled institutions.
Tata is the most generous overseas donor to Harvard Business School to date.
According to both American and Indian intellectuals, humility and integrity are the two distinctive traits of a man considered nearly as powerful as the greatest political leaders in India. For instance, the Tata Group billionaire refuses to let others carry his bag for him.
“Tata’s gift not only reflects the businessman’s relationship with the program as an alum, but also his role as a global leader and citizen. He cares about his country, his company, and his employees,” Nitin Nohria , Dean, Harvard Business School says. “And no organization in the world has a greater commitment to integrity and doing things ‘right.’”
The company is itself controlled by a collection of non-profit, charitable trusts, to which two-thirds of the profit of these companies contributes. This collection of trusts sponsors free cancer hospitals and education through grants and scholarships.
This is a company that has a very solid reputation for doing good” So, this single donation, is it a matter for discussion?
“There are millions of Indians living under poverty line and can afford only one meal a day. There are hundreds of thousands of school children in Indian villages who do not have access to basic education. There are no school buildings to conduct classes. Infrastructure in towns and villages is nonexistent. So many Indians do not have access to basic healthcare. Farmers are committing suicide because of poverty. The list of these disasters goes on in India. That somebody with wealth gives the money to somebody who really does not need it is a shameful act. It is just to have a name among elitist, rich and powerful”. Arguments go on and on. I had given the answer to all these. Two thirds of the Tata profits are handed over to charitable trusts for humanitarian causes.
India is economically doing well. I don't think Indians have been so rich and have their wealth recognized internationally before. They have never been known globally for philanthropy like some western billionaires. So yes, may be, this is going to be their rat race to be recognized in that manner.
They earned the money fair and square and have full freedom to spend it exactly how they want. A business is ethically obligated to conduct business fairly without unfair practices, illegal activities or fraud. They are not ethically obliged to give back at all. Social ethics? Yes we can examine the role of business from a social ethics perspective. But then, he is doing more than anyone else, isn’t he?
It is his money, his right of spending.