The Art of Giving

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.


  1. Yes, it is the art of giving.I may not know about minute details, but, Tatas are amongst the most honest industrialist of India.

  2. 'it is his money, his right of spending'. Come again? It is the profit earned by the company, isn't it? Profit is income minus expenditure. Tatas make profit by selling cars to trucks to steel and whatever. Something say, that costs one rupee, inclusive of cost of production and reasonable margin of profit, they sell for say, five rupees. To the Indians. They get a profit of Four rupees, and then they donate , say, fifty paise to Harvard. Whose money is the four rupees? Tata's money, you said? Fine, great! Lets hope the Birlas would donate $51 million to Cambridge or Oxford! Why give a shit about the buggers in Nandigram or elsewhere!

  3. @BKC
    There is no one, at least in India we can compare him with.
    @RM Welcome to the blog.Come as often as you can.
    Yes,that is the economics of all industries,not only his.I had clearly mentioned that more than 70%of all the profits go to charitable causes.
    How many of our industrialists do that?

  4. Who's money is it any way?Who's life is it any way? That the Tatas, the Murthys or the Mahindra's must fret about. Social ethics, what the heck is that?
    Forget the Harvards, the Oxfords and the IIMs , what is the state of basic education- primary education in India? Have we or these Business tycoons thought about that? Why should they or why should we?
    Look at the Ambani mansion that has come up in Mumbai. Twenty six floor high - tower of Babel!!
    Well that is Ambani money and what right do we have to talk foul?

    All the talk about social commitment and sharing with the needy segment of the society that you earned from the society is a concept for board room gimmicks and publicity.

    This is economics - market driven - that can only thrive on greed,manipulation, selfishness and hazy philanthropy for publicity.

    Tit bits will be thrown and the crumps are to be picked lest they cease to be thrown at all.

  5. Yes, they can donate it to whoever they want. But, why not do something good for an Indian institution is the question I had in mind when I read about the Tata largesse.

  6. One of the greats (after JRD)
    (I have met both and seen their simplicity)

  7. god generous people all over:)

  8. @Doc! Thank you for the informational post.

    Now I want to hear from @Haddock on his encounter with him.

  9. One more advantage for the Tatas, Murthys, and the Mahindras. Their family members will get admission into Harvard irrespective of their grades. Yes, it is true. All the Kennedys went to Harvard and they all had very bad grades.

  10. I don't know why people with power and money combined, never seem to do the right thing. I agree their money would benefit the poor and help their education along. I imagine these people gave to Harvard so their family and other relatives will have easy access into that college. I agree with SG, the Kennedys did have bad grades. I guess it is who you know.

  11. Never new the stats. Good to know Doc.

  12. @Anil
    I hear the anger in your voice.But he is giving more than anyone else.There are so many of them doing nothing.Among Indian industrialists,Tatas have always set an example.Businesses are meant to make profit.It is good to see some people with some kind of social commitment.

  13. nice ..Its very informative post...Money plays a main role..Donations depends on generosities and where it is spent...Harvard business School best among all.... only rich and elite with some good grades can get inn there..its rat Race..I would say..look at the country first before donating the significantly rich..its doesn't them...but the people who r homeless ..or no natural resources should be taken care before ..anything else..

  14. @all my friends
    There are people with money every where.Businesses are meant to make money.But then, how many are giving?

  15. I agree that he is very generous. But where is all his contribution to harvard going to ....Africa?Pakistan? Indonesia? haiti? .....but nowhere in india?! Thats what i doubt. i have seen many people hesitate to contribute to any other countries but prefer to contribute to a child in India ..... isnt that what you call generosity?

  16. I am a big fan of Tatas..they are most humanitarian bussinessmen and do bussiness with ethics..none of today.ambanis,bacchans or shahrukhs can even come near them.


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