The World's Greatest Philanthropists

I am the trustee of my wealth, not its owner

Azim Premji explains why giving is all about having the right mindset

Deepak G Pawar

When Azim Premji decided to start a philanthropic foundation back in 1999, it was not the result of any a-ha moment. The intention to give back to society was fixed in his mind as a child, seeing his father’s upright actions and the dedication with which his doctor mother ran a children’s charitable hospital. Premji would have chosen to work for an international development organisation but for his father’s untimely death in 1967, following which he dropped out of Stanford to manage the family business. If his transformation of his father’s vegetable oil company into a software services behemoth is the stuff legends are made of, his philanthropy is just as noteworthy. Premji has committed $5 billion of his personal wealth to the Azim Premji Foundation and last year became the first Indian to sign the Giving Pledge, committing the bulk of his wealth to philanthropy. In this interview, Premji explains why giving is all about having the right mindset.

 

Tell us about the influence your mother had on you, and the values that were instilled in you in your growing years. Can you share some anecdotes?

Both my mother and father have influenced me significantly in their own ways. My mother was a qualified doctor and must have been one of the earliest Muslim woman doctors. She set up the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital at Haji Ali in Mumbai in the 1950s. It was a completely charitable hospital. Running it was very hard, both to operate and raise funds, and I saw my mother completely dedicated to it. I think that has played a role in my orientation towards social issues. 

I remember once, at some incitement from outside, some of the workers at the hospital went on a strike demanding higher wages. My mother ran the hospital on donations and it had no ability to offer a raise. They were sitting on strike at the entrance of the hospital. My mother got a large number of white sheets and hung them around the workers so no one could see them and the hospital went about its work. By evening, the striking workers were tired of sitting and not being noticed, and went back to work. I remember this quite vividly. Nothing would stop her work for the children; her dedication was extraordinary. 

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