The Giving Pledge: India CSR With Buffett and Gates

Two of the biggest business and and philanthropic leaders are currently in India to promote CSR. Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were in Delhi to urge Indian industrialists to join their philanthropic efforts. Buffett and Gates held breakfast and lunch meetings with the leader of Indian industry today. This included Adi Godrej of Godrej Industries and Max Group chairman Analjit Singh to discuss with them the scope of philanthropy.

“The Giving Pledge” campaign started by the duo in the US last year is aimed at wealthy business leaders and is a request for them to invest in philanthropic causes aimed at social development. So far, 59 wealthy US citizens have taken the pledge. According to Buffett, a number of people in the US are opening up to the idea that once they have what they need, any surplus could be put to use for the betterment of others.

India is growing at about 9% a year and has 55 billionaires with an average net worth of $4.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine. This makes the the third-largest pool of billionaires after the US and China. On the other hand, nearly 42% of Indians live on less than $1.50 a day, according to the World Bank. There is a lot of scope therefore, to fix this imbalance in wealth distribution.

"We have met 70 people last evening and we see a lot of enthusiasm in Indian corporates about philanthropy. I am quite optimistic that these families will do extraordinary things with the good fortune they have received," Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said at a press meet held after consultations with Indian corporates on the need to donate liberally for social causes.

"It's clear there's some great thinking going on about philanthropy. India has historically produced some of the most important philanthropists the world has known. I'm certain it will continue to do so again," said Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and chairman of Microsoft Corp.

G.M. Rao, chairman of the GMR Group pledged $340 million towards education and vocational training for the underprivileged on Wednesday as part of the campaign. "Today's gathering of India's leaders has been an excellent opportunity for us to discuss the part we can all play in contributing to equitable and sustainable development of India," said Azim Premji, chairman of Wipro Ltd.

Premji himself heads the Azim Premji Foundation that serves as the CSR arm for Wipro. Last year he set aside shares worth about $1.95 billion towards funding education for the poor. He is also against any legislation that would make CSR mandatory.

"I am not for making corporate social responsibility mandatory," Premji said at the press meet. "When it is mandatory, there can be a lot of abuse that can take place as there is no clear guideline on what is CSR and what is brand promotion."

The Chairman of the Piramal Group also opined that CSR need not mandatory. "Most people today are living better lives than what their forefathers did. So, I think we should encourage philanthropy but I don't think it should be mandatory," he said.

Regardless of whether it is mandatory or not, CSR or philanthropy any effort to re-balance wealth distribution is an excellent move with vast socio-economic payoffs.