This afternoon saw a buzz of activity in one of the plush city hotels, where corporate leaders from diverse fields flocked to join a closed-door meeting with Microsoft co-founder and chairman, William ‘Bill’ Gates, to share ideas on philanthropy.
A strict no-no for the media, it was hosted jointly by Gates, Wipro chairman Azim Premji and Tata Sons chairman Ratan Tata, all known for significant contribution to philanthropy.
“The group expressed belief that philanthropy and social service are integral to the development of any society. The meeting was focused on sharing ideas on philanthropy and not about any pledges. It discussed social work in areas like education, health, water and agriculture,” stated the Azim Premji Foundation, the not-for-profit organisation run by Premji.
The meeting began around 3 pm and ended at 8 pm; it was attended by about 80 corporate moguls from different cities in India. Among them were Sunil Bharti Mittal, G V K Reddy, S Gopalakrishnan, Anu Aga, Rohini and Nandan Nilekani, Naveen Jindal, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and V G Siddhartha. Ratan Tata was present through the meeting and left the venue immediately after Gates.
N R Narayana Murthy, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Infosys, though invited for the event, could not come as he was abroad. It is reliably learnt that Premji had invited everyone in his personal capacity.
The not-for-profit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it was a private discussion of philanthropy and social service in India. “It is an opportunity for a great group of philanthropists to share ideas and experiences about giving with each other. Out of respect for their privacy, we will not be sharing the names of attendees,” it added.
Speaking exclusively to Business Standard after the meeting, Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said the gathering debated methods on enhancing and channelising philanthropy. “The major aspect which came out of the meeting was that there is a trust deficit in social development activities carried out by the government. There is always a doubt whether the donation reaches the end-user or not while being involved in a government-led effort. So, the delivery mechanism should be in the hands of the private sector, while the government’s role should be that of an enabler and facilitator,” she said.
Gates, she added, detailed how various models could be adopted for each country and "it was time for social entrepreneurship in India".
"Social entrepreneurship is a long-gestation effort and high net worth individuals should seriously look at it," Shaw said.
One model discussed, it appears, was how a group of diamond merchants came together to address a scarcity of water in part of Saurashtra. "It was an amazing example through which an arid area got water and we need more such efforts," said Shaw.