India’s Ultra-rich and their contribution to Philanthropy

The other day when we were having lunch in office, one of my colleagues brought the topic of philanthropic contributions by some of India’s richest men. Apparently a list of top Indian philanthropic contributors had been published recently. It struck me that it could serve as a topic for a blog post. The fact that the Oxfam report was also published around the same time served as an additional fodder for this thought. The institute that had published the report is a Shanghai based company, ‘Hurun Report.’ The company’s website has motto/ tag line: ‘Passionate about Chinese Entrepreneurship.’ The company has published two reports on India’s Ultra-rich towards the end of 2014: ‘Hurun India Rich List 2014’ in September 2014 featuring 230 Indians with a minimum wealth of $300 MN and ‘Hurun India Philanthropy List 2014’ in December 2014 featuring 50 Indians with a minimum contribution of INR 10 Crores (~1.63 MN USD, 1 USD = 61.49 INR and 1 Crore = 10 Millions).

I decided to take the two lists and see how many of the top fifty richest Indian’s have contributed to Philanthropic causes (Taking top 50 richest Indian’s from ‘Hurun India Rich List 2014’ and checking if they are present in ‘Hurun India Philanthropy List 2014’). More importantly I wanted to figure out what proportion of their wealth they have contributed to Philanthropic causes. I had to extend the list to top 53 richest Indians, as there was tie between 4 people at number 49 and at number 53 was N R Narayanamurthy, one of the founders of Infosys, a charismatic business leader and a role model/ inspiration for a lot of youngsters. I have given the details of methodology followed by Hurun Report in notes section at the bottom of the post. The complete list is attached in the form of two pictures with the details of the top 25 in the first picture and the details of the next 28 in the second picture.

Donations by India's Top 25 Billionaires

Donations by India’s Top 25 Billionaires

Donations by nest 28 Indian Billionaires

Donations by nest 28 Indian Billionaires

My findings paint a dismal picture about contributions by richest Indians towards charitable causes. Out of the top 53 richest Indians, 32 are not present in the ‘Hurun India Philanthropy List 2014,’ a whopping 60%. Of the remaining only 4 of them have made contributions above 1% of their wealth, an uninspiring 8%. Azim Premji of Wipro Technologies tops the Hurun India Philanthropy List 2014 with donations of $1,990 MN, which amounts to very generous 14.3% of his wealth. Anil Agarwal of Vedanta Resource comes in at a distant second with a contribution of $291 MN, which however translates to an impressive 8.6% of his wealth. Kavitark Ram Shriram, a board member of Google and Shiv Nadar of HCL Technologies come in at number three and number four with contributions of 2.9% and 1.5% of their wealth respectively.

India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries has only donated 0.4% of his wealth to charitable causes in the assessment period. This is in stark contrast with China where the country’s richest man Jack Ma of Alibaba has donated an impressive 9.6% of his wealth towards charitable causes and the U.S. where the world’s richest man Bill Gates of Microsoft has (been estimated to have) contributed (life time contribution) of about 38% of wealth (as per 2013 article by Forbes).

While researching for this blog post I came across other interesting articles on India’s Ultra-rich. According to a Credit Suisse report, ‘India is home to 11th largest population of Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, but also figures among countries with “very high wealth inequality” with a large number of its residents being in the lower wealth strata.’

In his October 2012 blog post in The New York Times, Vivek Dehejia has made some interesting observations quoting a study economists Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton: ‘The other important finding emerging from Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Walton’s research is that 43 percent of India’s billionaires came from sectors that the researchers classify as “rent-thick,” that is, those enjoying what economists would consider above-normal profits because the companies possess certain privileges. The Forbes list of richest Indians, released last week (in 2012), is full of businessmen and women from “rent-thick” sectors: real estate, construction, infrastructure, media, cement and mining. These are sectors in which the government continues to play a large role, in the form of licenses and other forms of control, and in which there’s a presumption of a government-business nexus – or collusion, to use a less flattering term, according to Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Walton.

There is some heartening news, though, in the study by Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Walton. According to their analysis, the majority of Indian billionaires are “self-made,” and around 40 percent represent wealth that is “inherited and growing,” like the Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, sons of the late Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of the family business empire. According to research, there is a positive correlation between economic growth and the wealth of self-made billionaires, while there is a negative correlation between growth and inherited wealth. It’s impossible to establish a conclusive cause-and-effect relationship, but the finding is at least suggestive of the fact that economies populated by those whose wealth is self-made are more dynamic than those that rely on the perpetuation of existing economic elites and their descendants.’

An October 2014 article in Forbes notes that only four Indians had thus far signed The Giving Pledge, a campaign (initiated by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in 2010) to encourage the wealthiest people in the world to make a commitment to give most of their wealth to philanthropic causes. Out of the four only Azim Premji is based in India. The other three (Vinod Khosla, Manoj Bhargava and Romesh Wadhwani) are Indian-Americans. A study by economists from the University of Southampton who performed an analysis of the pledgers’ letters to The Giving Pledge has found that billionaires who have built their own fortunes are more likely to pledge to donate a large portion of their wealth to charities, than those who are heirs to family fortunes.  This doesn’t augur well for Indian Philanthropic scene since some of the most well-known ultra-rich in India have inherited their wealth. To close this blog I will leave with a video of an interview by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates on Philanthropy. To quote Warren Buffet from the video: ‘A Philanthropic family on balance is going to feel better about themselves and their progeny than the family who has been hanging on to every single penny.

Note:

Hurun India Rich List 2014: ‘A list of the richest people in India with a cut-off of INR 1,800 Crores. Wealth calculations are a snapshot of 3 September 2014 when the rate of exchange to the US dollar was INR 60.33.’

Hurun India Philanthropy List 2014: ‘Donations were measured by the value of the cash or cash equivalent from 1 April 2013 to 31 October 2014.’

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