Azim Premji Curated

Chairman, Wipro

CURATED BY :      +44 others


  • Why do you say integrity and perseverance are important?

  • What role did you play as an activist?

  • How do you make music keeping in mind the preferences of the middle-class people?

  • Why do you think the way of songwriting has changed today?

  • Do you yourself write the songs you sing?

  • What is your views on remix songs?

  • Is there any other rapper whose work you like to keep a track of?

  • What according to you is the latest fashion trend?

  • Who do you think needs a stylist in the zone of fashion?

  • Is there any song you love which was not a box-office hit?

  • What made you to donate most of your earnings to charity?

  • Why Philanthropy is not developed in India?

  • What is your philosophy when it comes to philanthropy?

  • What according to you would improve India's Education?

  • What are your views on India's rate of growth?

  • As India becomes richer and salaries rise, will outsourcing still make financial sense for Western countries?

  • What are your views on China?

  • How is U.S maintaining its status as leading economy and how to maintain it?

  • What are your views on the current world conditions?

  • What role does motivation plays in anyone's life according to you?

  • What role does failure play in one's life?

  • What piece of advice would you like to give to the youth?

  • What role does being persistent plays in an organisation?

  • What role does customer plays for a company?

  • Any stories that would you like to share with us?

  • How do you handle criticisms?

  • How important is it for organisations to think different?

  • How did your company built this current respect you have?

  • What advice would you give to the young entrepreneurs?

  • You have recently take over one of the most coveted position in Indian business, how is it going?

  • Do you feel the pressure of being compared to your father?

  • How is the new Wipro you craft and create is going to be different from the Wipro you inherited?

  • What do you think about future of job market?

  • What do you think about the AI technology?

  • Is India ready for the 4th Industrial revolution?

  • How is India placed to leverage it's demographic dividend?

  • So many people in IT industry in their middle of their career have been made redundant, what is your opinion on that?

  • Are you concerned about the kind of graduate coming out of Indian colleges and their skill level?

  • Wipro got out of pecking order of IT industry, how hard you are working to get back that position ?

  • What do you like about your father's style of working?

  • What do you think about the start up businesses in Inida?

  • How are you using the rise in endowment to expand fieldwork?

    We extensively support capacity development of government school teachers in Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, apart from Puducherry, one district in Telangana and in the Northeast. We have roughly 1,500 people on the field, which should go up to 2,500 or 3,000 in the next five years. We will deepen our work in places where we are already present. For example, if we are working in 10 out of 17 blocks in the Barmer district of Rajasthan, we will build ground-level presence in the remaining seven too. Right now, teachers from these seven blocks are engaging with us at a much lower frequency. In addition, we will broaden our presence in these states. Let’s say today we have ground-level presence in 10 districts of Karnataka... that will go up to 15; in Rajasthan it will go up from 10 to 12. Madhya Pradesh will have the greatest expansion: We have a presence in four districts, and this will go up to 10. We have district-level institutions in 47 regions and 225-odd teacher learning centres. That gives us a proximate presence to where teachers are.

  • How many teachers has the Foundation trained in the last ten years?

    I have absolutely no count of how many teachers we have trained; the total number will be in lakhs in the last 10 years. We keep track of how many teachers we are engaged with in a three-month cycle, which is close to 1.75 lakh. This is because building capacity is not a one-shot process: It involves multiple sessions, different modes and levels of engagement.

  • What about the new Azim Premji University campus in Bhopal?

    The Azim Premji University is currently operating from a rented premise [in Bengaluru]. Our campus is under construction [on its outskirts], and we will move there by next June. Over the next four years, our student numbers will go up from the current 1,300 to 6,000. This expansion will be significant for us because the financial model of our university is that roughly 90 percent of expenses are borne by the Foundation, while 10 percent is paid for by the students. We are also setting up a university in Bhopal, and are discussing approvals with the government. Our objective is to set up the university in two to three years, and accommodate 5,000 to 6,000 students. We will perhaps set up a third university in five years.

  • How many non-profits have you provided grants to and how do you pick your causes?

    We have supported about 220 NGOs across India, which in turn have operations in multiple states and districts. Our approach toward grant-making is to support not-for-profit organisations that are working with the most vulnerable groups of society. This work could range from basic efforts to ameliorate the conditions of people to addressing more complicated causes. We have supported initiatives that work in the areas of farmer distress, women who face violence, or homeless children. We help organisations put better processes and systems in place.

  • What are the lessons that have altered your approach towards the sector?

    First, we have to recognise that the Foundation is insignficant in the context of India, and still try our best—because we are certainly more privileged than most other organisations in terms of our resources. It’s a complex and often messy reality out there. There is no full understanding of what the causes are, no agreement on what the end-state is, and there rarely can be, that is the sign of a vibrant democracy. Second, in business or physical science, you get used to finding the perfect solution. Social realities are so complex that you cannot have solutions, only effort toward improvements. Once you develop that mindset, individual philanthropists or organisations need to be humble. Not always, but too often, people with money start believing that they have all the solutions and that they know better. You’ve made money in business, which is great, but if you are thrown in front of 30 children and asked to teach them for a year, you will have no idea what to do. Third, you have to be really connected to the ground. This is a huge problem. People who sit in cabins in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi or the Western hemisphere have to mould themselves to suit the realities out there. The reality will not suit their ideas. Personally, I don’t think there is some great, transformational philanthropy happening in India right now, or that the country was impoverished of philanthropy earlier. Right now, philanthropy is too often being propped up as a ‘flavour of the month’, a talking point. If you go back some 80-100 years ago, there were people like Jamsetji and Jamnalal Bajaj or Amblal Sarabhai who have done incredible things for nation-building. The notion that somehow India has discovered philanthropy now is just a delusion.

  • So were first-generation entrepreneurs more in touch with the realities of the social sector than businessmen today?

    Early-generation entrepreneurs like Jamnalal Bajaj, Jamsetji Tata, and Ambalal Sarabhai had a lot more wisdom than many of the—even sincere—philanthropists of today. This is a broad-brush comparison and I’m sure there are philanthropists today who are equally enlightened—but my sense is that we can do with a lot more wisdom today and do less with ‘strategy’ ‘smart thinking’ etc. One of my favourite stories to explain this is about the time when Mahatma Gandhi took in a Dalit couple, a community he later referred to as Harijans, into the Sabarmati ashram. Funders stopped supporting him. One night, a sheth drove to the ashram and realised that it was on the brink of shutting down, and immediately handed Gandhi `15,000, an amount that would have easily sustained the ashram for more than two years. That was Vikram Sarabhai’s father, Ambalal. Today’s philanthropists would have gotten wrapped up in asking the Mahatma for a ‘theory of change’ or ‘impact measurement’. What would have happened if Mahatma Gandhi had been forced to shut down Sabarmati Ashram? That tells you about what humility and wisdom combined with philanthropy can do

  • How is philanthropy space evolving in India?

    The best thing I can tell you about philanthropy in India is that we don’t know very much. There is virtually no data of any kind. Anecdotally, we feel that the bulk of giving in India is either religious or within one’s extended circle. When it comes to hard data, we know that the home ministry tells us that there is foreign funding of around Rs 20,000 crore coming into the sector. CSR reporting – because that is mandatory, so we now know something about that – says something like Rs 15,000 crore is coming from there, putting the number at approximately Rs 35,000 crore. The best estimates we have of the balance, which is giving by foundations, high net worth individuals (HNIs) and ordinary individuals, is in the ballpark of Rs 30,000 crore. This is our best guess at this point in time but one of the key items on our agenda is to figure out how to reliably estimate private giving.

  • Philanthropy in India is still dominated by high net worth individuals (HNIs) and the big guys and of course there is only one individual if we keep him apart, the whole thing is different. How do you think we need to move from that to microgiving?

    There are lots of things that need to be done. I think the whole ecosystem needs to be invested in. At the moment, it is actually the opposite because it is so hard to give. The government insists on proof of address and those kinds of things. So the one-touch giving that you could be doing based on a QR code or something like that is quite hard to do. There are some regulatory tweaks that need to happen, there is some investment in promoting the idea of online giving, thanks to campaigns like GivingTuesdays. Another issue is about tax incentives. Even the tax incentives that we used to have like 35A has been withdrawn. Now we are down only to 80G which is you get to reduce your taxable income by 50 percent of the contribution. Compare that to Singapore where you can reduce your taxable income by 125 percent of the amount.

  • There's a lot of excitement on new platforms like Milaap, etc. How do you feel about it?

    There are lots of different innovative solutions to this. One of the things that funders can do is to fund that innovation. So, for example, if I am Ketto, Wishberry, Milaap, GlobalGiving, or Impact Guru, or GiveIndia, if I had let us say even Rs 1 crore in a year, then I could use to test different things – let me test this and see if it works, let me see that and see if it works, let me try out different models.

  • According to a study, India’s rank on the World Giving Index has also fallen and how would you relate to that?

    I don’t think that study necessarily is a reliable indicator because I don’t think it is rigorous enough in terms of covering enough of the population and asking the right questions. But can we give more? We certainly can. As a country should we be giving more? Wealthy people can and should be giving more; currently apart from Azim Premji and a couple of others, nobody is really ‘giving till it hurts’. Everybody is giving microscopic percentages of their income, forget about their wealth. On the other hand, there was a campaign run recently, which asked ordinary citizens to pledge 50 percent of their assets to charity, you could give it away either during your lifetime or at your death. The pledge was simple, as long as you have Rs 1 crore in assets, whatever that maybe, your house, your whatever, you can qualify for this campaign. The campaign was quite successful. There were many people who signed up for this pledge, even young professionals who have a bright future in front of them. So I think we are not really exploring the full potential of giving in India for multiple reasons, including mistrust. So people are comfortable giving to people they know and they are comfortable giving to 2-3 large organisations that are well-known. But the average NGO doesn’t have access to that kind of money because they haven’t been able to build the trust.

  • It could be credibility crisis, NGOs have been renowned for – there are many bad eggs.

    This is not true in my experience. If I have to say percentagewise politicians, media, business and NGOs I will say NGOs; they are very trustworthy institutions, they don’t indulge in scams.

  • You are comparing to a very bad lot..

    That is right so certainly if you live in a country where all institutions are discredited then NGOs I think should be less discredited than others. But that is not how it is actually works in practice. People are willing to invest money, in all kinds of fly-by-night schemes, where they lose money without batting an eyelid; whereas giving Rs 500 for the NGO is somehow seen as some sort of a risk. What I find really troubling is that people who have no difficulties spending Rs 5,000 on restaurant meal, will have 100s of queries while donating a fraction of that to an NGO. Do you ask the restaurant guy how much do you pay to the waiter, how do the vegetables cost? No. You are paying for an experience and you trust them that this is something that they are going to make it worthwhile. For much smaller sums of money, there seems to be an inherent mistrust. I don’t think it is the NGOs necessarily, I think as a society we are mistrustful.

  • But over a period of time, there have been many stories of NGOs indulging in financial impropriety. Quite a significant percentage.

    There is no data. I would hazard a guess that such NGOs that you talk of account for less than 5 percent of the sector. When you compare that to business or sports or Bollywood...

  • When the government was tightening the screws on the NGOs, there were so many accountancy issues. So many NGOs that had to - they just vanished away.

    I wish the government would share that data. I wish that we could find out how many of those registrations that were cancelled were NGOs who had multiple registrations who now decided to settle for one. So let us say that I am an NGO for example like Ekta Parishad and I have chapters in 25 states and may be each of them is independently registered and I had independent FCRAs for a large variety and then when this whole reporting requirements became much more onerous, I said one second, this is too much work, let us just settle for one and I cancelled or I didn’t file returns for 20 of them. I would love to know how many of these NGOs were NGOs, which once got a grant only once from foreign soil. So there has been a very successful narrative put out there. That says NGOs are either ineffective or inefficient or corrupt or anti national. None of those are substantiated by the evidence. This is why we need good research and good data so that we can uncover the truth of these allegations if there are any allegations. Every NGO for example that I am aware of that has taken the government to court challenging their FCRA withdrawal has won, there is not a single case that the government has won. Sadly, the NGO put under suspicion gets reported, the NGO being exonerated never gets reported.

  • But why haven’t there been attempts made to build credibility in the NGO sector?

    There have been attempts made, but I don’t think they have been successful. For example, there was an initiative sometime in the early 2000s called Credibility Alliance which went through a very detailed process of evolving reporting frameworks and NGOs reported not just their income and expenses but even your CEO salary and all sorts of things. Sadly it did not take off. Another attempt was GuideStar India that had some 9,000 NGOs signed up with full transparency - multiple attempts to do it. None of them have been particularly successful. NITI Aayog, on their portal has 40,000 NGOs – even if NITI Aayog cannot get transparency then we have something really serious to deal with. Part of it has to - NGOs report to more authorities than businesses do. Having sat in that seat and have to file my income tax return, my FCRA reports, my excise duty when we used to sell cards, greeting cards, all the usual corporate ones, PF, ESIC, you name it, shops that have establishment acts, Octroi, there were like 20 compliances we had. So we are reporting a lot, but for some reason that is not getting consolidated and reported out to say okay.

  • For the sake of illustration, out of a rupee, how much typically gets spent as operating expenses versus the actual spent on a cause?

    There are two factors that determine that ratio. One is the nature of your work. For example, if you are a centre for policy research where you do policy analysis and research, the bulk of your cost is overhead. I would not be surprised if a think-tank or that kind of NGO had 75 percent overhead ratio. If on the other hand, I am feeding children like Akshaya Patra does, then 90 percent of my expenses will be programme cost. So the nature of your work in some ways determines your overhead ratio. If you are delivering services then you are going to have a low overhead, if you are doing more research advocacy campaigning that kind of thing then you will have a higher overhead. So that is one factor. The second factor is how you choose to raise your money. If I get all my money from a Foundation, my cost of fundraising will be negligible. If I choose instead to go to 500,000 Indians and say give me Rs 2,000 each, my cost of fundraising will be high. So when you make those two choices, what is the nature of your work and how do you want to raise your money – that will determine what your overhead costs are.

  • In India philanthropy has been there for quite some time. So the corporate social responsibility (CSR) thing – there has been a fillip to this. How would you relate, has there been a positive or negative impact?

    At best we can tell and this is based on expert opinion because there is no pre-data; there is only post-data. We think that it has doubled corporate philanthropy. If today we are raising Rs 15,000 crore; we think before this it must have been Rs 7,000-8,000 crore. So that’s one straight impact that it has increased the pool of money available to the sector. The second thing it has done is because of the way the law is written, it has got senior corporate involvement in it. This is a boardroom discussion now; it has not left to some young person in the PR department or in the communications department to do it on their own. The fact that its mandatory reporting is there is more emphasis on impact and impact measurement and finally, because most corporates are trying to also use it as a way to engage employees, is also widening the circle of people that are engaged with the sector.

  • Most people retire by the age of 60. What is your secret to being so full of energy and working so hard at your age?

  • Could you share some of your corporate experience?

  • What are your views on the impact of rising pollution levels as a result of urban development?

  • Wipro’s CSR activities have been more than those of several other private companies. How do you think the government should increase its own CSR activities?

  • With the increase in business infrastructure development, what are your concern on protecting the environment?

  • When the License Raj regime in India, your business portfolio was diversified into many market sectors. Even when the demand was not very high what made you believe that this idea would be successful?

  • You left Stanford University halfway through your education after your father passed away. How difficult was it for you to continue his business legacy?

  • How difficult was it leaving Stanford University in the middle of your studies to take over the family business?

  • What made you diversify your business portfolio into various market segments like FMCG, services and IT, where most of them are not related to each other?

  • What made you interested in the IT sector?

  • You have a Passion of acquiring the right talented employees in your young age. How have you been so successful to employ them in your company?

  • How have you fostered the entrepreneurial spirit among your previous employees who are now doing really well in their own fields of work?

  • Could you tell us about your journey being a philanthropist?

  • What are your plans for Wipro in the upcoming future?

  • You have invested a lot in India’s rural development, especially in education. Tell us more.

  • Do you think technological advancements will solve the problems of the education system in India?

  • What are your views on the European economic scenario?

  • What are your views on the growth of the Indian economy in the future?

  • Why isn’t the government taking any serious steps to curb corruption?

  • Income and the standard of living have dramatically improved in China. Do you see the same happening in India?

  • Given the ideological differences between India and China, will India’s policies prevail over China’s in the long run?

  • How did you get inspired to become a philanthropist?

  • What inspired you to invest so much of your wealth in philanthropic activities?

  • Sharing wealth and knowledge is something which society explains. But how is it that you have explained the investors for funding in charities and trust?

  • But why is it that other wealthy people who earn millions are often more selfish in donating their wealth?

  • Tell us what message did you send across to the investors engaging them to be into CSR funding in trusts and NGOs?

  • Where would you like to prioritise your funds more?

  • Shouldn’t other millionaires like CEOs of big banks and investors of hedge funds also be taking part in philanthropic work?

  • Are your employees motivated or influenced to contribute towards CSR activities?

  • It is possible to integrate and build leadership with philanthropy?

  • Would it be worthwhile or beneficial introducing a philanthropy course in a business module?

  • Do you think focusing more on higher education than on primary education is a wrong strategy on the government’s part?

  • What is your take on tobacco companies who are involved in CSR activities?

  • What are your views on funds for both profit making and philanthropic activities?

  • Is it necessary to measure a person’s philanthropic work? What are your views?

  • How efficient and trustworthy are the funds for charities?

  • Donating your money in funds in reality is a difficult task. What were the challenges you faced in India while making donations?

  • Can a philanthropist join politics for making a better tomorrow for society?

  • When is it the correct time for a person to be a philanthropist?

  • Should the proposal of spending 2% of profits towards CSR be made mandatory for business organisations?

  • India is a country which faces many challenges such as poverty, trafficking, under paid salary, etc. How was it possible for you to give importance to education the most in such sectors with a lot of economic problems?