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Back in the day: (from left) Nandan Nilekani, Kris Gopalakrishnan, NR Narayana Murthy, NS Raghavan, K Dinesh, SD Shibulal.
GOOD SAMARITAN

Infosys veterans are India’s latest philanthropic heroes

By Itika Sharma Punit

Forbes’ list of  ”40 heroes of philanthropy in Asia” this year includes seven Indians, of which five have one thing in common—Infosys, India’s second largest information technology (IT) services company.

The list, now in its ninth year, does not necessarily include the biggest donors, but “aims to shed light on a mostly fresh group of philanthropists who give their own money to causes of their choosing.”

Here are Infosys co-founders and former employees who have been donating generously:

Senapathy (Kris) Gopalakrishnan, co-founder and former CEO of Infosys: Gopalakrishnan, along with his wife Sudha, donated $5 million (Rs30 crore) in June this year to set up three chairs at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru.

“The 60-year old billionaire hopes the chairs can bring distinguished researchers in the areas of computational neuroscience, machine learning, data science and neuromorphic engineering to the IISc to enable collaborative research,” the Economic Times reported this year.

In January 2014, the couple had given $36 million (Rs225 crore) to set up a brain research centre at IISc, and made a $1.8 million (Rs11 crore) grant to establish a research partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and IISc.

Nandan Nilekani, co-founder and former CEO: Nilekani, and his wife Rohini, gave $10 million (Rs66.3 crore) to start EkStep this year. The startup aims to help elementary schoolchildren across India improve their reading and arithmetic skills using smartphones and tablets.

S.D. Shibulal,co-founder and former CEO: Shibulal, and his wife Kumari, committed $11 million (Rs72.9 crore) to their charities: the Sarojini Damodaran Foundation and the Advaith Foundation. These work in areas like pension schemes for the elderly, education, and financial assistance for cardiac surgeries.

T.V. Mohandas Pai, former head of human resources: Pai helped start the Akshaya Patra Foundation in 2000. The foundation provides free lunches to 1.4 million schoolchildren across 11 states in India, and plans to increase this to five million children by 2020.

“Infosys is primarily a middle-class company founded by middle-class people with high social and ethical values–it democratised wealth, and a large number of people came into substantial wealth,” Mohandas Pai told Forbes. “The giving stems from these values.”

Rohan Narayana Murty, former executive assistant: Rohan is the son of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, and served as the executive assistant to his father at the company between 2013 and 2014. Rohan has set up the Murty Classical Library at Harvard University to make available English translations of ancient Indian classical texts. Murty has donated $5.2 million (Rs34.5 crore) for this initiative.

Apart from ex-Infosys employees, the other Indians who have made it to this list are Sunny Varkey, founder of Gems Education, and London-based brothers Suresh and Mahesh Ramakrishnan, founders of Whitcomb and Shaftesbury tailors. Varkey, whose company runs 70 private schools in 14 countries, has promised to donate half of his fortune—worth $2.25 billion—to charity. Meanwhile, the Ramakrishnan brothers have spent around $3 million (Rs19.9 crore) to train more than 4,000 people in tailoring over the past decade in India.

In 2014, Rohini Nilekani, wife of Nandan Nilekani, was on Forbes’ list of top philanthropists in Asia. She is the founder of Arghyam, a charitable organisation that works on groundwater and sanitation projects. Other Indians who made it to the list last year were Central Square Foundation’s founder and CEO Ashish Dhawan, Lupin’s founder and chairman Desh Bandhu Gupta, and Ajay Piramal, chairman of Piramal Enterprises.