India’s young rich know how to give

From charting their own path, to carrying on the work their families are engaged in, these six philanthropists share their journey and learnings


Trishya Screwvala
Trishya Screwvala

China’s second-generation rich kids are the most loathed group in the country, according to a 1 October Bloomberg Business story. In fact, Chinese President Xi Jinping advised them to “think about the source of their wealth and how to behave after becoming affluent”.

Maybe India’s rich kids can show the Chinese a thing or two.

Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Trishya Screwvala, Aditi Kothari, Huzaifa Khorakiwala, Shloka Russell Mehta and Amira Shah Chhabra are the children of six successful businessmen who are well-known philanthropists themselves—Shiv Nadar, Ronnie Screwvala, Hemendra Kothari, Habil Khorakiwala, Russell Mehta and Harish Shah, respectively.

Most of them have Ivy-League backgrounds and while some, like Aditi and Amira, have another job too, others, like Trishya and Huzaifa, have plunged full-time into the social sector. For them, giving is not just about writing cheques.

Seasoned philanthropist and managing director of private equity firm Bain Capital, Amit Chandra, acknowledges that the current generation of philanthropists is much more socially conscious than his generation.“The paradigm for what brings respect is gradually changing from accumulation and ostentatious display of wealth to being philanthropic and helping solve society’s problems,” he says.

Today’s inheritors see their role as being more of a trustee of wealth. “Therefore, they tend to be more open with investing some of what they are blessed with for doing social good,” says Chandra.

These next-generation philanthropists tell us why they choose to do what they do.

Trishya Screwvala

‘It’s a part of me’

Trishya Screwvala, 28, knew she was not going to follow in the footsteps of her father Ronnie Screwvala. Not that his footsteps were not worth following. A first-generation entrepreneur, he built his media and entertainment company UTV Software Communications Ltd from scratch, then sold it off to Walt Disney in 2012 for Rs.2,000 crore. The venture capitalist now runs a non-profit, Swades Foundation, which seeks to empower rural communities.

Trishya, however, wanted to forge her own path. After studying film-making in Los Angeles (LA), US, she returned to India in search of stories to tell. And that led her to the realization that films might not be the most effective way to bring about awareness and that she didn’t want to just work at bringing about awareness. “I wanted to translate it to something tangible,” she says.

She was struck by the lack of a volunteer culture in India. “I saw a lot of people volunteering in LA, by making it part of their schedule. I think there is a need for that,” she says.

The process here is not satisfying either for non-profits or for young volunteers, who feel non-governmental organizations (NGOs) don’t make good use of their time. “For NGOs, volunteers are almost a distraction. And there are many young volunteers who want to contribute but don’t know how to do it in a sustainable manner,” says Trishya.

She set up the non-profit Lighthouse Project in 2012 to introduce a structured youth mentoring programme to train volunteers to work as mentors with NGOs. “Many of the kids are first-generation learners and have no one to guide them on life skills. And not many NGOs focus on that aspect. For the kids to become productive, these skills are essential. It helps them make the jump to the organized sector,” says Trishya.

Lighthouse works with The Akanksha Foundation and Salaam Baalak Trust, both non-profits working for the development of children from low-income communities, and the Apne Aap women’s collective, an anti-trafficking organization. Through these non-profits, 220 mentors spend time with 220 children in the age group of 12-14, teaching them practical things like the importance of punctuality, commitment and inter-personal skills.

But how much of all this is because of her father’s influence?

“I take zero credit for her inclination to work in this space,” says Ronnie. “The young are much more aware and social media has played a great role in driving awareness. They also seem to know giving is as much about sweat as it is about money,” he says.

But Trishya feels her parents played a big part. “My father has been incredibly and quietly generous,” she says. The idea that it’s just something you do, that you don’t term it giving, is something she picked up from him.

So when Trishya came back from LA and said she wanted to set up her own non-profit, Ronnie says he was more intrigued than surprised.

Trishya’s idea made him realize the need to channelize the energy of the young. “It was a pinprick moment for me. Sweat equity in social sector is underutilized. And even for Swades, we want to figure out how we can harness the volunteering energy of the young,” says Ronnie.

Aditi Kothari

‘Be passionate and systematic’

Aditi Kothari, 39, is very clear that unlike her grandfather, she does not believe in the adage that your left hand should not know what your right hand is donating. “Look at Bill Gates and his foundation or Warren Buffett and even Mark Zuckerberg, who is more my generation. They talk about their work and I, for one, have been very inspired by their philanthropic efforts. People need to talk about giving more. Just like I was inspired by Gates and Zuckerberg, someone will definitely be inspired by what the philanthropists in India are doing. It’ll get more people to want to give,” she says.

The co-head of marketing and an executive vice-president at DSP BlackRock Investment Managers Pvt. Ltd, Aditi has witnessed the process of giving first-hand. Her earliest memories include visits to the temple with her paternal grandfather (Mathradas Kothari), who would never turn away anyone who approached him for help. “But he had that old style of giving, more about building institutions. We have a hospital and a low-cost boys’ hostel in Mumbai, some schools in Nashik, and even a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in Deolali (Maharashtra), which the family continues to support.”

Aditi is a trustee of the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) set up by her father Hemendra Kothari, the non-executive chairman of DSP BlackRock. She also supports educational initiatives. “I started with the WCT and it’s my passion too. Beyond that, I am passionate about education but I am more inclined to work on how to improve education standards rather than building institutions,” she says.

Aditi is the driving force behind DSP BlackRock’s Winvestor, an initiative to empower underprivileged women by teaching them how to manage their money and make their own financial decisions.

Hemendra says that over the last decade, he has seen more people, both young and old, becoming involved with philanthropy. “There is definitely a feeling to do more, and it is happening globally. The economy was different in the 1970s, when people saved to make ends meet. Now, with more wealth in people’s hands, they are open to giving.”

He says he has never had to coax his children into giving or thinking about philanthropy. “Philanthropy has been in my family for 100 years. But I have never tried to interfere in my children’s attitude towards giving. It is something that they need to experiment with and discover for themselves. Besides, Aditi’s philanthropy is independent of mine. She does it with her own money and supports a variety of causes. She is also associated with other organizations like Dasra (a strategic philanthropy foundation).”

Aditi, who is actively involved with DSP BlackRock’s social initiatives, is a member of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) committee and a trustee of the Hemendra Kothari Foundation, a public charitable trust that focuses on education, health and livelihoods. She believes that people who shy away from giving because they believe non-profits are “just rubbish or not efficient or use the money for administrative expenses, are making excuses. I am on the board of many NGOs and you have to realize that if you want efficiency, you have to recruit the best people. These people will come with experience that deserves decent compensation.”

Recently, when Aditi gave her nephew some money on his 10th birthday, he asked her for suggestions on what to do with it. “I told him, ‘Save some money because you need to learn about savings.’ I work at an investment management firm, after all. And then I asked him if he would like to give some of it away to charity, and he jumped at the idea. Forcing is not the way to engage children or young people into giving. Talk about it and let them decide.”

Amira Shah Chhabra

‘I was wowed’

Amira Shah Chhabra. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Amira Shah Chhabra. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Amira Shah Chhabra, 29, found herself in the social sector purely by chance. Her parents are first-generation entrepreneurs who run a pharmaceutical company, Signet Chemicals Corp. With plans to join the business, she pursued a degree in pharmacy and worked at Universal Consulting India Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based company. It was her research for the Centre for Civil Society, a think tank, which led her to the social sector.

“Having grown up in India, you tend to carry an image of the social sector, but it is not as underdeveloped a space as I thought it was,” she says.

As she began looking at the sector, she and her parents came across Dasra. Amira quit her job and starting working as an analyst in the portfolio services at Dasra.

“I found that experience incredible. Seeing Dasra articulate the challenges non-profits face, in a way similar to that of business houses, removed my prejudices about the sector,” says Amira, who joined the organization in 2012 and worked there for three years before quitting earlier this year.

Before the association with Dasra, the family’s philanthropic efforts were not concerted—they did not know where or how to give. Now the family wants to route its efforts more effectively through their 13-year-old family foundation, the Harish and Bina Shah Foundation.

“With our collective experience of supporting the social sector, we have broadened our horizons about sectors beyond education and healthcare. Anti-sex trafficking, sports for development, menstrual hygiene...there is so much to be done,” says Harish Shah, Amira’s father and managing director, Signet.

For the moment, Amira is working with Signet and says she wants to further develop the business skills that are essential for meaningful social work. The social sector is complex and challenging, she feels, and there’s no question of getting tired of working in it.

Roshni Nadar Malhotra

‘Create something’

Roshni Nadar Malhotra
Roshni Nadar Malhotra
That his daughter Roshni Nadar Malhotra, 34, was responsible for his second innings in philanthropy is clear from what Shiv Nadar, founder and chairman of HCL and the Shiv Nadar Foundation, wrote in Mint last week (“Holding Fort—And Passing The Baton”).

The chief executive officer (CEO) of HCL Corp. and trustee, Shiv Nadar Foundation, Malhotra says that when she moved back home in 2008 after working in the US, she and her parents had a discussion.

The Shiv Nadar Foundation, set up in 1994, had established its first institution—the SSN College of Engineering—in Chennai in 1996. “SSN College of Engineering had been around for more than a decade and it was on a roll. It was independent and needed little support. We knew that we wanted to do something in education, but what? Even though he is Tamilian, born and brought up there, my father was clear that a lot of good things that had happened for him, happened in Uttar Pradesh (UP), and north India, and this is where he wanted to do something next,” says Malhotra.

That is what led to the formation of VidyaGyan, a leadership academy for meritorious underprivileged children in Bulandshahr, UP, in 2009.

Urged by her parents, Malhotra completed her master’s in business administration from the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, US—one of her majors was social entrepreneurship. “It’s not like I was thinking I would get into the foundation or the social sector while I was studying but that course did give me some exposure to working with non-profits and the business of non-profits, like fund-raising, etc.”

Influenced by US philanthropic families like the Carnegies and Rockefellers, who believed in institution-building, Malhotra too propagates the concept of “creative philanthropy”, which loosely translates into “create something and leave it behind”. The hallmark of the Shiv Nadar Foundation is institution-building, be it schools, a college campus and perhaps even an art museum eventually.

“The largest expense in our philanthropy is capital expenditure because we are building these institutions. This institution-building idea stems from my father because he has the experience of building a company from scratch. It’s an interesting opportunity for me because in my lifetime, I get to build an institution as opposed to being part of a programme that will end in 10-15 years,” she says.

Malhotra is clear that if family philanthropic efforts have to be scaled up, then the family should be in sync with a common idea. “I personally think that people who are inheriting the wealth must have an agreement on how that wealth will flow from generation to generation, how they would like to spend it, and have similar philosophies around philanthropy to ensure continuity and scaling up. Institutions need a lifetime to realize their potential.”

Though a believer in the public-private development partnership model, Malhotra says that while “philanthropists can create successful models which can be shared, ultimately the government is the only agent which can roll out development programmes on a mass scale”.

Huzaifa Khorakiwala

‘It’s an inner calling’

Huzaifa Khorakiwala. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Huzaifa Khorakiwala. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
The family of Habil Khorakiwala, founder of pharmaceutical company Wockhardt, has always been associated with philanthropy. But it was only in 2008, when Habil’s eldest son, Huzaifa Khorakiwala, now 44, suggested that they set up a foundation to spend the money they earned on social good, that the family made a concerted effort towards organized philanthropy.

Huzaifa says this is his true calling.

Huzaifa, or Huz, as he is called, is the CEO of the Wockhardt Foundation that implements the company’s CSR initiatives, and spearheads the family’s own philanthropy effort.

“Wockhardt has 12,000 employees and I thought we need at least one person to look at the work of the foundation seriously. I didn’t want this to be pushed down the line,” he says.

With a master’s in business administration from Yale University, US, Huzaifa worked in the business for 12 years before setting up the foundation in 2008. “My corporate experience helps solve the problems the social sector faces. People who give are also those with corporate experience, so it is important to speak their language,” he says.

The foundation works on a range of initiatives, from sanitation to skill development for lab technicians, nursing aides, etc. But it is the flagship programme of mobile healthcare, which offers free primary healthcare to 25 million rural Indians every year, that is closest to Huzaifa’s heart.

“One day, Huz came to me and said he wanted to work in philanthropy. I was surprised but happy. In these years, Huz has brought in a professional approach. Our social service model is based on helping other organizations carry out their CSR projects, and this has expanded the scope of social work,” says Habil.

For every rupee given by Wockhardt, the foundation raises Rs.10 from other companies. In addition, companies like GAIL, BHEL and Indian Oil Corp. route some of their CSR activities through Wockhardt, directing funds to their initiatives. “This helps in maximizing the impact we can have,” says Huzaifa.

For Habil, the fact that his son is involved in philanthropy is in itself an act of giving. “If the family gives one of its own, it is the biggest act of giving. Giving is not only about money, it is also the giving of self,” says Habil.

Shloka Russell Mehta

‘I am learning more all the time’

Shloka Russell Mehta (left)
Shloka Russell Mehta (left)
Last year, even though she had zero professional experience in philanthropy, Shloka Russell Mehta, 25, took on the role of executive director at the Rosy Blue Foundation (RBF), the philanthropic arm of diamond manufacturing company Rosy Blue Group. The foundation focuses on sustainability and innovation in education. “My exposure was limited to watching my family, especially grandparents, engage with giving, and a couple of volunteering stints. I was your proverbial blank slate, coupled only with the intent to make a difference,” she says.

In the one year that Shloka has been at the job, the foundation has engaged with multiple mentoring organizations and co-hosted the first national mentorship conference in Mumbai, where around 30 non-profits that run mentorship programmes came together for a two-day seminar. Last year, she was part of the training programmes for teachers from government-aided schools in the tribal areas of Sanali and Dalpura, Gujarat. She is currently working on ConnectFor, a tech platform to enable effective volunteering.

“The most fundamental learning for me has been that there is a huge difference between philanthropy and charity. Charity is meeting people’s immediate needs while philanthropy seeks to address the causes that result in these needs,” she says.

Shloka says she is influenced by her grandfather when it comes to philanthropy and looks to him for advice. “My dada (Arunkumar Ramniklal Mehta) actively served on the board of several trusts and projects, and even today, after he has officially resigned, people continue to approach him. He never just signed a cheque but always went deeper and met the beneficiaries, got involved with the organization and its processes,” she says.

When Shloka expressed a desire to join the foundation, her grandfather gave her this bit of advice: “You can get mental satisfaction, but I’m not sure about the financial side.” They are constantly discussing her ideas for the foundation. “I advise her that please go more in depth and focus on one or two projects rather than trying to juggle so much. Once that is done successfully, then only think about something else. I think she should expand her work in education, and then continue to healthcare,” says her grandfather.

Shloka admits that she initially believed social giving had to be monetary, and was, therefore, best engaged in once you had earned a lot of money. Now she thinks very differently. “Money is undoubtedly an enabler, but the value of human resource is infinitely greater. Philanthropy is about solving problems, and this can be as effectively done through the donation of your time and skill. The skills we develop over our lives are transferrable, and can constantly be refined and developed; they add and receive as much value to the philanthropic field as they would for any other field,” she says.

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