New Delhi: In the fifth part of Mint’s “Joy Of Giving Week” interview series, N. Vaghul, former chairman of ICICI Bank Ltd, speaks about his philanthropic work with Pratham and GiveIndia.
How did you become involved with Pratham?
In 1994, Madhav (Chavan, Pratham’s founder) came and met me while I was chairman of ICICI. He said that if we can ensure that every child in Bombay can go to school and start learning by 2000, then we can make that happen throughout the country. And he asked for my help, and the idea appealed to me; so I got involved. I was fascinated by the dream which they had. I found a lot of relevance in it. My association with them initially was only in the form of providing funds; but, gradually, I think I got involved at the field level also—meeting volunteers and building up the organization.
Filling the gaps: Vaghul says quality needs to be the focus as education has not been handled well in India. Photo: R.S. Kumar/Mint
How has your involvement in the organization developed over time?
Well, my involvement is two-fold. Initially I provided the impetus through money; and then I helped in structuring the organization; and from then it was more a case of standing on the sidelines and cheering them on. The difference between Madhav Chavan and me is that for him this is full time, and for me this is one of the many other jobs I am doing.
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I would participate in meetings, go to the schools, talk to the volunteers; but as the years go by, that is becoming more difficult and so my role is reviewing the budget, the structure of the organization. It is a proper monitoring effort, to ensure auditing is being done and ensure transparency, and from time to time if there are some disputes, I play a role in mediating.
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What is the importance of funding education for you?
When it comes to the apportioning of my time, education takes the top priority. Until 1994, I had never applied my mind to this whole area of education. But what became more and more clear to me was the extent of the gaps that we have in education in this country. I got involved in a number of other organizations like the Azim Premji Foundation. I shifted to Chennai and got involved in Pratham’s Tamil Nadu organization, and all of these causes revealed to me that education has not been well handled in the present scheme of things. Most important now is the quality of education. India has been able to achieve nearly 100% child enrolment in primary schools; but now we have to look at quality. Children of the fifth standard are still not writing and reading properly.
What is the difference between the role you play as a philanthropist and the role of the younger generation who run the NGOs?
People come to me for help for a variety of reasons, whether for fund-raising or for association; but, essentially, I am impressed by the fact that there are lots of young people out there and doing work. I see myself as an old person with some experience watching from the sidelines and cheering them. When I look back to my youth, I did not have this passion for society. The younger generation are not bothered about the obstacles; they are not deterred by the environment we are in. They are working in a very hostile environment because they don’t get any help from the government. But they are not giving up hope.
My generation looked at philanthropy as just writing a cheque and if someone came to us for money, we’d give the association a cheque from the company. Today, I write a (personal) cheque. It’s not as large as what I could give through the company, but it’s personal.
Could you talk about your participation in GiveIndia’s “First Givers Club”?
We started the “First Givers Club” last year as a way to get together and pledge money. The idea is that each member would give five or ten lakhs a year. My goal is 10% of my income. I’m not achieving that yet. Some of them are very rich and give a lot. We have been meeting every year and 10% of income is becoming a parameter for philanthropy. It doesn’t sound like a lot. But it’s about approaching a culture of giving. Who you give to or how you give is another thing, but we really want to inculcate in this country a culture of giving. That’s all that we are talking about when we meet; we believe that such a culture did exist in the past in the country, but we need to recreate that.
There again I think that Venkat (Krishnan, of GiveIndia) has done an impressive job. We provided the initial funds, but today GiveIndia doesn’t need help there. There again the pattern is very similar: youngsters who are committed, run the thing and my job is to give professional advice. I am trying to resolve issues.
How do you think the culture of giving has changed in India in comparison with the West?
In America, you have two streams of wealth. One stream goes from Carnegie to Warren Buffett, who cater to the under-privileged; and then there is the Wall Street culture, who believed in creating billions of dollars for themselves, and that stream is much stronger. Here also there is a craze for individual wealth, and I don’t see the evidence of sharing as much as in America. Despite what people say, in the American society there is so much attitudinal focus on giving. In India, Azim Premji and Rakesh Jhunjhunwala are showing the emergence of this culture, and that’s a very good sign.
But people like Madhav and Venkat are the ones who need to be revered because they are changing the face of India.