Megha and Aditya Mittal, among the world’s youngest billionaires, started their philanthropy much earlier than most other billionaires. As the group CFO and CEO, ArcelorMittal Europe, the world’s largest steel producer, Aditya takes a brisk and decisive approach to business. His wife Megha, chairperson of German luxury fashion brand ESCADA, is an equally accomplished entrepreneur.
The couple speak about their philanthropic journey and support to the ongoing Comprehensive National Nutritional Survey (CNNS) being conducted by Unicef and the government of India’s ministry of health and family welfare. The couple have given $10 million to the CNNS, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017—the first survey of its kind in terms of the parameters, including physical, biochemical, anthropological, and scale. In an email interview, the Mittals explain why they have moved away from the traditional and popular forms of philanthropy like setting up schools or hospitals and are looking to support research. Edited excerpts:
What was your journey for deciding to support something like this comprehensive national nutritional survey?
We knew that we wanted to do something in India—the question was what? India is so vast and has many challenges and we spent quite a lot time thinking about the type of project we could get involved with, something that had the chance of making a sustainable difference.
We had already decided that child health care is the area that we want to focus our efforts on, so Unicef was a natural organization to start having a discussion with. Those discussions led to us supporting a pilot survey in Maharashtra (in 2012) looking at child malnutrition in newborn infants up to the age of 2. We were positively surprised by how valuable the results of the survey were and how they were used to form a blueprint for intervention in other states.
We continued the discussion with Unicef and decided to support the design of a new national survey which would be unique in its size, scale, scope and potential for shaping new policy and intervention that could support long-term systemic improvement in child nutrition.
Philanthropy is often viewed as delivering goods or services to the needy...
Philanthropy takes many shapes and forms and it is becoming an increasingly sophisticated area with many different and innovative models emerging. There are many worthwhile ways of giving but for us, given how vast India is, we wanted to support a project that had a good chance of not just being a drop in the ocean but that actually had the potential to support long-term systemic change.
The really interesting part will be when we have the full analysis of the data and can see what that tells us about the state of child malnutrition in India and what policy changes it supports.
What we hope is that the data and analysis will lead to changes to policy that will result in better nourished children who then have the opportunity of delivering on their own potential and also helping India deliver on its potential.
How do you feel about giving money to an initiative which does not have immediate tangible results especially since you have previously funded the Mittal Children’s Medical centre at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital?
Great Ormond Street is a wonderful institution and we are very happy to be supporting its new medical centre. But different countries require different approaches and for India we decided to take a different route. We are in regular dialogue with Unicef and receive reports on the progress of the survey but clearly it is when we have the full data and analysis we will see the real potential.
Once the study is completed, how will it shape your future philanthropy?
Being involved with this survey and with Unicef has confirmed to us that partnerships to deliver sustainable change are probably the direction in which we will continue. That is likely to continue to be in the area of child healthcare. It is difficult to say more at this point in time—this is a journey we will continue to live and see where it takes us!