New Delhi: Billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, who’s often referred to as India’s Warren Buffett, has pledged to donate 25% of his wealth during his lifetime through his R Jhunjhunwala Foundation. He has set a corpus target of $1 billion (about Rs4,940 crore) for his foundation by 2020. In an interview, Jhunjhunwala talks about Agastya International Foundation, a cause he supports, and the state of philanthropy in India. Edited excerpts:

Why Agastya?

Donation drive: Jhunjhunwala says he hopes to give $1 billion to charity by 2020. Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint.

It’s a very cost-effective programme and also it is being done by a person who I trust implicitly. Although I am a trustee, I don’t contribute to the day-to-day running of the institution.

I made this commitment about four years ago. If you want to scale an institution, it requires a certain amount of money to do it. I started in 2001. I went to villages where the children didn’t have clothes, their noses were running, but they were already learning. It was at a very initial stage of the development of the organization; we needed to scale it.

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Have you always considered education the most important cause?

It’s not only what you teach a child. It’s about arousing the curiosity to learn—that is a far larger contribution to the child. And that’s why I have kept giving. We are not educating a child from 1st to 12th standard; we are educating them to be curious.

How did you decide to make such a substantial commitment, and what is your plan for implementing it?

Every year I would give about Rs15 crore to charity, but this is the largest donation and my foundation is the vehicle for it. I have said that by 2020, I want to give away 25% of my wealth. I hope it will be $1 billion by then. Now I give 25% of my dividend income, and by then I want to give of my wealth itself. I’ll be 60 by the time that happens.

Do you think India’s new self-made millionaires are more likely to give than their predecessors who inherited wealth?

I don’t want to lecture others, but I think that more and more money should and will be given to charity. I have not inherited any wealth, but I wonder what will my children do with my wealth. I will try to teach them to give, although they are born with a golden spoon, what I want for them is to give. I will always teach them that.

It will depend on a person’s background, whether he wants to give, but I think in general Indians will give more over time.

How do you intend to monitor the money you have pledged?

When my charity becomes Rs150 crore, that is when I will have a professional organization, where we’ll inspect the charities and will spell out more clearly what are my real priorities in doing this.

I don’t mix my charity and my commercial interests. I will give from what I earn, but I am not earning for the purpose of giving. I’m mortally afraid of committing to something I can’t realize.

Did the recent visit by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, to publicize their Giving Pledge have any influence on your decision to make this commitment?

I think Melinda Gates’ example was very influential. I could see in her eyes the will to give. I felt that we must contribute our own money, and the giving must result in results far beyond the money itself. I think there is a peer effect, also—people may feel that if Rakesh is giving, then we should also give.

My father was only interested in one thing in my life, and that was how I used my wealth—he taught me I couldn’t take it with me. I think giving is like a drug—the more you give, the better you feel. When I go and see the conditions in these places, I really see how lucky we are.

cordelia.j@livemint.com

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