Invest in research to create intellectual property for India: Kris Gopalakrishnan
Kris Gopalakrishnan, a co-founder of Infosys, believes goals for philanthropic activities should be defined
Kris Gopalakrishnan, a co-founder of Infosys, is the chairman and co-founder of Axilor Ventures. His wife Sudha and he founded the Pratiksha Trust to pursue philanthropic interests in fields such as education and healthcare. One focal area has been the field of brain research, to address issues related to ageing and neurodegenerative diseases. Gopalakrishnan has, in fact, helped launch the Centre for Brain Research at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. Edited excerpts from an interview:
The motivation to start: I came from Thiruvananthapuram, which is a smaller city in the Indian context, and studied all through in government schools and colleges. Infosys has always been an organization driven by values and ethics. As an information technology giant, it was always into innovation. In that sense, I see my work in philanthropy as a continuation of the work I was doing. However, now I am not focused on one company, but on working with many organizations and helping them leverage technology, innovation, and to advance their work. In terms of how it has shaped me, I now have a larger network of people I can draw on, which is definitely very, very satisfying.
Focus areas: My focus is supporting individual initiatives in small groups rather than changing the system or working with the government to change the system. Once I stepped down from Infosys, I didn’t have institutional backing and that’s why I thought about providing scholarships to scientists or groups of scientists looking at research or entrepreneurs. So you can say my focus is on helping “a person” to create something that will have an impact.
Lessons for social change agents: The purpose and the goal of an initiative must be clearly defined. Second, tracking progress is important. The ultimate goal may be 10 years down the line, but we need to make sure that we are making progress on a weekly, monthly, annual basis, so that we know we are moving in the right direction. The third is networks: how to build and leverage them.
Evolution in your work: Our areas of interest (i.e. education, scientific research, innovation and entrepreneurship) are set though we may add agriculture since my wife is interested in it. Our goal now is to institutionalize our projects such that these can be taken forward even when (my wife and I) are not here. We want our wealth to continue to be put to good use.
Rewarding experiences: When a paper is published in internationally respected journals by the researchers that we fund and I get a copy, it feels good. As I said, it is about empowering other people to produce results, so, when you see that happening, you feel very good about it.
Future of philanthropy in India: I feel that as a country and as a society, we do give back, but traditionally that giving back has been to religious or educational institutions. Some of the areas I am pursuing are trying to create new avenues in the area of research, or supporting entrepreneurship and start-ups. Our stage of development requires us now to invest in our own intellectual property. We are capable, we have the institutions, we have the people, but they need more funding.
India invests about 0.8% of its GDP on research, out of which 0.6% is government funded and 0.2%, private, including philanthropy. This figure is too low. A country like Korea invests about 4%, China invests 4%, the US invests 3%, and we are investing 0.8%. And second, because we are investing in rupees, the quantum, the absolute amount we invest, is actually significantly lower than what they are investing. There is a need for increasing the funding to at least 3%; I also believe that the private sector or philanthropists should invest 1.5% of GDP, up from 0.2% today. Having said that, I felt I must walk the talk, and that is why I am investing in research.
This interview is part of the India Remarkable Givers video series conducted by the Bridgespan Group, a philanthropy advisory.
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