NEW DELHI: Billionaire Azim Premji’s two philanthropic trusts earned 11,357 crore ($1.65 billion) over the past nine years by way of dividends, share sales and buybacks, becoming one of the richest and largest charitable trusts in India.

The earnings of the two trusts—Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives Pvt. Ltd or APPI (earlier called Azim Premji Foundation) and Azim Premji Trusts or APT—go into the Azim Premji Endowment Fund. The fund, which releases money for all philanthropic work done by the two trusts, is now valued at 1.45 trillion or $21 billion, making it one of the largest private endowments in the world.

Between March 2010 and March 2018, the fund received 2,100 crore in dividends from Wipro Ltd, according to Mint research. It received 1,494 crore by selling Wipro shares in March 2010, March 2012, and earlier this month. It also received 1,963 crore and 5,800 crore, respectively, when it sold shares back to Wipro under the company’s two share buybacks in July 2016 and December 2017.

The trusts also received bonus shares issued by Wipro in June 2010, June 2017 and March 2019.

It is not clear how much of the 11,357 crore earned by the endowment has been spent over the past nine years. A spokesperson for APPI declined to comment.

The value of the endowment fund has surged over the last four years: from $5 billion at the end of January 2015 to $21 billion as of 13 March 2019.

Premji set up the foundation in 2001 to help train teachers so that students could be taught better in government schools. An initial endowment of Wipro shares worth $125 million was given to the foundation. Eight years later, in the quarter ended September 2009, the foundation was first classified as one of the 11 promoter entities. It then held 0.5% of the promoter’s 79.68% ownership in Wipro.

Over the next decade, Premji donated Wipro shares worth nearly $12 billion in a staggered manner to the endowment. This includes last week’s announcement, where he made the country’s single-largest donation, transferring economic ownership of 34% of his shares in Wipro worth $7.5 billion to APPI and APT.

During this time, even as the foundation scaled up its presence in more than 40 districts across six states, the philanthropic arm also started giving grants to non-government organisations and founded the Azim Premji University.

Premji’s philanthropic entities are run by Anurag Behar, co-chief executive officer of the foundation, along with Dileep Ranjekar.

The endowment now owns 14% of the promoter’s shareholding in Wipro and also has economic ownership or the right to receive all money earned from 53% of promoter shares.

This means the endowment gets money earned from 67% of promoter shares in Wipro, leaving Premji, wife Yasmeen Premji, and two sons, Rishad and Tariq, with monetary gains from only 7% of their 74% equity in Wipro.

What is driving Premji’s philanthropy?

A media-averse Premji (Wednesday’s press release did not even have his statement) won’t answer for now.

According to an executive who spoke on condition of anonymity, Premji was a tad irritable when he was briefed about the flood of congratulatory messages on social media platforms after his largest donation.

“What’s all the fuss about," remarked Premji, in line with his nature of acting without fanfare, the executive said.

A better guide to understand Premji’s approach towards philanthropy is a letter he wrote in 2013 when he became the first Indian to sign the Giving Pledge, a campaign started by Warren Buffett with Bill and Melinda Gates to get the wealthy across the globe to give back most of their wealth to charity.

“I became convinced that markets, public systems and philanthropic initiatives all had a significant role to play if the country was to have inclusive development, and that we needed to work purposefully towards establishing a more humane, equitable and ethical society for all our citizens," Premji wrote in a letter dated 19 February 2013.

Rishad Premji, who is on the board of Wipro and is also the company’s chief strategy officer, shares his father’s vision.

“We collectively as a family very much share a passion and focus on philanthropy," Rishad said in an interview in 2017. “We all feel very unfairly privileged and we feel it is our responsibility to partake and contribute."

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