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MUMBAI : With a presence in 27 states, Piramal Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Piramal Group, undertakes projects in healthcare, education, livelihood creation and youth empowerment, often partnering with the Union and state governments at both policy and grassroots levels. In an interview, Ajay Piramal, chairman of the foundation, underlined the key themes and big bets that will set the stage for the foundation and potentially for corporate philanthropy in general. Edited excerpts:

Do you believe corporate philanthropy has finally come of age in India?

We believe in doing well and doing good. We have chosen the words carefully. In every business of ours, we have to do well. We found out that the issues have been there for centuries, and even after 75 years of Independence, the issues remain the same. But often, the solutions that were implemented came from the West, and that’s not the way. Innovation is essential. But the solution has to come locally. It was the first time we talked about how leadership in public schools is important. In India, scale is important to make a difference. When you have 130 crore people, then the scale is important. For scale, you have to work in partnership with the government. The largest NGO is the government—they have the resources and the geographic reach. And you need to have people with passion who are willing to contribute 24/7.

Working with the government has its own challenges. Did you face any?

The majority of people in the government actually want to do good, and we are working hand in hand with the government and helping them find solutions. We work with all governments, and we find that government employees and civil servants are keen to do things. We have seen the change and impact, especially in the tribal areas where maternal and infant mortality are the highest. We have worked in the tribal district of Araku (Andhra Pradesh), and I am happy to share that we could bring down maternal and infant mortality to zero. So, change is possible.

Is there a use-case to template some successful philanthropy models to create scale and impact?

As we scale up, we are finding that people are looking to partner with us. In tribal areas, we have collaborative partners. In others, we have partners who co-fund with us. We made some attempts to reach out to domestic partners. It will take time, but it is happening. Fifteen per cent of India’s population lives in aspirational districts, and everyone has forgotten about them. Only 1.5% of CSR (corporate social responsibility) funding goes there. We have to raise this issue.

How is the foundation able to attract young talent at a time when there are multiple higher-paying opportunities?

We have the Gandhi fellowship, where we have recruited students who have done their graduate and postgraduate studies. They get a low stipend but high quality of work. 12,000-14,000 applied for the Gandhi fellowship last year. They are from the best colleges, and we now have an alumnus, and many come back later and work for us. Many have gone to Harvard or Oxford and come back and worked with us after studying.

How did the idea of Piramal University come about?

It is only for government officials and currently there is no service which trains them to become senior leaders. The only way to become a senior leader is by years of service which in our opinion is not the correct way. It is not just years of experience but something more specialized than that. Now it is about cognitive skills more than ever.

We have trained 50,000 government officials so far and we have found that there is a big demand for this body of knowledge which is not there in the country right now.

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