The Heart of a Tycoon
which is the commitment to give more than 50 percent of
your wealth away.
He just shared his experience and others who were at
that dinner also shared their experience.
To me, it felt like I wasn’t going to be doing anything
different from what I was doing anyway.
I am giving away 80 percent, but Giving Pledge is only
50 percent, and so, I am actually doing more than what
Giving Pledge requires.
Secondly, I felt that in this broad and diverse group of
very successful entrepreneurs, company builders who
are all philanthropists, all whom have made a commitment to give more than 50 percent of their wealth away,
there might be something there to be learnt from them
that would help me make the Wadhwani Foundation a
better and stronger foundation.
I like to learn — whether it’s learning about business or
learning about philanthropy. They are both very important areas of learning for me.
I felt by joining Giving Pledge it would be a great
opportunity to learn what others are doing and from that
seeing if there are any lessons that would apply.
How did the Gates meeting come about? Did you know each
We did not know each other before that. He called up one
day… Pretty much out of the blue and said, you know I hear
about the stuff that the Wadhwani Foundation has been
doing and hear about what your business career has been like
and can you join me for dinner, and would love to talk about
and share ideas about philanthropy.
He explicitly made it clear that this was not about trying to
convert me to joining Giving Pledge. Obviously, I knew it
would come up in the conversation because he is so passion-
ate about it…
I felt it would be a great opportunity to share experiences…
he flew down specially to Palo Alto to have this meeting.
And who were the others there?
Tom Steyer, who runs Farallon Capital; John Doerr from
Kleiner Perkins; Ram Shriram…
There were a couple of other very, very, successful entre-
preneurs of Silicon Valley there.
Most of them were already members of Giving Pledge; I
may have been among the one or two who weren’t.
Last year, your wife and you inaugurated a research center
at the National Center for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru.
The Shanta Wadhwani Center, named after your mother, is
the first example of major unconditional support from a private foundation to that campus.
What motivated you in this particular regard?
You will have to start with the mission of the Wadhwani
Foundation to understand why we did that.
Our mission is to accelerate economic development in
emerging economies and to create millions of jobs through
this accelerated economic development.
The question then becomes: How do you go about doing
Some philanthropists like Bill Gates focus on primary education and health-care, others focus on the arts, others focus
on other things.
I’ve had the passion for wanting to help create jobs because
From left, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.
Though Romesh Wadhwani has signed up for The Giving Pledge
started by Gates and Buffet, he says, ‘I wasn’t going to be doing
anything different from what I was doing anyway. I am giving away
80 percent, but Giving Pledge is only 50 percent. I am actually
doing more than what Giving Pledge requires.’
I know how bad the situation is in India.
It turns out that, at a very different scale, there are opportunities in the US also to create jobs given the nature of the
So, then the question was what are the initiatives that have
large-scale impact in which the work of the foundation is an
additive to and different from what the government is
already trying to do, what other foundations are trying to do,
where we can measure outcomes and measure our success.
I don’t believe in simply having a lot of people working really hard and then not being held accountable for how many
beneficiaries did we actually help.
I think of the beneficiaries of any of the initiatives of our
foundation as customers.
I feel that even though we might be trying to help them,
they are customers nonetheless and in the end, we can only
measure our success through their success.
If they don’t succeed, then we have not succeeded either.
In this context we came up with four major initiatives —
the first was an initiative to accelerate entrepreneurship in
India, which we call ‘The National Entrepreneurship
The second was an initiative to train and place disabled
people in jobs in India because India has such a huge prob-
lem with disabled people and very few people are willing to
So, we created the ‘Opportunities Network For The
The third big initiative was the skills development initia-
tive; we are building the ‘Skills Development Network’ to
help create a new system of community colleges in India, to
provide vocational training and career education — initially
at the level of tens of thousands a year, then at the level of
hundreds of thousands a year and then at the level of millions
The fourth initiative was something we call ‘Research and
India does little or no world-class research in any field.
You take the IT domain — you have all these giant IT
outsourcing services companies, they are all growing fast,
they all have high levels of profitability, but none of them
is putting any meaningful amount of money into innovation, into the development of intellectual property, tangible intellectual property as compared to simply the
knowledge that’s in the head of the software engineers
who do the outsourcing work.
My feeling was that no country can be a really great
country unless it also does world-class research, unless it
produces world class intellectual property.
I picked one field, which is biosciences and biotechnology.
In India there is no new molecule development, no new
India is terrific at generics, but generics is not about creating anything new, its about copying what’s been done before,
having reasonably good manufacturing practices, selling it at
a low price.
Well that’s great, but again, if all you do is copy and you
don’t create any new intellectual property, India cannot in
the long run be a great country.
So, I thought one of the ways in which we could both
address the national need to innovate and to create, through
innovation, jobs that would support the mission of our foundation was we should initially support two research centers.
We funded the Shanta Wadhwani Research Center last
year, then we funded the Wadhwani Research Center in
Biosciences and Biotechnology at IIT-Bombay.
Have you also funded other programs at IIT-Bombay?
I have, of course.
That’s my alma mater, so many years ago I funded the
Wadhwani Electronics Laboratory.
I also funded a number of entrepreneurship activities.
Anything at your US alma mater?
I just made a commitment.
The president of Carnegie Mellon University, Jerry Cohen,
was kind enough to meet me half-a-dozen times.
He never actually asked for support, but we kept talking
about possibilities of things that our foundation could do
with Carnegie Mellon, particularly in the area of leadership
Jerry retires in June, so I just felt I had to make my commitment before he retires.
We are working out the details, but it’s a pretty significant
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