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Misplaced Generosity

Misplaced Generosity

October 18, 2010

Is Ratan Tata’s $50 million to Harvard Business School a case of misplaced generosity?

It’s not the last we will hear of the balance of power gradually shifting eastwards – towards emerging economies, as the western world grapples with a financial crisis of monumental proportions. But a news headline from the week gone by gives credence to that oft repeated rhetoric. At a time when corporate houses across the west are cutting down on endowments that run world class institutions like Harvard University, India’s most respected corporate honcho Ratan Tata, outgoing chairman of the diversified Tata Group, stepped in and made a splash with his $50 million gift to Harvard Business School, his alma mater.

Tata isn’t alone. Anand Mahindra of M&M made a $10 million donation to Harvard a few days ago. As did Nandan Nilekani, founder of Infosys, by signing a $5million cheque to Yale. Given that Indian corporates aren’t exactly known for their philanthropy, these are gestures that should evoke a huge sense of huge empowerment for India – a third world country having the muscle to support global institutions is not a joke after all!

But many in India probably think this is a case of misplaced generosity. Not surprising, especially at a time when education in the country is being part funded through World Bank loans and government schemes that are struggling to provide nutritious mid-day meals to incentivize children to come to school. There are other glaring statistics too that could perhaps justify how our infertile, and hopelessly outdated education system needed this money more than Harvard did. Public education in India is a catastrophe – let’s face it, and given that 90% of our graduates are unemployable, corporate India should have been all the more forthcoming with its help.

Some have been. Most haven’t!

While the Tatas mentor iconic institutions like TIFR & TISS, corporate interest in education has largely been economic and not driven by corporate social responsibility.

But should corporate social responsibility of an organization be limited to the geographic boundaries of its country, determined by poverty charts and need of funds? Or should giving a thrust to centers of excellence be an equal priority, notwithstanding the fact that some need it more than others?

Universities like Harvard are breeding grounds for innovation and talent and they ought to be supported. Every big original idea you can think of from the last decade, be it Google, Facebook or Apple has sprung from America, often from the stimulating atmosphere provided by these universities. Few Indian universities have a culture of encouraging ideas or nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit. And cheap political stunts like introducing reservations have all the more compromised their ability to excel. So it’s hardly surprising that the private sector doesn’t want to put its money in there.

I am sure the day we have an institution half as good as Harvard, Mr Tata will write a cheque for twice the amount he gave Harvard! The question is, will that ever happen?


  • difficult one
    difficult one
    31.01.11 02:59 PM
    This is a difficult one because there may be deeper strategic reasons for the gift which we may be unaware of. Being a friend to America is probably a smart move, on the whole, and these types of things aid in developing that friendship.

    At least, I hope that is the case. If it is just wealthy Indians kowtowing to the west again, then it is just silly. Clearly, India needs 50M USD more than Harvard does (Harvard has a massive endowment fund and many very wealthy alumni and patrons who donate generously). There is something a little perverse in an Indian preferring to give money to an institution and country that really doesn't need it, rather than trying to put it to good use at home.

    Again, something no other country does in the world. India needs to make itself strong first, and then help others from a position of strength. That is the smart move.
  • Shantu Dand
    Shantu Dand
    24.10.10 08:51 PM
    It is their money, they can do what they want with it. If you prefer to give it to Indian Universities, by all neans, do so. Chill out and mind your own business.
  • R N Aggarwal
    R N Aggarwal
    23.10.10 06:40 AM
    Ratan Tata is one of wisest industrialists of India. It is his money and he knows his priorities. He must be right.
  • Loknath
    19.10.10 12:10 AM
    Lets assume Ratan Tata gave this money to Bombay University to set up a center of excellence in say Robotics with an objective to supervise and produce 2000 masters and 500 doctoral candidates by year 2025 with a clause that admissions of students and faculty being international and not based on reservations...what do you think would be the immediate reaction....we all know. the Congis will kick off a dalit rally the next day in Gate way of India

    I think Ratan Tata took the perfect decision to donate to Harvard. Atleast the money and every cent of it would produce world class talent. In Bombay University, it will go down the drain. Some thackrey will create nuisance the very first day urging the center be named as Shivaji Center of Robotics and 50% of seats be reserved for Marathi Manoos.
  • Anisha Nair
    Anisha Nair
    18.10.10 11:32 PM
    He should have set that money aside as scholarship for Indian students going to Harvard...! Why on earth should precious $$ be wasted on educating people who won't give back anything to the nation?
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    Jayanth Tadinada
    18.10.10 06:15 PM
    When I read the news, the first thing that came to my mind was, why give it to Harvard? And slowly I thought through it and realized that if I were Ratan Tata, I wouldn't risk wasting my money by starting yet another Engineering college in India like Lakshmi Mittal did!
  • jyoti
    18.10.10 06:05 PM
    Its a matter of choice when it comes to giving.this is my view.There is no doubt that Mr Tata at professional level have shown commitment to bring to India the most outstanding praise by being the Indian Steel major to go all out to acquire Corus, giving low strata Nano .I have too much regard for this indiviadual.Sure his donation to universitities like Harvard has interest unknown to us but just one thing we have our Indian also studing there.Sure that need of Indian Universities to develop infra is not hidden from him.I regards each ones view but this what i feel.
  • pravash dey
    pravash dey
    18.10.10 05:39 PM
    I must admit, its a nice article. I'm not sure about the corporate objectives behind these donations to foreign universities but one thing for sure that our own Indian schools and universities need funding for infrastructure development.When we are thinking about world class education, we look towards west. Yaa, I do agree that most successful ideas have grown and taken to the market place here. In India, students never get an opportunity to test their entrepreneurial abilities inside campus.
    I think educational reformers/ policy makers should reflect back to our own educational system and create a strategic think-tank partnership with corporates. It should be a win-win policy for both academic and corporates.
    Now its a questions mark,have we ever anlysed our strenhths and weaknesses?
    where are we now and where we want to be? what is the best way to be there?

    Society can't be changed through political revolution, we need socio- economic change. We shouldn't blame politicians all the time, because we the citizens of India, only choose them to be our destiny makers. Self-made entrepreneurs should come forward and make it happen!!!

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