‘Insensitivity’ of politics would have killed me: Azim Premji

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New Delhi | Updated: December 12, 2015 6:12:17 PM

IT czar Azim Premji today said one should cultivate a sense of insensitivity to be in politics.

IT czar Azim Premji today said one should cultivate a sense of insensitivity to be in politics. “Why am I not in politics? Because I think it would have killed me in a couple of years… you should cultivate a sense of insensitivity to be in politics,” said Premji.

The Wipro’s billionaire founder, who has given away almost half of his stake holding in the company to philanthropy, was responding to a question from the audience here at the Indian Institute of Management’s first global alumni conclave and leadership summit ‘IIMBUE’.

On lack of skillful and talented people with philanthropic attitude in politics, he said, “One would definitely encourage talented people to join government and to join politics, the issue is do they have a mental make-up for it?”

“Certainly they should be encouraged. How do you raise the standard of politics and the standard of governance unless you manage with the right people,” said Premji, who was in conversation with Biocon head and Chairperson of the Board of governors-IIMB Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on the topic ‘The business of philanthropy’.

Responding to a query on the challenges he encountered while giving away money for philanthropy, the business tycoon said, “I think the biggest challenge that we face is the size of the problem, the scope of the problem, the depth of the problem.”

Premji, whose company’s CSR arm, the Azim Premji Foundation, is already involved in primary education in backward areas among others, said that despite having large-scale projects the intended effect cannot be reached at micro-levels owing to dependency on executing agencies.

“… you are just penetrating a small proportion of the whole scenario, of the problem. That is very frustrating because you just don’t have bandwidth. You may still have the money, you don’t have the bandwidth,” he said.

“Second thing is you do rely on government machinery in terms of the work we do, like education. We have to depend on them very significantly, but it is in the slowness of the change… ,” Premji added.

Asked for his thoughts on the two per cent CSR mandate, he said, “in principle, I don’t like mandate. So, I would object to a two per cent mandate, but now that’s made accompli, it has become a statutory law.”

“I think what is good is they have left it up to the governance committee of the company to decide the priority of usage of those funds, all one can wish for is that companies utilise those funds honestly and don’t substitute their own personal charity with company funds. Let us see how it works out… ,” he added.

In reply to a question about his take on tobacco companies engaged in CSR activities, Azim Premji said ,”…who are in tobacco? Maybe we should triple their CSR.”

Stating that his “biggest regret” is that he started philanthropy too late, he said, “I started it about 14-15 year back; we started it in a very small way in the area of education with government schools in villages.”

He said they have begun to scale it in the past few years because there is such a strong need to uplift the quality of education in government schools.

To a query by Mazumdar Shaw about the inflection point that drove him towards philanthropy, he said :”The reason I give it away is because it is the right thing to do in a country where there is so much poverty, so much misappropriation of funds and so many people who are disadvantaged.”

Premji also said the biggest influence for him to get into philanthropy is his mother who was a Doctor in Mumbai.
The reason why Indians relatively don’t give much of their wealth for philanthropy compared to Americans who are absolute leaders in this, is because their families are much larger in terms of interrelationships and wealth share, he said.

The second reason would be majority of Indians who are wealthy believe that they must live their wealth in entity to their children. “It is more prevalent in certain parts of India…I think the most generous part of India is south India….”

Premji said he feels the new generation of wealthy or semi wealthy people will demonstrate “much more” generosity.

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