India's telecom tycoon Sunil Bharti Mittal has pledged 10% of his family wealth, which corresponds to 70 billion rupees ($1.08 billion), toward education for the underprivileged. A substantial part of the amount will go into setting up and running a "new-age" science and technology university on the lines of MIT, Stanford and Berkeley.
The personal wealth earmarked for charity, which includes a 3% stake in Bharti Enterprises' flagship company Bharti Airtel, will support the activities of the Bharti Foundation, the group's philanthropic arm, which has focused on the education of disadvantaged children since its inception in 2000.
Flanked by his two brothers, Rakesh and Rajan, Mittal announced on Thursday that a large part of the 70 billion rupees will be spent on setting up a science and technology university to complement the foundation's existing programs in the field of primary and secondary education in the country.
"Given our attachment to technology, we would like [the university] to be very significantly focused on technology on the lines of ... MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Imperial College," Mittal said. There will be a strong focus on future technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and robotics.
Satya Bharti University for Science and Technology will offer degrees in electrical and electronics engineering and management, with free education to deserving young people from poorer backgrounds.
"It will be a very different, new-age university," where the education will be delivered digitally, Mittal said. It will be situated in north India -- either in Punjab or Haryana states -- and the ground-breaking ceremony should take place early next year.
Mittal said the family decided to pledge 10% of their wealth to philanthropy on his 60th birthday on Oct. 23. "One part of that [10%] would be 3% shares of Bharti Airtel because the university will need access to liquidity and [funding] to run it."
"It could probably cost 10 billion rupees to put up a wonderful university in physical form ... But importantly it will be a very large amount [needed] to run it on a yearly basis because we are going to principally target this university again toward the underprivileged," Mittal said.
The bulk of the 70 billion rupees will go to the university, but the donation will also allow the foundation to expand its primary and secondary school programs
The university's first courses are expected to start in 2021, three years from the foundation laying, and in five years there will be a fully fledged university in place, Mittal said.
Mittal's move follows the decision earlier this month by Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of information technology group Infosys, and his wife Rohini, to donate 50% of their wealth under the Giving Pledge, which was created in 2010 by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, and Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett.
The couple joined Indian business leaders such as IT services provider Wipro chairman Azim Premji; biopharmaceutical company Biocon head Kiran Mazumdar Shaw; and real estate developer Sobha chief P.N.C. Menon, who are already part of the movement.
Discussing why he did not earmark a substantial portion of family wealth for philanthropy earlier, Mittal said: "In India, giving is still tough. We need a lot more changes in our policies and tax structures."
"For example, Bharti Foundation, a philanthropic organization, cannot hold shares of a company for more than a year. It has to necessarily sell [them] within a year and that puts a lot of pressure," he said. "Secondly, India is turning rich only now. It didn't have the benefit of European and American institutions which have had hundreds of years of wealth creation. You will see more and more Indian companies [now] getting on to this bandwagon [of giving]."
Mittal said he had spoken to several industry leaders globally, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, to discuss collaboration in the university project.
"Eventually once we lay the foundation of this university we will seek partnership with industry partners [like] Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, SoftBank," he said. "Many of these large companies in the tech space will be linked through this university. I have great relationships with them and I feel very optimistic that none of them will decline in terms of collaborating, putting labs or partnership programs with this university."
Mittal later told the Nikkei Asian Review that SoftBank's Masayoshi Sonthe, the Japanese billionaire, "will support the university project.
By: KIRAN SHARMA | Source: Nikkei Asian Review