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Last Updated : Oct 04, 2016 10:38 PM IST | Source: CNBC-TV18

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala on philanthropy, Rs 5,000cr charity pledge

On the occasion of Daan Utsav, CNBC-TV18's Varinder Bansal caught up with Rakesh Jhunjhunwala for a quick update on where his current charity activities stand and understand his philosophy on the act of giving.

In 2011, legendary investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala pledged  to donate to donate Rs 5,000 crore or 25 percent (whichever was lower) of his portfolio on July 5, 2020 -- the day he turns 60.

On the occasion of Daan Utsav, CNBC-TV18's Varinder Bansal caught up with him for a quick update on where his current charity activities stand and understand his philosophy on the act of giving.

Below is the verbatim transcript of Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and Ramji Raghavan's interview to Varinder Bansal on CNBC-TV18.

Q: A lot of people have created wealth, money in the stock market using their mind, there are very few people who have heart to give back to the society, where do you get that from?

Jhunjhunwala: First of all, I am still not a philanthropist, I hope to be one. I haven't given so much of my wealth. Internally I feel am a philanthropist. Where I have the desire to give is that -- my father was always not concerned about how much wealth I have.

At every award he would ask me is, how much have you given this year in charity and how much taxes have you paid. He was financially independent -- He said, I don’t want anything from you I always used to live in a house owned by him but he said, “main tere saamne haath failaunga charity ke liye [I will seek money from you for charity] and until his death in 2008, whatever Rs 3-4 crore charity I used to do a year-- that was also under great pressure from him”.

When he was no more, I really missed him. He was a father brought me up, gave me the values, we were very argumentative and I really missed not in terms of tears, but as a person with whom I could share much. Then I thought that the greatest homage and remembrance I could do for my father was to give. I thought what should I give? How much should I give? Let me structure it. So then from 2008 what I started doing is I started giving away 25 percent of my dividend income.

Then I thought that God was kind, he gave me a lot of wealth, so I thought that I must make a commitment to give a substantial part of it. So therefore, in a programme by Give India, where they were talking about Agastya, I felt and I said that I will give 25 percent of my portfolio of Rs 5,000 crore, whichever is less by July 5, 2020 when I turn 60.

I also feel that giving is not giving, it is a duty. The giver of this wealth is God. Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has wealth not because he is Rakesh Jhunjhunwala. He has the wealth because God has chosen him to have that wealth. Along with that wealth, he casts upon you a social responsibility to use that wealth for good social purpose.
These are the reasons why I give. I also remember John Rockefeller who said, “to die rich is to die in shame”. I am also motivated by the fact that I have no industry, I have no organisation. I don’t own a Bajaj Auto or Tata Motors or a Hero Motocorp, which I have to pass on to my children. My wealth is split over many companies, all of which I am going to sell one day.

Q: Tell us how did it start what was the need of leaving your investment professional career and start Agastya and the size being the base of Agastya?

Raghavan: Basically you have to do what you feel good about in life that gives you meaning and fulfilment. It could be anything, it is not that one is better than the other and I was in banking and I had a good time I certainly enjoyed it, but when I was a young boy at Rishi Valley I read a book about mythical Himalayan kingdom called Shangri-La and I thought one day it would be lovely to live in Shangri-La.

As I grew older I began to think maybe I should get involved in a project to build a school in the Himalayas that would produce creative leaders to transform India and possibly the world, because I grew up in the 60s and 70s India was very different. There was a lot of cynicism, there wasn’t much growth. We would keep complaining and I was part of that and then it just dawned on me that look instead of complaining try and do something about it, so that whether you succeed or not at the end of the day, you can look back and say well I tried, that’s what the dream and the desire to do something by the time I hit 40, I said, “look either do it or don’t regret, because it going to need a lot of energy so I decided to take the leap.

Now in terms of Agastya and science the focus always was on curiosity and creativity. Rakesh tells me very often that he is what he is if I am not mistaken, because his father allowed him to be curious. If you look at a lot of successful people in various forms of human expression, they all have been curious and that has been at the foundation of their creativity of their wealth, of their contribution to society.

I said that the key is to spark curiosity that will lead to creativity, so curiosity, creativity and confidence. Dr PK Iyengar, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission was one of the founders of Agastya. I met him and he said, look you know India lacks creativity and we can instil it through hands on science, so I got involved in science and I found that a lot of science experiments have an inbuilt capacity to arouse curiosity. Science lends itself to it. It doesn’t mean to say that the arts of the humanities don’t require curiosity. They are equally powerful, but we decided to go with science and I guess we have got a good reputation in that area.

Jhunjhunwala: See what we are doing in Agastya today this year we hope to interact with 1.5 million children. We want to educate teach our children. It is like giving fish to somebody, but if your child learns curiosity - - that is a biggest source of learning. It is like teaching him to fish instead of we feeding him fish. I have two sons, one son is not very curious and one is very curious. Curious fellow has got so much of more knowledge now. He is so much concerned about everything is why. Curiosity is the biggest self education, so our purpose is not really to teach science, is to teach science but the real purpose is to interact with poor children and arose curiosity in them, so that they learn on their own. It is a very cost effective manner, because budget over Rs 35 crore we are going to interact with 1.5 million children at least two times each, so per interaction the cost is about Rs 30.

Q: I talk to many people and they say that, I was talking about this interview and some of the people believe that Rakesh Jhunjhunwala has wealth, so he can think about giving money. If I have money like Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, I will also give money. How do people decide, is there a time?

Jhunjhunwala: I understand your question you lived a life of John D Rockefeller. I am inspired by his life also to give. He was a guy who created the Seven Sister as a petroleum company and he was such a ruthless businessman that he would bomb his opponent's petrol pumps. He was so ruthless. Between 1903 and 1933 he did USD 1.5 billion of charity which in today's money will be equivalent to USD 30-40 billion. What is more remarkable is that in 1876, he was a clerk, he had six children, he used to earn USD 40 a month and give USD 6 to charity. So charity is not about how much wealth you have.

My only saying to my fellow people would be give, however small, give what your conscience wants and what your pocket permits. I don’t think a person who is giving Rs 10 is giving less than me. I have a friend called Amit Chandra; he is giving away 75-80 percent of his income. I may give more in amount but he is giving more really, so I think in everything big start small.

Q: You had something to add?

Raghavan: From the point of view of someone who started a philanthropic organisation like Agastya, the early days of Agastya I used to think we will go and raise crore and crore of rupees, that was a bit naive even though I had been a banker. However when I look back I used to make presentations to raise Rs 5000, 10000. I could have asked myself what are you doing but the fun I got out of it is unbeatable. It is not the quantum of money, sometimes somebody gives you a small amount of money when you most need it, you don't forget it. Today we raise all sorts of moneies from various people, there are people like Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, there are people whom I give Rs 500 or Rs 1000, every penny counts because it takes in our night village school Rs 6 a night to really spark, to bring the light into a child's eyes, those Rs 6 are worth it.

Q: Has your life changed internally? Have you found more peace or anything you feel has changed after you have become more into giving back to the society, does that help in anyway?

Jhunjhunwala: I am still at the starting journey of giving. Today the biggest worry for me is not how much wealth I will earn tomorrow, the biggest worry is that I have to fulfil this commitment of Rs 5000 crore.

When Azim Premji came to know that I have committed this money, he asked me to meet him and he told me Rakesh you not only have to give wealth, you have to make a difference. So, I have to create an organisation which will be able to use that money in such a way that I really make a difference to society. The quest to give is a journey not a destination, it has just started.

I am happy that I am committing and I am making effort towards it. I will be really happy and fulfilled when I am able to do it in a proper manner and see much more tangible results.

Q: So, just like Melinda and Bill Gates, we will see an RJ Foundation one day?

Jhunjhunwala: I don't have that kind of wealth but I want to try and make an impact. Not only give but also try and understand which areas, how to give best, how to make a real difference.

Q: Apart from what you are doing for Agastya are there any other activities where you are giving back to the society?

Jhunjhunwala: I am trying to make an eye hospital in Navi Mumbai, I am donating to Ashoka University. Then I donate to an organisation in Delhi which goes and opens schools in villages where there is no schools for girls. I support Olympic Gold Quest, there are so many small organisations which I support. I support Arpan which is educating children and elders against sexual exploitation of children. I support Friends of Tribal Societies which is an organisation of the RSS which goes to the tribal villages and imparts education and healthcare.

Agastya is my largest commitment, I have donated Rs 50 crore to them over the last 10 years. I have become well-known in philanthropic circles because of Agastya. I intend to keep up the commitment and do whatever it takes to see that Agastya becomes a much larger - until now we have interacted with 9 million children,  say 10 percent of the children are effected, it is Rs 9 lakh, it is Rs 1000 or Rs 10000 per child. Government of India is spending on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan I think Rs 50000 per child. So, if in Rs 10000 I have interacted with 9 million children, only 10 percent have real effect, what is the cost.

We are going to the poorest areas, rural areas. In fact my son who are 8 years old when I show them all those experiments their curiosity has expanded.   

Q: How is it working with Rakesh Jhunjhunwala? We have heard him  on various concalls and he is a meticulous person who looks at each and every thing. Did you also share the same experience while he was working with you in Agastya?

Raghavan: When I first met Rakesh I could sense that he is a person who was talking from his heart - I can do this or I can't do that. Of course I was going with a begging bowl not just to Rakesh but to many people and he said I like the idea of a mobile lab. So, I will fund a mobile lab. Few weeks went by and then he said I will fund three mobile labs. Then one day he said I can see these mobile labs all over India but that is going to require government support.

So, one of the things I got was he seemed to be looking at Agastya almost like how I was looking at it, in a dream like visionary way. Now that is very powerful, when you get a partner who can see your vision and who is willing to support it is a huge thing. Then I went with a plan to him, he wanted a 10 year plan and we said we need to spend Rs 90 crore, I wasn’t sure what he had in mind and he said suddenly I will fund Rs 50 crore. In the US you call that a homerun or a six and it was in 2006.

So, what I have to say is from a social investors perspective he probably called it early and he called it right. So, that is a big plus and that was bit of a fluke for us but it happened and who is going to gain from that? Sure it gave me something to do for 10-15 years but most important as Rakesh said are those 9 million children. We also do a lot of work with teachers, teacher education that Narayana Murthy, Sudha Murthy, the Infosys Foundation are supporting.

Q: In your circle I have heard about stories that once in a month or once in two months all big investors like you and many other people get together, talk about markets and other things but in your circle do also people like you and others make a constant effort of searching for ideas where they can give back to society or is it something which is only in your heart?

Jhunjhunwala: We are not now actually doing charity in a very organised manner. We are doing it in a one off manner. That is why I am saying, I have to create an organisation and myself and Radhakishan Damani we discuss in our every meeting about giving. I think he also intends to give big and I also intend to give big, how we should give, what we should give, so it is a matter of lot of discussion between both of us.

Raghavan: When we have our board meetings, Rakesh clearly I don't have to take him through the numbers, he can relate to them very rapidly and he asks tough questions, which is good, which is what a board member should be doing. He makes me think, he makes the other members think, we challenge each other and that is very important. However the greatest thing is we have had total freedom to run Agastya the way we want to because he is that rare investor, by the way this is a big thing going on in the NGO world when people ask you, I am going to give you Rs 100 now tell me exactly what impact you have had? Life is not that simple. There is a paper in the Harvard Business School that says, ideally an investor should be funding the mission of an organisation. However there are not too many that do it because you must understand the mission.

Rakesh is one social investor who is really funding Agastya's mission as opposed to for every penny I give you, give me a report showing exactly what impact you had and it makes a huge difference. It gives you degrees of freedom to innovate.

Jhunjhunwala: When I think of investment, I think margin of safety. Sometimes the margin of safety is too high then I don't want have to do much research. In Agastya I think the cost effectiveness is very high. Second thing is don't have the equipment nor the intent. I believe in crusade and the crusader and I believe in Ramji and his team. Today Narayana Murthy is supporting it, companies like 3M are supporting it, HDFC Bank is supporting it, the best of the corporate world, the best of the people, that itself is a biggest show of what we are.

Q: Every time Rakesh buys any stock, everyone just rushes to buy it. So, you want to earn money when he is buying something. Now give us one strategy or any last word from you on how to give back and I am hoping that who are watching this show also blindly follow you in terms of advise to give back to the society?

Jhunjhunwala: Is only giving money the way of giving? I sometimes think I am lazy, should I also not go to home for aged, read some books to somebody, I have knowledge, I am a good speaker, I can enthral audiences, go and speak in olds home, go to an orphanage, so giving can take many forms. My advice to everybody is give what your conscience wants and what your pocket allows and also give your time, give your ideas and start. You may think it is small but lot of things in life will grow big and small and big is all relative, it is not absolute.
First Published on Oct 4, 2016 01:00 pm