Forbes Asia Magazine, July 18, 2011 edition reported that Billionaire Shiv Nadar takes the brightest children from the poorest villages of rural India and sends them to boarding school.
Janhavi Sharma couldn’t be happier. The 11-year-old is the only one in her family of seven girls who’s in school. And not just any school. She’s studying at a new residential school set on a 30- acre campus outside New Delhi, complete with a skating rink and cricket field. “I want to study,” says the earnest sixth grader, who’s just starting to speak English after being taught in Hindi in her village school. “I love my new school.”
The school ” called VidyaGyan” picks the brightest fifth graders from 45 school districts across the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and pays all their expenses from sixth through twelfth grades. Back at her village Nawabgunj, Sharma’s parents struggle to eke out a living on a small farm; their income is less than $2,500 a year. Food isn’t always hygienic, she says. But at her boarding school she’s well-fed. While she had never touched a computer in her life, she now uses one with ease. And she’s learning new English words every day: “We are living so nicely [here],” she declares. “The teachers are very caring.”
VidyaGyan is the brainchild of Shiv Nadar, who helped found New Delhi technology company HCL. He’s now using his formidable fortune-$5.6 billion, FORBES ASIA estimates-to bridge the urban/rural divide by improving education for India’s rural poor. His Shiv Nadar Foundation spends $3,200 a child each year, on a par with what premier Indian institutes spend on an undergraduate engineering student.
Sharma’s school opened in 2009 with 200 sixth graders. A second VidyaGyan school opens this month and a third one is being planned, both also in Uttar Pradesh. Nadar sees the schools as grooming not future business leaders-there are plenty of places doing that-but future political and other leaders who will upgrade the often abysmal administration and standard of living of much of rural India. “Our goal is to have a future prime minister come from one of these places,” he says.
VidyaGyan is just a piece of Nadar’s philanthropic vision. Using his HCL dividends, proceeds from stock sales and investment gains, he’s spent $400 million on his education initiatives. In the next five to seven years he estimates that he’ll spend another $600 million. At that point Nadar will join an elite group of tycoons worldwide who have donated at least $1 billion over their lifetimes; there are only 20.
The money will fund the VidyaGyan schools, a proposed Shiv Nadar University, two planned Shiv Nadar Schools and SSN institutes started in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where Nadar grew up. The university is taking shape on a 286-acre campus outside New Delhi. It’ll open with a school of engineering next month; the first class will have its fees waived. Eventually it will boast schools of business, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. He wants to encourage cross-disciplinary studies and require a four-year undergraduate program, as opposed to India’s traditional three-year programs.
Nadar’s focus on education-based philanthropy began in 1996, when he founded the SSN College of Engineering, named for his father, Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar. It’s now a 250-acre college with schools for management and computer applications, and a school of advanced software engineering in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University in the U.S.
Nadar also supports art at the behest of his wife, Kiran. She runs the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, which has two facilities, in the heart of New Delhi and on the HCL campus on its outskirts. The museum exhibits contemporary and modern art from the subcontinent and offers cultural and education programs to promote art. It has artworks valued at $60 million. Another $70 million is earmarked for acquisitions.
The 65-year-old Nadar is no longer involved in the nitty-gritty of HCL. “My role in the business is to use my judgment,” he says. “All these years of experience have given me a clear head, and I can give a nonpartisan view with a sense of distance.” Instead he devotes at least 60% of his time to his foundation. “I am good at conceptualizing and building institutions,” says Nadar, sitting in his plush office in the New Delhi suburb of Noida. The foundation’s staff appreciates the attention. “I was surprised when he spent four hours just looking at the architecture of the school,” recalls Bishwajit Banerjee, the principal of the first VidyaGyan school.
(Photo and Report sourced from Forbes Asia Magazine, July 18, 2011 edition)