How Shiv Nadar Foundation is making its impact on the society

First Published: The Economic Times

Date: November 12, 2015

Deep inside Greater Noida, amidst farms and beyond a railway crossing, a site earmarked for a golf course, and bundles of haystacks, the road criss-crosses through villages before opening up to the most modern piece of infrastructure as far as eyes can see. This is the Shiv Nadar  University, founded five years ago.

Last fortnight, the university held its first convocation — 295 graduates in the first batch, part of the 2,000 odd students enrolled in various inter-disciplinary courses from humanities, sciences, entrepreneurship  and engineering. Many graduates are going for  higher education  to universities such as Cornell and Columbia; others are finding placement across companies like Amazon, L&T, Dell  and Cognizant. The university's founder, billionaire technology czar and philanthropist Shiv Nadar runs it on the premise that as life expectancy rises steadily, men and women graduating now will probably work for the next 70 years.

"They will need multi-directional education," he says. That's why, at the university, students can study physics with economics or engineering with law, to prepare themselves for the long haul.

"This prepares students better for life and encourages them to come back and learn new things," adds Nadar, the sixth richest Indian in the Forbes billionaires list 2014. The university is part of the higher education initiative that Nadar planned 20 years ago when he set up the eponymous philanthropic foundation. In 1994, with a windfall from ;exiting a joint venture with HCL, Nadar started the foundation. Two decades later, the Shiv Nadar Foundation has several educational institutions and an art museum in its fold. It has spent Rs 3,500 crore (till March 2015) and plans to spend Rs 1,000 crore a year to sustain its work.

Nadar publishes audited financials of the foundation annually. "If others do, it will be good for the people. It is entirely their (philanthropists') choice what they do with their money," says Nadar, alluding to very few standing examples of philanthropy in the country.

Scion Takes Charge

Shiv Nadar started the foundation and got the ball rolling, but it was his daughter Roshni Nadar  who gave it the push.

"Back in 2007-08 it was Roshni's (Shiv's daughter, Roshni Nadar Malhotra) decision to expand philanthropy and the family dived into it," says Sundar Mahalingam, chief strategy officer, HCL Corporation & Shiv Nadar Foundation. "Shiv is the guiding force, the visionary, excellent in goal setting. He spends 65% of his time with the foundation. A few years ago it was less than half of this," he adds.

The foundation has also grown since 2010 from a staff of about 300 to 1,300 now. For Shiv, the switch to philanthropy was made easy as  HCL Technologies  was also back on track after initially lagging behind peers in the services play. It saw a smooth CEO transition when Vineet Nayar  stepped down and Anant Gupta took over in January 2013.

Under the Shiv Nadar Foundation umbrella are two free schools for village kids, three public schools, one each in Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad, the university, two museums of art and SSN Engineering College in Chennai. The last in the list was the first to be established. After that philanthropy took a back seat as Nadar got busy building and scaling the 1976 founded HCL Group, which boasts of $7 billion in revenues, bulk of it coming from HCL Technologies, the export-focused, third-largest technology services company in India.

Nadar chose UP to set up most of his philanthropic initiatives as that's where HCL was founded. "Initially it was an idea, a sketch in my mind. Now it's all taken shape," says Nadar.

Part of the shape he is referring to is 605 acres of campus area, about the size of 550 football fields, with a built up area of 5.2 million square feet. About 9,200 students study in the schools and colleges. Barring the SSN Engineering College in Chennai, most of the institutions were built in the past five years.

"It will take at least a decade to see the impact (of this)," says Nadar. "A proxy of impact for the rural schools, he adds, is the aspiration it raises among poor and meritorious students and their parents.

Earlier we had to attract students, now we don't have to. There's a huge thrust of people waiting to enrol."

Building Global Institutions

Nadar is the foundation's chairman, daughter Roshni looks after the rural schools, her husband manages the public schools and wife Kiran Nadar oversees the museums called Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

Nikhil Sinha is the founding vice chancellor of the university and SN Balakrishnan is the chancellor. Says Nadar: "Any institutions' alumni are key to its growth. We are focused on giving a global experience to our students. If you go to  Wall Street  there is someone from Harvard, Stanford, etc, who relate to each other by the batch they studied in, the dorm they lived in and so on. That's what we want to build." The university now has students from 27 states across India.

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