The market mayhem had everybody’s attention this week and one important development just seemed to have slipped by without much fanfare. That was IT services behemoth TCS’ $35 million gift to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for funding research and scholarships. For an institution that had a $1.6 billion endowment in 2014, $35 million may seem like chump change, but in the US and not to mention India, $35 million does go a long way. Pleasantly, there has not been much breast-beating or jingoism about why an Indian institution was not conferred that largesse. Either that says a lot about the state of our higher learning institutions or maybe the hope is that there will be some trickledown at the local Ivy league.
There is also a stark difference when it comes to giving. The Tata group has always been associated with philanthropy and there is much that others could learn from them. Many present-day institutions like Indian Institute of Science, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research or Tata Institute of Social Sciences owe their existence to them. In the United States, the big joy has always been about helping top-class institutions to focus on what they do best: polish great raw minds and the minor thrill is in getting buildings named after you. Hedge fund billionaire David Tepper will soon have a namesake academic hub and TCS, too, will have “The Tata Consultancy Services Building” at CMU’s Pittsburgh campus.
TCS is not the first company to tie-up or donate to CMU and it is likely that its gift will not stay the ‘biggest outside corporate donation’ for a long time. Hundreds of companies including technology giants such as Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Google etc have existing partnerships. What is new is the geography and scale on which TCS has done it; that is a first for an Indian company. It is questionable if many higher learning institutions here have the bandwidth to productively allocate or absorb that kind of largesse.
It is also not that CMU is going to run out of funds anytime soon and that is where the paradox lies. Like a bank that grants you a loan once you have proved that you don’t need it, marquee institutions get flooded with donor monies. This self-selection of the best works everywhere but not always results in desired consequences. Investors always crowd into ‘hot companies' but unlike many current day e-commerce darlings, Carnegie Mellon and many of its ilk in the United States are not a flash in the pan. These are enduring institutions in the true sense of the term. On TCS’ part, more than an attempt to win brownie points or suppress any xenophobia, it clearly underlines: ‘Give where it will be utilised best.'