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The World's Greatest Philanthropists

I am happy when the underdog makes it up to the top
The man who anonymously gave away his multi-billion dollar fortune explains his approach to philanthropy

N Mahalakshmi

What inspired you to take to philanthropy?

The world is full of people who have less than what they need. Each time you address their problem, you help them to move forward and feel that life can change and I can change it. I felt that there was and is a need to reach out and help people. 

Philanthropic effort is a business. You put in the effort of achieving a certain result, and you do what you have to do to make that happen. There was an opportunity to help more people because there are lots of people in the ranks of the disadvantaged and so, I thought this would be a natural extension of what had been a success through business.

So that was my rationale, that I could maybe do more for people.

What triggered the whole idea of ‘Giving while Living’? At the time you thought of it, there weren’t very many philanthropists who had done this. 

Giving while dead — you don’t feel anything. Also, if you give it away today, you can see what it is going to do and then you can rectify your mistakes. But more than that, I think you get satisfaction out of something that happens on your watch.

What gives you maximum satisfaction?

You start off with a game plan and it’s the achieving of that game plan that makes you feel that you are achieving satisfaction. We used to have all sorts of different things… We would teach kids how to ride bikes, some of them had never ridden a bike before and, of course, the joy of some child who finds out that he can ride a bike was like winning the lottery. 

It’s clearly more than money. It’s satisfaction that you’re achieving something that is helpful to people. There is a level of satisfaction that you can’t get otherwise. I am happy when the underdog makes it up to the top.

How would you define your approach?

Make sure that you can effectively carry out what you want to do and carry it out. After you get that done, move on and do it again.

How do you measure impact?

Success is success, you know. If you achieve what you think you wanted to achieve, you have operated successfully. We have tried to do that.

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