New Delhi: IT czar and philanthropist Azim Premji on Saturday said companies should not be legally mandated to engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) as such contributions to society need to "come from within".
Premji, who donated Rs 7,904 crore in donations last year (Rs 22 crore a day), also highlighted that the COVID-19 crisis was a "wake up call" to look at fundamental issues like the need to improve public systems like health, and changing the structure of society to become more equal and just.
"I do not think we should have a legal mandate for companies to do CSR. Philanthropy or charity or contribution to society must come from within, and it cannot be mandated from outside. But that's my personal view. As of now, this is the law and all companies must follow it," Premji said.
He added that it is important that individual and personal philanthropy is separated from a company's CSR efforts.
"When I travel in the field and meet our teams and our partners' teams who have single-mindedly dedicated their lives to helping the country improve, that is about the biggest satisfaction one can derive," he said during an AIMA event.
All India Management Association (AIMA) presented Premji with the AIMA Life Time Achievement Award for Management at the event.
Premji noted that the pandemic has had a very unequal impact with the disadvantaged having suffered "exponentially more" and inequality widening significantly, while advising that one needs to start on the path of philanthropy early.
"Start right away, even if you start small. Try to help build institutions and support programs. We must have a strong set of civil society institutions that you can contribute to. Your experience in business has eminently qualified you to build scale, this is an integral part of nation building," he added.
Premji transformed Wipro from a company making vegetable oil to a diversified conglomerate including a multi-billion dollar IT services giant. He is one of the richest men in India and has donated a large part of his wealth to philanthropic causes.
In 2019, Azim Premji stepped down as Wipro chairman and managing director, handing over the company's reins to his son, Rishad. The septuagenarian currently holds the position of Wipro founder chairman and non-executive director.
Talking about people who have influenced his outlook towards philanthropy, Premji said his mother and Mahatma Gandhi's views had played a major role in shaping his perspective on the subject.
He narrated how his mother, Gulbanoo MH Hasham Premji, spent a lifetime helping a children's orthopaedic hospital despite facing a number of challenges.
"All because she wanted to serve. Nothing fazed her, she was amazing. This is my core inspiration. This is what I saw while growing up and that really inspired me to look at philanthropy very seriously.
"And then there was Mahatma Gandhi's idea of trusteeship of wealth that the wealthy must act as custodians of wealth for the benefit of society, and not as owners of wealth. That influenced me a great deal later," he explained.
Premji also spoke about the efforts of Azim Premji Foundation in the field of education, and that the intention is to set up four more universities in the next 10 years.
"A lot of our education commitment is towards encouraging our students to finally join the social sector. Be it in education, community development, public health, livelihoods, sustainability and more. Equally, there is a requirement for relevant research on the key issues facing our society across these different themes of human development," he said.
Premji added while the direct focus is on education, the foundation is also supporting other organisations to scale up their work for the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in the society.