First Generation Inheritor – A Personal Journey


Magazine article
I often refer to myself as a ‘First-Generation Inheritor’ and this is where continuity and succession become critical. I am truly fortunate and humbled to inherit our family’s true wealth - its philanthropic legacy.
I returned to India after I graduated from the Kellogg School of Management in 2008, with a major in Management & Strategy and Social Enterprise. Philanthropy, particularly in the USA, is far more organized and every institution, educational or cultural, historically dates back to a founding family or group of founding philanthropists. My father always drew inspiration from these great philanthropists – Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, et al - who built institutions, many of which still stand and are thriving. During my time in Kellogg I was excited to study and wondered, perhaps our family too will create institutions like this for India.
My father is a first-generation entrepreneur who founded the $6.5 billion HCL Group 38 years ago in India. Today, HCL is one of the largest Technology Enterprises in India. Our approach to the Shiv Nadar Foundation (SNF) is no different from my father’s to HCL. One a social enterprise, the other a business, but both require the same rigor in management, best practices and processes to achieve their desired goals. SNF is in the ‘business of social investment’ with a long-term focus on leadership.
Like HCL, all the initiatives of SNF – SSN Institutions, Shiv Nadar University, VidyaGyan, Shiv Nadar School and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art – are institutions, albeit not-for-profit. And like HCL, they must stand the test of time and continue to impact and touch lives for decades, beyond the lifetimes of its founding family.
At the core of SNF lie certain fundamental pillars of belief and governance -
  1. Leadership Creation - As mentioned earlier, the focus is on leadership development. SNF cannot boast of ‘touching’ millions of lives but it can focus on depth and impact. Those potential leaders hopefully will create change through their breadth of impact.
  2. Corrective vs. Creative We believe that at least two models of philanthropy exist. The first is identification of a problem, investment in and execution of a solution with desired and measurable outcomes, within a defined time period; this is corrective in nature. Then there is the creative model, creating institutions for posterity with outcomes which cannot be measured within a time frame and will evolve with the institution. SNF follows the creative model but we believe that these two and many more models must co-exist for philanthropy to truly prove transformational for a nation like India.
  3. Longevity and Sustainability Continuity, sustainability and longevity are synonymous with philanthropy at the Shiv Nadar Foundation. I am deeply inspired by my parents and had I not shown sustained commitment to the Foundation, our approach to philanthropy would have been short-term and more corrective in nature.
  4. Transparency and Governance, Within the HCL Group, two companies are publicly listed and we recognize the importance of accountability, transparency and independent governance. This applies to SNF as well and the discipline of a public annual report with financials audited by independent and reputed agencies is practiced. Today, the family is the sole patron of SNF but in the future we invite others to be a part of the initiatives.
  5. Transparency and Partnerships To ensure the institutions created by SNF thrive for generations to come, partnerships are critical. In the Foundation’s journey, our most important partners have been all our internal stakeholders – the strategy, finance, infrastructure, administration and human resource teams, the leadership, the faculty, the students and their families. It is important that they ‘own’ the vision of the Foundation to deliver its promise. The second most important partners are external stakeholders – collaborations we have with global institutions and benefactors who have been generous with their time and support to become a part of the Shiv Nadar Foundation movement. Even in the future these will be integral to sustain SNF.
Our institutions cannot and will not solve the problem of education in our country, but we hope, in time, they will solve the problem of leadership in our country.
SSN was the first initiative of our Foundation, established in 1996. The other initiatives of SNF were established 2009 onwards, after my return. SSN aside, the rest are quite nascent. Hence, 20 glorious years are but a speck in the life of the Shiv Nadar Foundation. The Foundation and its institutions must be bigger than the individuals who create it. Hence, the transition from one generation to the next is extremely crucial to ensure that the fundamental beliefs, principles and ethos of the Foundation remain embedded through time.
This article first appears in Issue 7 of Philanthropy Impact Magazine. Click here to download the article in printer-friendly PDF.

This article is tagged under:

  • Next generation philanthropy