Dataquest 35 Years: Beyond Business

By: Shiv Nadar, Founder & Chairman – HCL

“Don’t you think it is time to start giving back”, asked my mother during a conversation at the dinner table. This directed me to what was to become my calling in the years to come

In 1994, Nadar established what he believed was closest to his heart – the philanthropic Shiv Nadar Foundation and created its first initiative in Chennai, the SSN Institutions. Today the Foundation is a significant driver of social change

I was born in a small village in Tamil Nadu and spent my childhood traveling from one place to another as my father was a judge and his work required him to move around the State. I grew up like any adolescent boy at that age, oblivious to the harsh realities of life until I lost my father when I was in grade 11. His early demise shook our entire family and especially me as till then I had a sheltered and protected upbringing.

THE GIFT OF EDUCATION
However, life was beginning to look different very soon as the family started facing financial troubles and I was worried about my future. This was till I managed to get admission in PSG College of Technology at the age of 21 to pursue an undergraduate degree in engineering and received a full scholarship. That was truly the beginning of my story and the genesis of HCL as none of it would have been possible if my college education wasn’t sponsored through a scholarship offered by the philanthropists who started PSG Tech. So speaking in the strictest sense, the story of HCL that is known all over the world today started because somebody was thinking ‘beyond business’.

THE ORIGIN OF HCL AND MORE

I started my entrepreneurial journey over 40 years back in 1976, leaving my job at DCM in Delhi with seven of my colleagues and a dream that the microchip will change the world. HCL originated in a small barsati room with an investment of just `2 million and today the company has grown to be a $7.5 bn global organization with three businesses under its ambit. Early on, I realized that the IT industry could flourish in the country if we were able to create the right talent pool to deliver top quality work. In order to train the new generation of computer experts, NIIT was launched in 1981 to impart high quality IT education to young, ambitious Indians, who were instrumental in putting our country on the global IT map.

That was also the time when every day we dealt with new challenges, successes and failures and one only spent their time strategizing and executing on the big and small bets that would contribute to the success of HCL. In 1991, HCL entered into a path-breaking partnership with HP (Hewlett-Packard) as part of which HP invested in a 26% stake in the organization. With that, I received a handsome windfall and thought that the best idea would be to plough the money back into the business.

A MOTHER SON CONVERSATION

It was during this time that a conversation at the dinner table with my mother directed me to what was to become my calling in the years to come. Enthused with the HP partnership, I informed my mother about my plans of taking HCL to the next level when she interrupted me with a simple statement “Don’t you think it is time to start giving back?” Till then, I hadn’t really thought about how my scholarship at PSG Tech was the real reason that I was able to think of and actually set up HCL. However, this conversation helped me connect the dots. I also realized that institutions like PSG Tech and the IITs were arming a young India with the knowledge and skills required to go out and redefine its future.

This is what ultimately sowed the seeds for the setting up of the SSN Trust in memory of my father – Shri Sivasubramaniya Nadar – in 1994. In 1996, we launched the SSN College of Engineering in a rented marriage hall in Chennai and moved to the current campus two years later. SSN was started with the single aim of providing deserving students access to world-class education, regardless of their financial standing.

THE NEW PHILANTHROPISTS IN THE FAMILY

The Shiv Nadar Foundation is not just an act of individual philanthropy. It has a vision that is far bigger. Although I started the journey in 1994 with SSN, it wasn’t until 2005 that I was able to devote significant time or strategic thought to the Shiv Nadar Foundation. The trigger really was the return of my only child– Roshni – from the US after she finished her MBA in Social Enterprise Management and Strategy. It gave me the conviction to expand the breadth of the Foundation’s commitment given that the next generation was committed to taking this vision forward.

While debating how to expand the operations of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, I looked to the west and I was really inspired with the approach of Creative Philanthropy followed by prominent philanthropists like the Carnegies and the Rockefellers. Instead of following a time-bound, project-based approach, Creative Philanthropy entails designing institutions that could drive deep impact in a particular field, ensuring long-term transformation for whole sections of the society. My experience of setting up HCL had taught me how to build a successful organization and I wanted to use that knowledge to help set up institutions that would continue impacting generations of Indians long beyond the lifetime of its founders.

Each of the Shiv Nadar Foundation’s institutions is modeled to bridge the gaps in the way education has been traditionally delivered to different strata in the Indian society. To that effect, the Foundation set up the VidyaGyan Leadership Academy to nurture future leaders from rural India who will become change agents uplifting their communities, villages and the country at large. In the higher education space, while the SSN Institutions already existed, the Foundation also set up the Shiv Nadar University which is our dream to put India on the global education map by creating an institution that is comprehensive, multi-disciplinary and has a strong research orientation. There are also the Shiv Nadar Schools in the urban K-12 education space that aim to provide children with the education that creates life-long learners.

While the above were established as structured institutions of transformational education, the Foundation also has two slightly different initiatives, these being the Shiksha program and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA). Shiksha aims at driving literacy at the grassroots through a technology-enabled learning program. KNMA, on the other hand, is private philanthropic art museum exhibiting modern and contemporary works from India and the sub-continent. KNMA aims to inculcate an appreciation and enjoyment of art in the common public by making art more accessible.

THE SPIRALS OF INSPIRATION

While the Foundation has directly touched over 22,000 students since inception, its ultimate aim is to create spirals, where every individual student is able to touch and transform the lives of a few others; thereby driving a cascading effect to a much larger base. That will be the true repayment for the gift of education that I received while growing up and while I may be known for HCL right now, I do hope that with the transformational work of the Foundation, I will be known as – Shiv Nadar, the philanthropist who also founded HCL, for posterity.

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