Sonia Gandhi: Entrepreneur's generosity is an inspiration to millions of Indians

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The Independent Online

Mr Gates, your extraordinary success as a businessman has been overtaken by your even more extraordinary impact as a philanthropist. Your belief that every life, wherever it is lived, should be respected and valued, has led you to transform the destinies of millions around the world. Your foundation is an inspiring example of what can be achieved through an effective combination of magnanimous generosity and sound management.

Indeed, it is your example that has given meaning to the idea that successful businessmen can look beyond the bottom line, and even beyond conventional ideas of social responsibility, to actually conduct philanthropy on the principles of modern management. Your work has given currency to the term "venture philanthropy", because what you have done is to invest, not just your money, but your time and your energy, as in a business venture. Giving is wonderful; but, as you have shown, giving becomes more efficient and has more impact when carried out as a managerial project driven by a vision. Thus, the over-arching goals of, say, preventing HIV/AIDS or eradicating malaria are subjected to the same discipline of efficiency, cost effectiveness and review as in a business enterprise.

We have in our country a long but uneven tradition of philanthropy. In 1912, Sir Ratan Tata provided funding to the University of London to research the causes of poverty and suggest relief measures. A Trust set up in his name, has since played a pioneering role in the social sector. There are other examples of Foundations set up by various Indian business houses. Many of these command resources. But it must be said that we are yet to produce a truly visionary contemporary philanthropist.

Today, when we can proudly affirm that there is almost nothing that anyone else is doing around the world that we in India cannot do, you have set us a challenge. I hope that, in addition to inspiring entrepreneurs and software engineers all over India, you also inspire successful Indian businessmen (and women) to recognise that it is not only governments who are responsible for the uplift of the poor, the afflicted and the marginalised.

This is an edited extract from a speech given by the President of India's Congress Party upon awarding Bill Gates of Microsoft with The Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmanent & Development

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