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January 27, 2000

BUDGET 1999-2000

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The Rediff Business Interview/B V Jagadeesh

'The experiment of businessmen involving themselves in Bangalore's development will start a trend'

B V Jagadeesh, co-founder, Exodus Communications B V Jagadeesh, 43, co-founder of Exodus Communications of the US, recently announced that he would donate $ 1 million for uplift of municipal corporation schools in his hometown Bangalore. His gesture took the Garden City by surprise. Other wealthy entrepreneurs followed suit. Infosys Technologies managing director Nandan Nilekani contributed Rs 20 million for improving civic amenities in Bangalore. Sudha Murthy, his boss Narayana Murthy's wife, donated an undisclosed sum for improving sanitation in the city.

As Jagadeesh toured schools in his village, and in Bangalore, in a whirlwind visit recently, M D Riti caught up with him to find out more about his philanthropy.

What made you donate $1 million for uplift of Bangalore corporation schools?

I have been interested in education from a long time. I asked Bangalore City Corporation Commissioner Jairaj whether he wanted some money to uplift Bangalore corporation schools, since thousands of children are lacking a good environment, good teachers, and even pens, boards and sanitation.

When I was in National College in Bangalore myself, I used to be in the National Social Service group, and used to go and teach in corporation schools every Friday. Besides, I myself came from a village school. I have always felt that if people like me could come out of such schools and reach where we did, kids could do much better with some improvement in their facilities. So many of us come from families where we ended up going to such schools. If we could make it big, I am sure these children too have a lot of potential waiting to be tapped. We could really make them shine by just giving them some basic amenities.

Tell me more about your meeting with Jairaj

I knew Jairaj from before. His energy levels are high, and he is completely committed to making Bangalore one of the best cities in Asia. I met Jairaj again barely a month after he became corporation commissioner, and saw that he had done so much for the city. We came up with this scheme of giving money not to the corporation or the government, but to a trust that would be in the control of eminent educationists and others of our choice.

Tell me more about your schooling.

I studied in the local school in my village, Bagalur, which is close to Bangalore, until I reached seventh grade. My father was a professor of chemistry in Bangalore who opted to return to his village before I was born. My parents never compromised on our education though. That's why I feel that I must help the education process at the lowest level, with the goal of tapping the talents of the middle classes. I feel this will solve problems like population growth and cleanliness will be solved in the long term by addressing these issues.

At a different level, I am also supporting the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, which is being supported by the best industrialists all over the world. My reason for doing this is that these are the guys who are going to be the leaders of Indian business, who will come out with MBAs on par with Harward or Wharton.

And what happened to you between Bagalur and Exodus?

Oh, that's a long story. I went to college in Bangalore, acquired an engineering degree in electrical engineering from the Government UVCE College here, did a Master's degree from a Bombay college and got a job with Micronic devices in Bombay. Then, I got an offer from an American company in Silicon Valley, and went off there. I worked for companies like 3-Com and Novell later on, and then started Exodus in 1994, with K V Chandrashekhar.

What exactly have you planned to do for corporation schools with your money? An overall upgradation? And of every single corporation school in Bangalore?

The goal is to uplift all corporation schools over a course of two years. We will start with a handful and extend our base thereafter. We will have to have a customised approach to upgrading these schools. In some, we will have to start with sanitation and go on to buying blackboards.

I visited my old village school in Bagalur today, and found that it needed desks and boards. But I also visited another school in Bagalur and found that it had everything including a computer laboratory, only no computers in them. I told that school that I would donate them five computers. So, requirements vary from one school to another.

Why are other successful NRIs not making donations like you?

I think they are all sceptical about donating money to a system that they do not believe really works. I feel they are afraid that their contributions will go into the pockets of officials or politicians. In fact, when the first news report about my intended donation was published, it wrongly stated that I was going to give the government a big cheque. My own family and friends thought that I was a big fool.

Only, I had the confidence that I would achieve what I genuinely set out to do. I now feel that if we are able to show, in six or nine months, that schools have genuinely improved with my money, more people will follow. I already receive hundreds of e-mails a day appreciating my gesture.

Chief Minister S M Krishna, corporation commissioner Jairaj and Infosys MD Nandan Nilekani, who heads the Bangalore Urban Taskforce, are all so committed to uplifting the city that I think others will slowly start believing in them. To convince people, you must show results. More so when you are overseas, and not knowing what is going on here. They have seen bad things happening for so long that it takes them time to believe in the genuineness of change.

I have always believed in the need to take risks and go try things out. It's time we all stopped complaining that the roads are bad or that garbage overflows everywhere. There is no point in discussing these problems in parties and in the warmth of your own homes. Someone must get out there and do something about these problems. My goal is to take the initiative on such fronts. After all, there are others like Nandan who run big companies and still take time out to improve Bangalore. I decided I should do so too.

How can more Indian cities and governments motivate successful Indians to participate in developing their cities?

That will only happen if they prove themselves to be clean. If they are not clean, but just go out and ask for money, nobody will give it to them. Time and demonstration of commitment, with clear targets and deadlines, will help change the mindset of cynicism that now exists. Every Indian, living in India or outside, has a soft corner for India, even though many might bitch about the infrastructure. I do not say everyone will wake up and start chipping in. But I do think the experiment of businessmen involving themselves in Bangalore's development will start a trend.

How do you assess Chief Minister S M Krishna's attempt to involve businessmen in developing Bangalore?

I think he is absolutely going about this in the right way, and that he is absolutely committed to this concern. The only other place where this kind of thing is happening in India is in Andhra Pradesh. I spent three days the last time I was here, interacting with Chandrababu Naidu and his officials, and I was extremely impressed with them. They are very business-like. They want to get the job done, that's all. They have involved intellectuals and businessmen in their projects. These people have a capitalistic approach and are time-driven. This is happening in Bangalore too now. The Bangalore summit organised by Krishna here recently was fantastic, exactly like a business meeting with crisp presentations and clear deadlines being fixed.

Business people don't take any bullshit. You either do or get out. If you involve people with this mindset in development, it is bound to be a great success. This is how the system works in the US. Many secretaries to government, who are the equivalent of the Indian ministers, are business class people, not career politicians. Unfortunately, this has never happened in India until now. Look, for example, at the previous chief minister of Karnataka, who declared in public that he did not know the difference between computer hardware and software. Which businessman would respect him or come forward to give him money?

Chandrababu NaiduS M Krishna Do you think Krishna is making a genuine attempt, or is it just another image-building me-too-Chandrababu-kind of exercise?

I think he is very genuine in his endeavours, and that he is being pushed by the rapid deterioration in Bangalore. I think he is motivated by Naidu's success too, and by the distress of seeing companies moving from Karnataka, which was once an industrial leader, to Andhra. Hyderabad coming up from nowhere and attracting some of the world's best corporations has given Krishna a wake-up call, and that is not a bad thing. Competition always makes people work that much harder.

Profile of B V Jagadeesh

Interview with Nandan Nilekani, MD, Infosys Technologies



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