Born on August 19, 1950 at Shiggaon in the Haveri District of North Karnataka, Dr. Sudha Murthy is a well-known social worker and a prolific writer.
The wide range of Sudha Murthy’s social work covers the sectors of healthcare, education, empowerment of women, public hygiene, art and culture, and poverty alleviation at the grassroots level. Over the years, she has designed and anchored several programs for the construction of school buildings, public toilets, healthcare facilities and homes for orphan and destitute children. Under her guidance, the Foundation has disbursed scholarships to needy meritorious students; donated books to educational institutions and public libraries, trained teachers; conducted disaster relief operations; imparted technical education to the youth; set up self-employment centers for women; helped war widows and artistes fallen in hard times; and revived some of our most traditional yet endangered arts and crafts.
Some of the notable projects taken up by the Infosys Foundation under Sudha Murthy’s active leadership are the leprosy rehabilitation camp at Gulbarga, air-conditioning of the entire burns ward at Victoria Hospital in Bangalore, relief work in the flood-hit districts of north Karnataka and drought-hit areas of Andhra Pradesh, and the building of veterinary hospitals in the rural and backward areas of Karnataka. She is building 10,000 public toilets in the rural areas of Karnataka and has already built several hundred toilets in the city of Bangalore.
Her vision of a library for each school has resulted in the setting up of 50,000 libraries so far. Sudha Murthy has facilitated the donation of over several thousand computers to rural schools in Karnataka as she firmly believes that computers are the tools for the future. Through Foundation she has built 2,300 houses in the flood affected areas. She has handled national natural disasters like tsunami in Tamil Nadu and Andaman, earthquake in Kutch – Gujarat, hurricane and floods in Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and drought in Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Sudha Murthy’s philanthropy and literary achievements have won her recognition at the state, national and international levels. She has been honored with the Padma Shri by the government of India in 2006, the Rajyaprashasti award by the Karnataka government in 2000, and seven honorary doctorates from the SNDT Women’s University, Bombay and the universities of Karnataka, Gulbarga, Chennai, Tirupati, Tumkur, and Kolhapur. The University of California, Berkeley gave her the International and Area Studies Global Leaders Award, while the Book Sellers & Publishers Association of South India, Chennai, recognized her contribution to literature with the R.K. Narayan Award. The Government of Karnataka awarded her the highest literary award the ‘Attimabbe Award’ –for her literary work for the year 2011-12. She was awarded the Doctorate of Literature from Tumkur University in 2012 for her thesis on “Functional Strategies and Best Practices of Infosys Foundation”.
You started your career as a brilliant IT professional with immense possibilities in IT and Technology domain. Looking at your career track, your contribution to social service and literature has surpassed IT and technology. What is the cause behind the attraction for social work?
I have answered this question in my books, specifically the book ‘How I Taught My Grandmother’ and the chapter, Amma What is Your Duty’. This clarifies how my involvement in Social Work and CSR was triggered. I started my career in the TATA GROUP, which has also influence on me. Social work is a wide domain which requires interaction with (poor) people, which I like. I have been in this social work and CSR domain since 1970s.
What is the cause behind the attraction to literature?
You have got Padma Shri, fourth highest-ranking civilian award from the Government of India in recognition of her outstanding contribution to social work and the R.K. Narayana’s Award for Literature. What is the link between social work and literature?
As such there is no link between social work and literature. One could be a good social worker but it’s not necessary that he/she would have a knack for writing. Similarly a good writer might not be a good social worker.
In your famous speech titled, “Lessons of life” at Berkeley University, you made a profound impact by stating the true position of development on the ground and the need of intervention by knowledgeable people. Infosys Foundation is definitely benefiting out of your insights about the problems and the passion for making an impact. How do we expand this process of passionate intervention of corporate leaders in to the development?
I am not a preacher. But regarding development one has to analyze and look back in life to understand the road you have travelled and then decide how to go in future. Every person should examine his/her own life experiences and judge how and what can he/she give back to the society. If we are talking about development, a sensitive and compassionate mind is required. My grandparent’s philanthropy has helped me a lot in life. The attitude towards life is more important if we are talking about the development and upliftment of society.
What is the vision of Infosys Foundation for making an impact on the society at the ground level and what are the possible innovative works you plan to undertake to make an impact on the national scene?
I have never thought of making an impact at the national level. I believe that if we start from the ground level we are bound to make a big change. For example we have started the project of building toilets in the villages and built 10000 toilets. By this initiative we are trying to educate the rural masses on the need of using toilets as a basic requirement. Subsequently we plan to expand it to larger areas and hope to make a change. Our approach is not to start from the top.We believe in “bottom to top approach”, that is, start initiating change from the bottom and eventually reach the top. So as such we do not have a definite vision for national change and we work at the grassroots level.
What would you say about the level and direction of the understanding of the general business houses on CSR and Sustainability?
It is essential to have CSR activities in big corporate houses. With us the advantage is that we do not have to hunt for funding since we get it directly from Infosys. So sustainability is easier for us. On the other hand various other companies have to look for funding options to initiate CSR activities which becomes difficult. For CSR activities social and economic balance is required. With right kind of funding we have exit policy for every project and sustainability is dependent on the project itself. For example we have started scholarship programmes for college students in need. This is only possible with right approach towards the issue.
It is alleged that the Businesses/ corporations consider CSR law as a burden and are yet to appreciate the potentials they have to make an impact. The impact you are making on the society, if communicated more effectively can inspire many more corporations. How do you plan to make your work get communicated to a larger audience?
We have started CSR activities about 30 years back. All my life experiences have been written and published in the form of four books. My task is to work for the society, not to draw conclusion on how to do what to do. These days’ people are using poverty as capital and phenomenon of poverty is created. My books are the communicator of ideas and not the source of conclusion. Point is to be proactive in the situation of need.
The new Companies Law makes 2 percent of profit after tax, to be spent on CSR. What are the hurdles you foresee in making the CSR provision of the new companies law being implemented and what are the possible solutions for these hurdles?
The amount allocated for CSR activities is huge but there is no proper direction as to how one should go about using the funds when it comes to spending. So it is difficult to spend this amount of money.
Infosys Foundation is doing useful work for rural and backward areas. We are doing work which is needed by the people directly. We directly interact and communicate with people to understand their needs and work accordingly. The needs and wants of the people can only be understood by staying with them and build rapport with them. Then, there is need of proper planning and coordination. We monitor the projects very closely.
Most of the companies seem to have responded to the new CSR provision in a Reactive Way, rather than in a Proactive Way by internalizing CSR in their business processes. How can we motivate the companies to respond to CSR provision of the law in a proactive way and internalize CSR in their business process?
For CSR activities and to work for the people, funding is required. I cannot say about the other companies but we have no problem about funding for CSR activities. Infosys Foundation is different from Infosys Limited which also has its own CSR wing. The Foundation is independent of the company. Internalizing CSR will be handled by the company.
Any other information, you want to share with the readers of CSR VISION.
As such there is not specific draft of future plans. But we are planning to work on building Dharamshalas for poor and needy people; build mobile hospitals and rope in good doctors so that needs to people in far flung and rural areas could be taken care of.