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Staying Connected

Fred de Sam Lazaro explores the use of profits from high-tech companies as aid to the poor in India.

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  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    India is a land of extreme contrasts in which medieval poverty is the neighbor of the world's most modern industry. Now some who've made their fortunes are using their wealth to try to bring all of the country into the modern world. That effort is clear at Infosys in the southern city of Bangalore. From the main conference room, this software and information services company can be connected instantly by TV monitor to 24 locations around the world, according to CEO N.R. Narayan Murthy.

  • N.R. NARAYAN MURTHY:

    This is a temple of modern India. Most of our customers are from the first world. We have to enhance their comfort level. Here we can't afford the power to go off, even for a millisecond. We can't afford the telephone to fail. Having said that, we realize that we can't afford to be an isolated island of excellence in the midst of this city.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    To make sure it's not isolated, Infosys supports a number of healthcare and education charities. It also employs some 400 women from neighboring villages to maintain the campus.

  • N.R. NARAYAN MURTHY:

    For a company that has invested a lot of money, several tens of millions of dollars, in technology, it was very easy to introduce technology for cleaning, but we said no. We have to make a difference to the context. So we invited these women from villages nearby, who come every day and clean the campus. A capitalist who operates in a context like India, he or she will have to understand that the person has a different role from a capitalist in a country like the United States.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Companies like Infosys have also succeeded in slowing a brain drain by offering challenging, relatively well-paid work to software engineers who'd otherwise leave for the United States. But these days even those who've left for the U.S. try to stay connected. In Silicon Valley, Asian Indian engineers and entrepreneurs have started one of every ten high- tech companies. Many of these new millionaires, like Lata Krishnan, are becoming major philanthropists for their native land.

  • LATA KRISHNAN:

    I really feel that I am, I'm an Indian; doesn't matter where I am; and I think my ties towards India just stem from a very deep sense of belonging to a country that I'm really very, very proud of.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Reporter: When a massive earthquake hit India last year, Krishnan herself donated over $1 million. She and other high-tech entrepreneurs raised over $20 million through visits to the site by former President Bill Clinton, and through parties like this one, given by "TIE," "The Indus Entrepreneurs," a support group of successful South Asian business leaders. Many of these entrepreneurs say they are grateful for the almost tuition-free education they got at the Indian government's Institutes of Technology, set up by India's socialist founding leader, Jawaharlal Nehru. Kailash Josiqi is the director of tie.

  • KAILASH JOSHI:

    I used to pay 15 rupees tuition at the best institution in India, called the India Institute of Science, in Bangalore. I went to and competed in the best university in the United States, got a Ph.D. In a very short time myself. So I was very well prepared, and that left a sense of gratitude, in a ways, for the country.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    That gratitude translates into philanthropy that is less charitable and more entrepreneurial, according to Stanford University Professor Anna Lee Saxenian.

  • ANNA LEE SAXENIAN:

    There's a vision that it's better to develop the economy internally rather than give what they might consider handouts. They're giving to educational institutions, and they're giving also to entrepreneurs because they believe that if you fund entrepreneurs, it will help develop the Indian economy.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    So they're much more interested in building new companies that would employ people than building orphanages for poor children or something like that.

  • ANNA LEE SAXENIAN:

    Absolutely, absolutely.

  • ABRAHAM GEORGE:

    Abraham George, who's lived in the U.S. since the 1960s, is a good example or this new philanthropy.

  • ABRAHAM GEORGE:

    I don't think everybody can be the Mother Teresa's of this world. I mean, you need Mother Teresa's of the world, but you also need institutions that bring about change, and what I have learned from America is some of those business values– after all, they are the ones that I, you know, I was practicing.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    George sold his New Jersey-based software company a few years ago. He decided to attack one of India's most intractable paradoxes: A country second only to the U.S. in the number of engineering graduates, India does not provide even basic education to half its children. Only one-third of female children become literate. The problem is age-old, with deep roots in a laddered, caste- conscious society. So in a gated campus in rural South India, George opened Shanti Bhavan, or House of Peace, a boarding school for which no expenses were spared. So far, that's totaled $15 million. (Piano music) With the finest teachers and amenities, Shanti Bhavan rivals India's most exclusive academies, which cater to the wealthy and powerful. This school also has a means test, but quite unlike the others: Only the poorest get in.

  • ABRAHAM GEORGE:

    You know, these children, they come from the bottom-most segment of the society, the so- called untouchables, and, you know, in India they call them scheduled castes, you know. They live in small huts, sometimes a ten-feet-by-ten-feet room, no cooking facilities. They cook outside. They've never seen a piece of paper, never used a pen, at age four.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    The 120 children were all admitted as preschoolers. So far the oldest group has reached grade four. Shanti Bhavan will grow and add classes until it reaches 12th grade or high school, adding about 20 new preschoolers each year. Besides a safe dormitory, the children get clothing, nutritious meals and health care, a worship center that is strictly nondenominational, and birthday celebrations.

  • Class Singing Together:

    .Happy birthday to you

  • ABRAHAM GEORGE:

    This school will produce some of the brightest, some of the best future leaders of the society. That's my hope, and they will be ready for not just India, but for the world market. They could be employed by IBM India; they could be employed by IBM New York. It doesn't matter where they go for their jobs.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    And unlike the discrimination that children from lower castes may have faced in years past, Infosys' Murthy says India's brightest will thrive in the new economy.

  • N.R. NARAYAN MURTHY:

    This is a meritocracy. It's an open place. Here we stand up and applaud anybody who brings good ideas to the table.

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Murthy and a handful of colleagues started Infosys 20 years ago with just $300. Today his personal net worth is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but he lives in a modest two-bedroom home in a middle-class neighborhood.

  • N.R. NARAYAN MURTHY:

    When you want to make capitalism acceptable to the larger masses, you have to proceed very cautiously. You can't alienate yourself from the masses. If they think, "oh, this guy, he's one of us– if this guy can do all this, why not we?"

  • FRED DE SAM LAZARO:

    Despite the spectacular success of India's information technology industry, Murthy cautions that its benefits and philanthropy have still only been felt by a fraction of those masses in this nation of one billion.

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