Indian Americans, along with business leaders from India and Dubai, have collectively donated an estimated $1.2 billion to U.S. universities, revealed a study released Sept. 25 by the non-profit organization Indiaspora.
Indian Americans have followed the pattern of American giving, which began primarily with donations to religious institutions but then moved on to address education, hunger, and poverty, MR Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, told India-West. “Education has always been so near and dear to us,” he said, noting that the emotional connection to a university was the driving force for many significant donations.
Gabrielle Trippe, Philanthropy Initiatives manager at Indiaspora, told India-West: “What we wanted to find in the study was the motivation for giving. The number one factor for Indian Americans was giving back to the institutions that helped them launch successful careers.”
“The initial findings from the Indiaspora Monitor of University Giving suggest Indian American philanthropy towards universities is in its infancy,” said the organization in a press statement.
In 2017, American educational institutions received a record $43 billion in donations, according to the Council for Aid to Education; $19 billion was given by single donors. Harvard and Stanford topped the list with more than $1 billion each. Public universities were also amongst the top 20 fundraisers: UCLA, UC Berkeley and UCSF, for example, received a combined total of more than $1.3 billion in 2017.
The Indiaspora study analyzed donations of more than $1 million, made by 68 donors since the year 2000, to 37 U.S. universities. Private universities received a greater share of donations than their public counterparts. Almost half of the gifts came from repeat donors.
The data was limited to donations made to U.S. universities and does not include gifts by Indian Americans to their alma maters in India. Rangaswami told India-West he hopes a future survey will analyze such data.
Business schools received the largest share of gifts – 23.5 percent – followed by medicine – 20.6 percent – and South Asian studies – 17.6 percent. Surprisingly, donations to support engineering schools received slightly less than 12 percent of donations; computer science and technology schools received negligible sums.
Gifts to support schools of humanities were also negligible – 1.5 percent. One notable donation for this field was businessman Anand Mahindra’s $10 million donation in 2011 to found the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard. Mahindra received his MBA at Harvard in 1981.
Former Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said at the launch of the new center: “What the humanities teach you is not a particular skill or technology, but to think and to question. So today, we celebrate the freedom (Mahindra’s) gift will provide for so many at Harvard: the freedom to explore together, to argue, to debate, to follow our curiosity, to ask questions that transport us — to take a critical perspective, to see how the world has been and can be different.”
The largest-ever donation by an Indian American to a U.S educational institution was made by Pallavi and Kiran Patel, a $225 million donation in 2017 to Nova Southeastern University in Florida to build a new medical school in Clearwater.
The Patels followed in the footsteps of Chandrika and Ranjan Tandon, who in 2015 gave $100 million to New York University’s engineering school. “The imagination and inventiveness of the students and faculty as they worked together on real world problems; the cutting-edge work being done both within the school and collaboratively across schools in such diverse areas like the arts, medicine, education, incubators; the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades the place — all this inspired us so,” said Chandrika Tandon, as quoted in the Indiaspora report.
Dubai businessman Rajen Kilachand is also one of the largest donors to a U.S. educational institution. In 2017, Kilachand made a $115 million gift to Boston University’s Science and Engineering Schools.
The Indiaspora report also noted donations made by Indian Americans to universities that were not their alma maters. Rangaswami cited the $61 million donation of Ram Shriram, an early backer of Google, to create the Shriram Center for Bioengineering & Chemical Engineering at Stanford University. Shriram attended the University of Madras and Loyola College.
Similarly, Kris Gopalakrishnan, a co-founder of Infosys, graduated from IIT Madras, but has donated $1.8 million to Carnegie Mellon University to conduct research on brain function, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease.
His donation also funds research in disciplines such as machine learning and imaging technology to attempt to address important questions concerning neuro-degeneration and the aging process, according to the Indiaspora report.