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Azim Premji: India's Bill Gates

(Software czar says he plans to give away most of his wealth to charity.)

"Even if I was to give my children a small part of my wealth, it would be more than they can digest in many lifetimes,'' says billionaire software czar Azim Premji, explaining why he, much like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, plans to give away most of his money during his lifetime.
For all his billions, Premji, a dimininutive man with a shock of white hair, is remarkably down-to-earth and unflinchingly courteous, politely declining to answer a question he no doubt has been asked countless times--what is the size of his appropriately named Azim Premji Foundation--and steering the conversation to the work his foundation is doing. It focuses on education, improving standards in India by training teachers, among other things; funding model schools; and is now starting a university to upgrade teaching methods.
"It will be a world-class university with a large endowment,'' says the 64-year-old Premji in a wide-ranging interview at the London offices of Wipro ( WIT - news - people ), the software outsourcing giant he founded and now chairs. Ultimately Premji's hope is that teachers trained at his university will fan out to the teacher training institutes in India's 600 districts. "Most of these institutes are a complete mess,'' says Premji, with the teachers leading the classes worse than the teachers that come to get trained.
Premji's foundation was started nine years ago and is funded solely by Premji. In a September 2006 article, India's Economic Times said Premji had given the foundation stock valued at Rs 450 crore or roughly $101 million. "It was much more than that,'' says Premji, declining to elaborate.
For Premji, philanthropy boils down to a simple philosophy: "To those to whom much is given, much has to be given back."
If the Indian software billionaire, who ranks No. 28 among the richest people in the world with $17 billion to his name, winds up giving away most of his money to charity, he would be a rare breed among Asian entrepreneurs who have tended to pass their wealth onto their children rather than putting it to philanthropic use.

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