Philanthropy in Indian American Community

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
—Winston Churchill

By Inder Singh
Philanthropy is an act of contributing personal wealth, goods, time, and/or effort to charitable or similar causes to promote the common good. People donate for a variety of reasons – to promote a worthy or favorite cause, reduce income and estate taxes, or simply share with the society which has given them the opportunity to achieve and earn. There are several examples of Americans who have given back to community for worthy causes. Andrew Carnegie, the Ford family, the Rockefeller family, Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates, and many more who gave substantial amount and also took advantage of deductions that reduce the high tax rates on their income. 

Among Indian Americans, there are some socially conscious individuals who have donated liberally for various causes over the years. In 1912, there was Jawala Singh who had become a successful potato farmer in the San Joaquin valley of California. Singh had started as an unskilled farm laborer in America and within a short span of a few years, he worked his way up to become a wealthy potato farmer. He was motivated to fund the Guru Gobind Singh Sahib Educational Scholarships, which were given to students through a competition held in India for higher studies at an American university. He also contributed towards the purchase of a hostel in Berkley, California by the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society, where Indian students could stay rent-free. Singh’s scholarships helped some Indian students, including Gobind Behari Lal who came for graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 1912. Gobind Behari Lal later became the science editor of San Francisco Examiner from 1925 to 1982 and in 1937 was the first Indian to win the coveted Pulitzer Prize.

After the liberalization of United States immigration laws in 1965, Indians who migrated to the USA were previously educated and qualified as doctors, engineers, accountants and high-tech professionals. A majority of the students from India also adopted America as their new home after acquiring higher education from American universities. Thus, higher education and professional qualifications helped them to secure high level jobs providing a gateway to middle-class life. Over a period of time, several became successful professionals and entrepreneurs resulting in some donating generously towards community causes. These affluent Indian Americans have been transforming the Indian philanthropic landscape by funding educational projects, establishing hospitals, and supporting medical research that benefit the public at large. Some have gifted part of their wealth for local causes in the US where they have earned their wealth while others reached back to their roots and gave for India-centric projects. There are some who have directed their contributions to both India and America. These donors first used their energy, abilities and time to acquire wealth and then they walked away from part of it if not all, to give back to the society that had given them. Almost all the wealthy philanthropists who have given large donations have gifted to established institutions benefitting the society at large. But, whether the beneficiary is Indian society or American, Indian American philanthropists are making a noticeable difference with their increasing level of generosity.

Rajendra Vattikuti made his fortune resolving computer software problems connected with Y2K and donated $40 million in 2001 to support cancer research. That gift established the Vattikuti Urology Institute at the Henry Ford Health System and the Vattikuti Cancer Institute at William Beaumont Hospitals in Detroit. Monte Ahuja, like most of the students who came in the 1950s and 1960, brought barely enough money to buy food for a day. Monte founded Transtar Industries and built it into the most successful after-market transmission parts distributor in the world. He donated $30 million to University Hospital in Cleveland for the Ahuja Medical Center in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood. The dedication ceremony of the first phase of the 53-acre health care campus on November 13, 2010 included ribbon cutting featuring Monte Ahuja, his wife Usha, daughters Ritu and Manisha, and son-in-law Neil Sethi. Monte and Usha Ahuja’s donation was the largest single donation in the 140-year history of that university. 

Gururaj Deshpande, co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks in Boston, Massachusetts, and his wife Jaishree Deshpande, established the Deshpande Center for Technology Innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) School of Engineering with a $20 million gift in 2002. The Deshpande Foundation funds over 50 NGOs in India in the areas of agriculture, microfinance, livelihood, education and health. Dr Kiran Patel and his wife Dr Pallavi Patel gave $18.5 million in 2005 to the University of South Florida to build the Kiran C Patel Center for Global Solutions on that university campus. The large donation entitled the university to get state matching funds of $16 million totaling the donation worth $34.5-million. Both the Patels have contributed generously to several other philanthropic projects in Tampa, Florida, such as a performing arts conservatory and a research center at Pepin Heart Hospital. In India they have set up a rural village restoration project in Gujarat while in Zambia they have set up Patel Hospice Center in Lusaka, Zambia and a heart hospital in Dar-e-Salaam, Tanzania. 

Vinod Gupta, founder and CEO of InfoUSA, has set up Vinod Gupta Charitable Foundation and established the Vinod Gupta School of Management and the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur and Shrimati Ram Rati Gupta Women's College at his birth place Rampur, William Jefferson Clinton Science and Technology Center, and Hillary Rodham Clinton Mass Communication Center for Journalism and Media Management. Raj Soin, chairman of MTC Technologies in Dayton, Ohio, through his Raj and Indu Soin Family Foundation donated $20 million to establish Raj Soin College of Business at Wright State University, supports the Soin Scholar Program, which funds the MBA education at Wright State University for three graduates every year from Delhi College of Engineering, his alma mater and has established a non-profit 55-bed Sukh Dev Raj Soin Hospital in rural Haryana. In September 2009, the Soin Foundation donated $3 million to Dayton, Ohio’s trauma and emergency center for 
children which was also renamed, Soin Pediatric Trauma and Emergency Center. 

Krishan Joshi, founder and chairman of UES, Inc, a high-technology research company in Dayton, Ohio established the Krishan and Vicky Joshi Research Center in 2006 at the Wright State University College of Engineering and Computer Science with his donation of $10 million. John P. Kapoor, a native of Amritsar, who came to the USA for graduate studies with a fellowship from the University of Buffalo, in Buffalo, New York, gave $11 million towards the construction of new building for the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2008. Dr. Romesh Wadhwani, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with over two decades of leadership and management experience in the technology industry, donated $5 million in 2008 for bioscience center to his alma mater Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay where he had received a bbachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

Anand Julka and his wife, Dr. Neeraj Julka donated $6 million in May 2010 for scholarships to graduates of Cleveland's high schools to pursue degrees in teaching, nursing, engineering and computer science. Julka’s gift is the largest in Cleveland State University (CSU) history. The university will name the education and human services building as Julka Hall. Julka obtained a master's degree in industrial engineering from CSU in 1974. He serves on the board of the CSU Foundation. He is a mechanical engineering graduate of Indian Institute of Technology in India. He is the president and founder of Cleveland, Ohio based information technology company Smart Solutions Inc. Dr. Prem Sagar Reddy, a cardiologist in Victorville donated $1 million to Victor Valley Community College District Foundation to support School of Allied Health and Nursing in 2003. He has also donated about $8 million to various health care causes. Bhupesh Parikh and his wife Kumud contributed $1 million for the Bhupesh Parikh Health Sciences and Technology building at Glendale Community College, California. Dr. Ushakant Thakkar and his Indonesian wife Dr. Irma Thakkar donated $1mllion to Simi Valley (California) Hospital in August 2010, for the expansion of emergency room services. They own and operate Kidney Center of Simi Valley – a renal dialysis center – near the hospital.

—To be continued

Inder Singh regularly writes and speaks on Indian Diaspora. He is Chairman of Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO). He was president of GOPIO from 2004-2009, president of National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) from 1988-92 and was the founding president of Federation of Indian Associations in Southern California. He can be reached at

February 2011

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