Nandan & Rohini Nilekani   

By Sophie Tolias
Name Nandan & Rohini Nilekani
Occupation Nandan is the co-founder of Infosys. Rohini is a former journalist and author. Both are philanthropists.
Category Business
Country of Residence India

Why we felt they needed to be included in this list: Nandan and Rohini Nilekani are known for their extensive philanthropy work. In 2017, the couple pledged to donate 50 percent of their wealth under the Giving Pledge, saying that wealth comes with huge responsibility and is best deployed for the larger public interest. Past contributions include $5 million US to the Indian Institute of Technology and a $21.4 million US endowment to Arghyam, a foundation set up by Rohini which addresses water and sanitation issues. The two have also set up the EkStep Foundation, an open-learning platform that has pooled resources to advance literacy and numeracy.

Nandan Nilekani co-founded Infosys, an Indian multinational corporation that provides business consulting, information technology and outsourcing services, in 1981. He served as CEO of the company from March 2002 to April 2007, when he relinquished his position and became co-chairman of the board of directors.

He left the company in July 2009 to serve as the chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, a cabinet-ranking position offered to him by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, where he was responsible for implementing the Multipurpose National Identity Card, or Unique Identity Card project in India. He is a member of the board of governors of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and the president of NCAER. He also sits on several advisory boards, including those of the World Economic Forum Foundation and the Bombay Heritage Fund. Nilekani has published Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation and Rebooting India: Realizing a Billion Aspirations, and he spoke at a TED conference in 2009 on his ideas for India’s future.

Nilekani joined the Indian National Congress in March 2014 and contested from the Bangalore South constituency where he lost to the BJP candidate in the Lok Sabha election. In 2017, he returned to Infosys as a non-executive chairman.

Slowly, ideas lead to ideology, lead to policies that lead to actions. – Nandan Nilekani

His wife, Rohini, spent several years as a journalist, working with Bombay Magazine, India Today, Mint and The Times of India. She’s an author with a published novel and several children’s books. In 2008, she conceptualized and hosted the television show, Uncommon Ground for NDTV and a book based on the show was published in 2011. She sits on the board of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment and is also on the Eminent Persons Advisory Group of the Competition Commission of India. Between 2010 and 2012, she was a member of the Audit Advisory Board of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. And, in 2017, Rohini was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Together, the couple is known for their extensive philanthropy work.

In 2004, Rohini co-founded and funded Pratham Books, a non-profit publisher of children’s books that seeks to democratize the joy of reading and put a book in every child’s hand. By the time she retired as chairperson in 2014, Pratham Books had touched the lives of millions of children with its captivating, locally-set stories in multiple Indian languages.

Arghyam was founded in 2005 to support sustainable water and sanitation solutions. The Bengaluru-based charitable foundation was funded by a personal endowment of $21.4 million US from Rohini. Arghyam (meaning ‘offering’ in Sanskrit) achieves safe and sustainable water by funding and partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations to design and implement solutions. In the last 13 years, they have built their presence in 22 states, addressing the issue of water security for vulnerable communities. And they aim to continue strengthening the ability of the ecosystem to enable water security for 100 million people by 2023.

In 2008, Nandan set up the Indian Institute for Human Settlements to help to solve urban challenges for India. He is also known for giving a $5 million US donation to rebuild the hostel campus of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, his alma mater.

Together, in 2014, the couple set up the EkStep Foundation to improve literacy and numeracy by increasing access to learning opportunities for 200 million children in India by 2020. The education non-profit’s focus has been to build digital infrastructure that would amplify the efforts of a large ecosystem of institutions and organizations working on learning across the country.

We have a right to do our duty but no automatic right to the fruits from the doing. It is critical that we do not slip into inaction fearing that we may not be able to reap direct reward. It is to this ideal that we pledge. – Rohini Nilekani

An initiative of EkStep, Rohini strongly advocates the idea of Societal Platform, a systemic method to resolve complex societal challenges with speed, at scale, sustainably by binding together collaboration, co-creation and technology.

The couple was awarded a Forbes India Philanthropy Award in the Outstanding Philanthropist category in 2013.

In 2017, the power couple signed on to the Giving Pledge, a movement organized by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, committing to give away half their wealth, pegged at 1.7 billion US.

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