An entrepreneur with philanthropic philosophy

Over a cuppa

An entrepreneur with philanthropic philosophy

His life has seen a roller coaster ride—from confusion in the initial stages to grand success. A Princeton University drop out, Manoj Bhargava, a philanthropist and an entrepreneur, is estimated to be worth four billion US dollars, according to the Forbes magazine.

Bhargava is said to have made millions from “5-hour energy”, two ounce caffeine and vitamin elixir. But unlike the others from his ilk, Bhargava has committed over 90 per cent of his wealth to charitable causes. He has established an NGO in India, which currently has been operating several developmental projects in the hill state of Uttarakhand. He visits his country of birth quite frequently.

Born in Lucknow, Bhargava had once worked as a construction labour, cleaning contractor, accounting clerk, taxi driver, printing press operator and business manager. Bhargava set up The Hans Foundation (THF), which is a charitable trust fund, in 2009.

The foundation has been supporting at least 151 organisation across 25 states and union territories, with 406 completed and many ongoing projects in the areas of healthcare, education, disability, livelihood, water and sanitation.

The foundation provides grants and financial aid to grassroots organisations that directly serve the communities and also partners with larger international organisations for increased impact and large-scale work. Deccan Herald's Sanjay Pandey spoke to Bhargava.

Excerpts:
What prompted you to turn to philanthropy?
I feel that anyone who has more than they need has a responsibility to the poor. It’s not that I woke up one day and turned to philanthropy, it’s a sense of duty. Helping the poor is the best thing someone can do with their money. I’ve never been interested in buying wasteful things.

Why is that we find very few philanthropists in India?
I’m not sure about that; you’ll have to check with those people about their
commitments. I’m not too concerned with that. I’m more focused on our work. Maybe we’ll inspire some people to get into philanthropy.
Yours seem to be rags to riches story--from a construction labour to owner of a company.

What's your success formula?
There’s no set formula, a lot of it is just to use your common sense in business and to have determination, but I also feel you need a little bit of luck.

Any reason behind selecting Uttarakhand for development?
Uttarakhand is source of the Ganga river and the cradle of Indian civilisation. A lot of wise thoughts and good ideas have their origins in Uttarakhand. We felt that it was the right place to scale up our effo­rts because they are of manageable size, the people really need our support, and the government has been very supportive. It’s very important for a government to allow organisations such as ours to work freely and remove bureaucratic obstacles. The Uttarakhand government is very enthusiastic about working with us.

You are from Lucknow. Any plans for UP?
We are supporting quite a lot of work in UP. We have partnered with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and they are doing some amazing work. I went there last year. I really enjoyed seeing what they have done with their women’s empowerment movement.

Which area do you think need more attention in India?
It’s important to clearly identify the cause of some of the major issues, and then come up with a solution. For example, we found out that the best way of bringing medical relief to some of these poor communities wasn’t through recruiting thousands of doctors. It’s by giving them clean drinking water and an adequate diet. I really believe self-pro­­c­laimed experts tend to make issues far more complicated than they really are.

Your son too has joined social service? Were you his inspiration?
I’m not quite sure what his inspiration was, but early on he decided he wasn’t very interested in working in the business world and making lots of money. In fact, after he graduated from college, he left his first job in just  a few months. Since then he’s been working for the foundation. His job is to find simple scalable solutions to issues in rural villages. He has found quite a few of the projects we are scaling up.

What’s your idea of charity?
My idea of charity is any project that significantly reduces suffering for poor.

How would you evaluate the performance of the NGOs in India?
Some of the best NGOs are in India. Some are truly amazing and some people have sacrificed a lot to run these NGOs. But there are a few others that are very bad and they take advantage of people. Our job is to find the best ones and work with them.

Were your parents also into philanthropy?
My parents have supported many NGOs over the years. They have also supported many scholarship progra­mmes for hard working students. Many students with good grades have quit because they can’t afford higher education. My parents gave them scholarships.

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