New Delhi, June 12, 2018: Guided by the belief that education provides opportunity, B.R. Shetty’s family foundation is building schools in his home country. His focus is shared by quite a few other philanthropists.
B.R. Shetty built a fortune in healthcare, starting more than four decades ago with a single pharmacy in Abu Dhabi that has grown into a chain of hospitals across the United Arab Emirates. To give back, the Indian billionaire is putting his philanthropic efforts toward education. His foundation has built several K-12 schools as well as a medical research institute in northern India, among other initiatives. Shetty recently joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give at least half his net worth to philanthropic causes according to reports published in forbes.com
“Our family believes in ‘Education for all,’” says Reema Shetty, the tycoon’s 38-year-old daughter, who leads her father’s Dr. BR CR Shetty Foundation. “Education enables communities to lift themselves out of poverty, and it provides people with the skills they need to grow.”
Shetty has plenty of company among the world’s philanthropists. A recent report from Swiss bank UBS in conjunction with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Hauser Institute for Civil Society found that 35% of charitable foundations funded education. Other key findings show that charitable foundation assets exceed $1.5 trillion and are heavily concentrated in the United States (60%) and Europe (37%).
Shetty chairs publicly-traded hospital chain NMC Healthcare and is CEO of money exchange firm UAE Exchange. He also has investments in pharmaceutical manufacturing, real estate and more. Forbes estimates his net worth at $4.2 billion. Before building his business empire, Shetty worked in the public sector as the vice chairman of the municipal council in Udupi, a city in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka. Job duties included working to provide proper sanitary facilities and overseeing construction of paved roads, schools, underground drainage systems and residential septic tanks. Shetty immigrated from Karnataka to Abu Dhabi in 1973 to start his first pharmacy and clinic.
Reema says her family’s foundation focuses its resources on matters that are “close to their hearts,” one of which is education. Reema, one of Shetty’s four children, lives in Dubai with her husband and their two sons. So far, the foundation has built more than ten K-12 schools in India, and has provided funding, computers, educational tools and books, furniture and staff to several schools in villages. “Up until recently we have been supporting those who approached us. Now the foundation is proactively looking for projects to support,” says Reema, who added that her father has provided scholarships to fund the education of over 100 people in the last 40 years or so according to forbes.com
The Shetty foundation has been looking globally for educational models to implement. “In much of India, children are taught to memorize facts, and regurgitate information, but in today’s world, we must challenge our children to think critically and to ask questions,” says Reema. “It’s not enough to just build the classrooms, so our foundation partners with organizations that bring an appropriate curriculum into these new spaces.”
To fund some of its philanthropic activities, the Shetty family has tapped its own for-profit institutions. For example, the fees collected from private schools it runs are targeted for building schools and education programs in surrounding rural villages. “We follow a similar model in health, building private hospitals right next to public hospitals, with fees from the private facility supporting the functions of the public hospital,” she says.
The philanthropic work is indeed a family affair: Ten members of her family run the charitable foundation, including Reema’s parents, her three siblings and their respective spouses. The ten then approve or reject projects among themselves, a move she describes as their “biggest asset.”
Reema acknowledges Asia lags behind North America and Europe when it comes to the establishment of philanthropic foundations as legal entities. According to the UBS report, the region sits behind North America and Europe with a combined 13,170 foundations, 583 of which are in India. Reema Shetty believes that the number of foundations in India will increase, based on findings from the report. “If we all work together toward addressing major societal issues, philanthropy in Asia will rise for the betterment of the continent,” she says.