Vinod Gupta Charitable Foundation a vehicle for philanthropy
Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist, was one of the richest men in world history. Immigrating to America when he was a young teenager, Carnegie got his first job at a textile mill earning $1.20 a week but eventually amassed an enormous wealth by building up his steel business and became worth the equivalent of $309 billion today –– for context, Jeff Bezos is currently worth $177 billion. After selling his company Carnegie dedicated his life to philanthropic efforts, spending the least several years of his life donating the majority of his fortune to universities, libraries and other public causes. In his book The Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie famously wrote “the man who dies…rich dies disgraced.”
Over a century later, entrepreneur and philanthropist Vinod Gupta is following in Carnegie’s footsteps. Gupta also immigrated to the United States, arriving in the country with a single suitcase and $58 to his name. He started his business with a loan of just $100 and grew it to an international company with over $750 million in yearly revenues, a feat which has allowed him the ability to contribute greatly to the causes he supports. Gupta has publicly pledged to donate all of his wealth to charity, refusing to become “the richest man in the graveyard.”
In order to create effective change, Gupta founded the Vinod Gupta Charitable Foundation as a vehicle for his philanthropic efforts. Gupta’s foundation has contributed across the spectrum, from creating scholarships to wildlife preservation to building an entire women’s complex, but at the heart of every contribution made is the goal of creating accessibility to quality education. Having experienced firsthand the way education can be empowering, Gupta has sought to pay it forward and ensure others are able to access the same opportunities he has, no matter their location, age or gender.
An emphasis on education
Gupta was born in Rampur Maniharan, a village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. His father was the local physician for the small rural community, and impressed upon Gupta the importance of education from a young age. He personally tutored Gupta in maths and sciences after school, and thanks to his efforts and Gupta’s hard work he was accepted to the technical and research university IIT Kharagpur after graduating high school. Studying agricultural engineering, Gupta met visiting professor Dr. Bill Splinter during his time at the university who became a mentor to him and inspired him to continue his studies into the postgraduate level. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Gupta left the country he had known his whole life for the brave new world of Lincoln, Nebraska to attend the University of Nebraska where Dr. Splinter was based. He received his master’s degree in agricultural engineering from the university, and went on to complete a master of business administration degree as well. It was the completion of this education that taught Gupta to think for himself, a trait that would be instrumental in his path of entrepreneurship, and the reason that he is now seeking through philanthropy to ensure that many others have the opportunity to do so as well.
Paying homage to his humble origins in a humongous way, Gupta and his foundation established the Ramrati Institute of Technology in his home village. Starting out as a small polytechnical school, his commitment to the project has seen it grow into a full-blown educational complex covering 25 acres of land. The complex houses a science and technology center, nursing school, paramedical sciences institute and women’s center, and resources such as a 300-seat auditorium, a seven-acre sports complex, 20 laboratories and a library with over 20,000 books. More than just an educational center, the complex places an emphasis on cultivating an enthusiasm and passion for learning in its students just as Gupta’s father and his teachers at the small village school originally did for him. Former President of the United States Bill Clinton traveled all the way to Rampur Maniharan to lay the foundation stone for the science and technology center which was named in his honor.
While Gupta’s father emphasized the importance of education, it was his mother who taught him to see that women are often afforded even less opportunities than men in the world. He promised her that later in life he would not forget that lesson, and has upheld that promise through the Ramrati Educational Complex. Women and girls who attend the complex are offered free lunches, free bicycles to use while on the campus, a 50 percent discount on admission fees and no fees at all for admittance to the nursing school and lower kindergarten. Within the complex, Gupta also established a women’s center with the goal of providing quality education and empowering the rural Indian women. Within the center classes such as fashion design, pottery and computer skills are provided to help women develop practical skills that can be used to begin making an income, and they are also given legal rights education to help empower them to be more independent. Thanks to the women’s center, Gupta is not only aiding women who missed out on the opportunity for quality education in their youth, but stopping the cycle by also helping the young girls of rural communities build for themselves a more promising future.
The American dream in the United States and India
Although Gupta had garnered a large amount of technical knowledge from his degrees in agricultural engineering, the allure of the American dream proved to pull at his inherent entrepreneurial spirit. His first job after completing his formal education was at a mobile home manufacturing company, where he was hired to perform market research. It was not long into his time at the position when he was assigned the task of creating a list of mobile home dealers in the country that the business could potentially sell to. The request itself was simple, but Gupta soon found that the resources they gave him to complete it were inadequate, being either dated or incomplete. Taking the initiative to correct this, he proceeded to order every single Yellow Pages directory available in the United States, which began turning up at volumes so great they completely filled the reception area of his company.
Gupta’s boss didn’t believe that his idea would be the best use of company time, but Gupta was certain that while the task may be laborious the payoff would far outweigh the time spent. As a compromise, his boss allowed him to keep the directories so long as he moved them out of the office and worked on the project on his own time. Gupta moved the Yellow Pages to his garage, where he spent his nights and weekends working to pool together every single mobile home dealer in the United States. With dedication and effort he completed the project, and as a courtesy to his company offered them the ability to purchase exclusive rights to the list. When they declined, he began selling it to their competitors, and after just one month had received over $35,000 in offers for it. He was soon able to quit his day job and found his own company, hiring employees to build lists for other industries. Growing in-tandem with the information age, over the course of three decades Gupta ensured his business kept up with the fast-evolving technology and consistently updated their means of acquiring and distributing information. Having gone from a stack of Yellow Pages in his garage to an international publicly traded company, Gupta undoubtedly achieved the elusive American dream.
While still ultimately being focused on education, Gupta in particular has sought to help other entrepreneurs such as himself find the success he has. At his American alma mater the University of Nebraska, Gupta donated $2 million so that it could establish a curriculum for small business management. In this way, students of the program could become better prepared for the difficulties that are inherent to those first couple years of entrepreneurship. He also established a scholarship fund that provides financial aid to minority students who are seeking to enter its science and engineering schools. Gupta’s own trek to the United States was only made possible by scholarships, and through the scholarship he hopes to enable others to seek opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.
While thankful for his time and education in the United States, Gupta is also passionate about helping those who remain in India reach their full potential. He has said that America’s promotion of individual entrepreneurship and freedom are what drives the success possible in the United States, but with the right tools similar success stories can unfold in India as well. In the state of Uttar Pradesh where his village is located, he contributed to the establishment of the Dr. Giri Lal Gupta School For Public Health and the Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma Institute Of Democracy at the University of Lucknow, programs that will contribute to the overall growth of India.
To his alma mater IIT Kharagpur, he donated $2 million toward founding the Vinod Gupta School of Management so that those gaining technical knowledge could also have the practical skills of business management needed to start their own companies and take full advantage of the advancements they were working on. Based on the Sloan School of Management at MIT in the United States, the program similarly offers both a traditional two-year degree in which students attend school full time as well as a three-year degree that enables students to continue working while completing the program. He and his foundation also worked with IIT Kharagpur to help establish its first law school, the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property. Although primarily an engineering and technology university, Gupta knew that as the students of the school innovated new products and technologies they would need the knowledge of how to protect those developments, and the school is now ranked as the second-best law school in the entire country.
Altogether, Gupta has donated over $50 million to causes he believes in with an overarching theme of education. Power, status or wealth have never been the driving factor behind Gupta’s entrepreneurial success. His main purpose has always been to build a better world and help others arise from the circumstances they were born into. The contributions he has made have already changed the lives of millions of people, and with his pledge to give away all of his money still standing it remains to be seen how the world will be changed for the better by him in the future.