Mr Ratan N. Tata was the Chairman of Tata Sons, the Tata Group’s holding company, from 1991 till his retirement on December 28, 2012. During his tenure, the Group’s revenues grew manifold, totalling over 100 billion in 2011-12. He is the Chairman of the Tata Trusts which are amongst India’s oldest, non-sectarian philanthropic organizations that work in several community development areas and has achieved several feats. Mr Tata received the second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2008.
“We must ask ourselves, can we make a difference? Can we be innovative and creative and not just look at the money value of what we’ve done but the contribution it has made to our humanity and our human population in India? So we should be humble; at the same time, attentive to the needs, looking for opportunities.” – Mr Ratan Tata.
Mr Ratan Tata is no ordinary man. Recognized as one of India’s leading philanthropist moguls, he has transformed a million lives in his lifetime and continues to do so. When he was bestowed with the honour of the Padma Bhushan Award for his distinguished service towards the country by former Indian President K. R. Narayanan, he eagerly mentioned to Mr Ratan Tata that he went to university on a Tata scholarship. It’s instances like these that show us what an impact the Tata family has made on billions of lives in India. He continues to use his position at the table’s head to make a difference with his altruistic values.
Mr Tata’s story began as he was working on the shop floor as young man, he saw up close the misery and hardship of the less fortunate and thought about how one can make a difference to improve lives. As he moved up through departments and divisions, he continued to see hardship but had more opportunities to do something about it.
Under his leadership, Tata Sons’ revenue grew over 40 times and profit over 50 times. He was instrumental in the business’ expansion and conceptualization of popular cars like the Tata Nano and the Tata Indica. Now, he’s on a quest to take the Tata Trusts to a different level of relevance in the 21st century to not only maximize the benefits of the company but also find new ways to meaningfully contribute to people’s lives and alleviate the hardships of the common man and the disadvantaged communities.
Mr Tata’s philosophy, as described by his interview with Stanford Social Innovation Review, is, “I think you want to be doing things that make a difference. If you cannot make a difference, it’s just water trickling through a tap or leaking through a drainage system; it’s wasteful. Dr. Jonas Salk must have had a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when he developed the polio vaccine. Similarly, I think going after causes where you make a difference, rather than scratch the surface, is very much in keeping with the trend in new philanthropic endeavors.”
He has carried out various programs to help the disadvantaged communities. One of India’s significant challenges he has sought out to correct has been in how we are combating malnutrition. Mr Tata embarked on a program to providing nutrients to infants. But after a few weeks of research, they realized that would not be possible without getting the mother involved who was equally as malnourished. They decided to take a holistic approach to this problem by applying sanitation, hygiene, and education and treat it at the root cause. They started at the village level and got tremendous support from other philanthropic organizations and state governments.
The Saathi Internet program was another excellent example of the Trust teaming up with a corporation. They are also working with Google to help rural women understand the Internet and give them a means of securing their livelihood. It’s a new philanthropy model for the trusts and not the kind of project they have gotten into earlier. They are also working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle diarrhoea.
Looking back on the legacy that he now finds himself the custodian of, Mr Ratan Tata reflects less on his forefathers’ significant industrial advancements. Instead, it’s his grandmother that made the most profound impact on him. His grandmother raised him after his parents split up and taught him the importance of values and helping people in need. Her generosity and her duty to help the less fortunate have stayed with him. “She had homes for the poor all over the country. She operated in that way not to gain visibility for herself, but because she was very kind-hearted and passionate in terms of doing away with misery.”, rest assured she would be happy about the impact that Tata Trusts are having to this day.
Mr Ratan Tata has found the balance of strategic leadership and an innate desire for a better world, telling Livemint, “I have become more sensitive to the pain and the suffering that exists. I am more involved with where we should do more and where we should be bolder in terms of the amount of money that we allocate.”
During the pandemic, Mr Tata did not shy away from the big task at hand. The Tata Group–Tata Trusts and Tata Sons was the first to donate a whopping sum of ₹1,500 crores towards the coronavirus relief fund.
The government utilized the funds for providing protective equipment to medical personnel, respiratory systems for treating increasing cases, testing kits to ramp up testing in the country, and setting up treatment facilities for those who have already caught the virus. It will also train health workers and the general public to empower them against coronavirus.
Mr Ratan Tata’s advice to other philanthropists is, “Do thorough research before deciding where to get involved. A lot of money is less effectively used than it could be because an organization has not done enough research. Today, a large amount of philanthropy in India is deployed in traditional forms like building a temple or a hospital. India has to move into a more sophisticated form of philanthropy that is designed to make a difference rather than just building edifices.”
He continues to be one of India’s leading humanitarians, striving towards a better county and a better world. A tribute to a beautiful human that does his best to uplift and enhance the lives of others.