Nita Ambani and India’s ‘Billionaire Wives’ club expand philanthropy to women’s issues, pandemic
- The Reliance Foundation chair and wife of billionaire Mukesh Ambani launched digital platform Her Circle on International Women’s Day
- Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, powerful women like Ambani, Sudha Murthy, and Natasha Poonawalla have boosted their philanthropic efforts
“In return I’ve strived to pass on my learnings to others,” said Ambani, who has been described by Forbes as the “First Lady of Indian Business”. She is a non-executive director of her husband’s Reliance Industries, which is worth US$80 billion.
India’s wealthiest states, including Maharashtra which is home to the financial capital Mumbai has recently seen a surge in cases, with authorities mainly blaming crowding and an overall reluctance to wear masks.
Sudha Murthy, 70, the chairwoman of Infosys, India’s second-largest IT company with total assets worth US$13 billion, has donated over US$14 million to relief efforts. Infosys also opened a hospital in Bangalore for Covid-19 patients equipped with ventilators, testing kits, and protective gear for healthcare workers. Some of the organisation’s donation funds were also invested in expanding hospital capacity for treatment of poor Covid-19 patients.
The organisation has also joined hands with various non-profits to provide food, rations, grocery and hygiene kits to the needy.
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Murthi and her husband Narayana who co-founded Infosys in 1981 also donated about US$7.5 million from their personal funds toward Covid-19 relief work to facilitate supply of food and essential groceries to the migrant labourers and daily wage earners who lost their livelihoods during the lockdown.
This is in addition to other initiatives she has supported through the Infosys Foundation, including establishing digital technology classes in 1,000 government higher primary schools across the state of Karnataka in a US$3 million initiative.
Natasha Poonawalla, 39, head of the Villoo Poonawalla Foundation, has focused on its Clean City movement launched in 2015 in her home city Pune to boost its environmental and waste management practices, by building toilets in Mumbai and Pune and setting up water treatment plants.
Clare Lizamit Samling, assistant professor of gender at Kolkata University’s department of sociology, noted that some of these women came from humble beginnings.
“Not all these women came from rich families when they married, but they leveraged their circumstances in a way that they are now in a position to help millions.”
Nita Ambani came from a middle-class family in suburban Mumbai and was a schoolteacher who commuted by public transport until she married Mukesh in 1985.
“In a patriarchal country like India, where girls are given fewer opportunities and have to try really hard to make a mark, such optics can be life-transforming,” Samling said.
Gender equality has largely remained elusive in India’s male-centric society – the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index published last year, that measures gender parity in areas such as economic participation, education and political empowerment, found India had slipped to 112th position among the 153 economies sampled.
Sociologist Kamei Aphun of Delhi University said India’s female philanthropists were living examples of the benefits of empowering women and having a progressive society.
“Any type of philanthropy has a far-reaching impact on society and individuals,” he said.
“But when women do it, it means they had a nurturing ecosystem around them, which also empowered them to help others. This is a very powerful message.”