Sudha Murty talks about the Aarohan Awards and what it takes to scale social innovation in India
Engineer, teacher, author, and philanthropist – Sudha Murty wears many hats. As an author, she has just released her 30th book. As Chairperson of Infosys Foundation, she has launched the Aarohan Social Innovation Awards for social impact entrepreneurs. And she does this all with the cheerfulness and simplicity that is a part of her DNA. I caught up with her last Friday to discover the person behind the persona and came away feeling uplifted. This is part one of the video series.
Sudha Murty is no stranger to struggle, hardships and challenges. And she has always come out on top of it all with an innate strength that you cannot miss when you meet her. She has a fire within her to help and light up lives. And it's so visible when you look into her eyes. Aarohan Social Innovation Awards is one such effort from her to help innovators and social entrepreneurs who need support to make their dreams come true.
She remembers the obstacles that her family faced when her husband, Narayana Murthy, was in the process of setting up Infosys more than 35 years ago. Back then, she recalls, there were no angel investors, no early-stage seed funds to help entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. It was a time when society looked down upon entrepreneurs. If some made money, people thought it was because they were doing something illegal. The young couple, living in a rented house and raising two children, took it all in their stride and kept going.
"During the ups and downs - all part of our work - I used to tell Murthy…we may lose the battle, but we will win the war," she recalls.
And so they did.
What every entrepreneur needs are great family support and some financial help. "It is hard earned experience that has taught me that a small helping hand goes a long way in helping someone, who wants to rise, make that leap.”
A new chapter with Infosys Foundation
Twelve years after it was set up, Infosys Foundation wants to do its bit for entrepreneurs looking to create social impact. The Aarohan Social Innovation Awards, launched on October 15, seeks to accelerate innovation in the social impact space and "recognize and reward individuals, teams or NGOs that are developing unique solutions for the social sector that have the potential to positively impact the underprivileged in India, at scale."
Since 1996, the CSR and philanthropic arm of Infosys has spent over Rs 1,100 crore to help others. For Sudha Murty, however, it isn't about the money but the lives they have touched. "We have worked with people whom society shuns. We have set up 60,000 libraries, 14,000 toilets, and built thousands of houses in the aftermath of a dozen national calamities."
And yet, Sudha humbly says that when compared to India’s problems as developing country without the kind of social welfare that developed nations provide, there is so much more they need to and want to, do.
"I only wish I had 2 percent CSR from the beginning. We could have done so much more. And I was also younger at that time," she laughs.
She takes pride in the fact that they work directly with the people and not via NGOs. "Unless you work with them, unless you understand their difficulties, you will not understand the solution...a chequebook solution is always easy. But sitting with people, talking to them, sympathizing with them…sometimes (with) money, sometimes a good talk, a pat on the back, all that matters in real life."
It is not easy to succeed or even to keep going in the face of challenges - she knows that first-hand. But she genuinely wants people to stay the course. Whether it is good times or bad ones, nothing lasts, she points out before quoting The Bhagavad Gita: your mind is your best friend and your worst enemy.
"Ultimately, perseverance pays in life. Patience pays in life...(It doesn't matter) How intelligent you are, how well off you are, or how well-connected you are. Your perseverance, your courage - if you keep that intact, only such people will always be successful," she says in a way that would soothe the most frustrated of souls.
Her voice carries the warmth of the pat on the back she spoke about earlier. And sometimes, that’s all you need.
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