Philanthropist Sudha Murty on finding her life’s purpose in serving people

Acclaimed author and philanthropist Sudha Murty talks to YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma on what it takes to be successful and follow one’s passions. Be dependent on yourself, and know that courage has to be born within you, she told everyone present at HerStory’s Women on a Mission Summit.

Philanthropist and acclaimed author Sudha Murty at HerStory's Women on a Mission Summit

“You should never worry about being in the limelight. It is like a revolving camera,” says philanthropist, award-winning author, and Padma Shri, Sudha Murty, who, nevertheless, stole the limelight at HerStory’s Women on a Mission Summit, charming all those present with her wit and wisdom.

In a fireside chat with YourStory Founder & CEO Shradha Sharma, Sudha Murty urged the more than 700 women who participated at the Women on a Mission Summit to focus on pursuing their passions, and letting their actions do the talking, rather than vying for attention or being affected by what people say.

“What you should worry about is what you like to do, as long as what you like to do is morally and ethically right,” she said.

She had the audience in splits when she added that this does not mean people should turn around and say that stealing is their passion, because it is unethical to do that.

As Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, where Sudha Murty works with people from different walks of life, she believes she has found her purpose in life in serving people. At Infosys Foundation, the non-profit arm of the IT company, Sudha Murty has dedicated her life to serving the underprivileged by empowering them through education, poverty alleviation, healthcare, public hygiene, education, and art and culture.

“Serving people has bought me a tremendous amount of calmness. Nothing else matters to me now,” says Sudha Murty, who credits her daughter for waking her up from her slumber, and forcing her to reflect on the purpose of her life over two decades ago. At the time, Sudha Murty was the Head of Department of Computer Science at Bangalore University.

“My daughter asked me: ‘A person like you who is well-read and well-travelled, what do you expect in life? Do you want to be glamorous? Do you want to spend your time in technology? Or do you want to spend your time with your large family? What do you want to do in life?”

This made Sudha Murty, who was around 45 years old at the time, question her purpose in life. She found herself asking herself at the time, “What is there to do with my life? I thought I could enjoy the fruits of my labour, but what does ‘enjoy’ mean? Was it to make money, win awards, have children, or get more doctorates?”

Shortly thereafter, Sudha Murty resigned from her full-time position in the University, choosing to take up a consulting professor role instead, and became one of the first trustees of Infosys Foundation, which was established in 1996. Since then, Sudha Murty has led various initiatives by the Infosys Foundation to build hospitals, schools, orphanages, rehabilitation centres, as well as more than 14,000 toilets and over 60,000 libraries for the underprivileged sections of the society.

To be clear, Sudha Murty has always excelled in whatever task she has set her mind to. “The first 24 years of my life, I excelled in academics, for myself. In the next 20 years, I helped my husband, so that he could have an adventure called Infosys,” she said, drawing loud applause from the audience, when she referred to her husband, Narayana Murthy, the legendary Co-founder of Indian tech giant Infosys, and one of India’s most celebrated entrepreneurs.

And yet, one of Sudha Murty’s defining moments in her life was when 3,000 rehabilitated sex workers arranged a thanksgiving ceremony for her after 18 years of tirelessly working with them to empower them to lead a normal life.

“I went there on the stage and the 3,000 of them, who were now leading normal lives, wanted to hear from me and I was absolutely speechless. The tears started to flow and I quoted a shloka from Ramayana: ‘God… don’t make me rich, don’t make me beautiful, don’t make me a queen. If at all you want to give me anything, give me a soft heart and a strong hand, so I can wipe the tears of others.’ At that moment, I realised why I was born, and it gave me a tremendous amount of peace.”

Last year, the CSR and philanthropic arm of Infosys launched the Aarohan Social Innovation Awards, extending their work beyond philanthropy to recognise entrepreneurs seeking to create social impact and accelerate innovation in the social entrepreneurship and innovation space.

Earlier this year, the Infosys Foundation awarded startups with the Aarohan Social Innovation Awards for their work in six categories: women’s safety and empowerment, healthcare, destitute care, rural development, education and sports, and sustainability.

Already, Infosys Foundation has spent more than Rs 1,100 crore to help the underprivileged, and Sudha Murty says her work with the Infosys Foundation is her primary priority at this stage in her life. And this ability to so successfully prioritise her time for the things that matter is what enables her to multi-task so effectively and don many hats, she says.

Left to right: YourStory Founder & CEO Shradha Sharma, Infosys Foundation Chairperson Sudha Murty, and Intel India Country Head Nivruti Rai at HerStory's Women on a Mission Summit

“Nature is very intelligent. Whether you are good looking or not, whether you are intelligent or not, whether you are rich or not, you only have 24 hours in a day. Just because you’re very good looking, you won’t get 48 hours. That’s the first thing I realised. Whatever your set of problems or difficulties or solutions, you have to accommodate all of them in 24 hours. So where can I squeeze my time? What takes priority? That’s how I work.”

Also Read: Sudha Murty unmasks untold, unusual stories in her growing collection of books

Second only to Infosys Foundation in terms of priority is the time she devotes to thinking and writing, and is selective about the events she is invited to attend. “So I save a lot of time and that’s how I can do a lot of multitasking,” she says, while adding that she also receives a lot of help from people who work with her.

Sudha Murty, who herself faced gender bias right from her engineering college days, believes it’s important to remember that your work will do the talking for you. This attitude is something that has helped her right from her college days--where she was the first and only girl among 150 students to enroll in engineering--and while working as the first female engineer in TELCO.

“It was hard, but I always thought I was on a mission. And this attitude (I had, where I believed) ‘let everyone say everything as long as I am morally and ethically right,’ has helped me throughout.”

In the end, women should let their work do the talking and be dependent on oneself, Sudha Murty says.

“We always believe that someone will help us and that someone will come to our rescue, whether it is our father, brother, children. Actually, there’s a beautiful shloka, which says, ‘Who is your best friend? You, yourself. Who is your worst enemy? You, yourself.’ So please be dependent upon yourself and know that courage has to be born within you. It takes time but you have to work for it.’

She concludes quoting one final shloka,

“What is important in life? ‘Neither your crown, nor your physical beauty, or your flowers or your dress is important. The most important thing is the courage and the conviction you have in your work. That’s the real beauty in you.’ That’s why the most successful person’s beauty is in their work and courage they have.”

A big shout out to HerStory's Women on A Mission Summit sponsors: Co-Presenting Sponsor Microsoft, Sequoia SparkInnovation ValleyNetApp Excellerator,ServifyZOHOMeeshoArctic FoxDROR, and Gifting Partners WoW&Me.


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