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Partnerships that Matter: Improving Children's Lives in Rural India
September 09, 2010
Sanjith Shetty, Vice Chairman of Soham Energy, managed government approvals, construction, and operation of two hydro-electric power plants in his native India, and six more are in various stages of development. While pleased with Soham’s commercial accomplishments, Shetty (Daytime MBA ’95) is most proud of the work done by his company’s charitable arm, the Soham Foundation.
The foundation promotes childhood education and health. For example, while on a project site in 2003, Shetty noticed some children walking nearly five miles to school through adverse terrain. And because of the conditions, he discovered that some parents withdrew their daughters from school. So Soham started a transportation service, giving parents the peace of mind to re-enroll their daughters in school. Originally intended for 20 students, it now serves more than 70.
The Soham Foundation supports childhood education further by setting up computer labs complete with curriculum and trained teachers—an initiative also supported by Wipro, one of the world’s largest IT companies. The foundation also provides health insurance and healthcare services to about 2,500 children, and brought solar power to remote villages that would not have been connected to an electrical grid for another five years.
“We believe we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go before we can sit back and be satisfied,” Shetty said. “In the meantime, what is encouraging is that we are now being inundated with requests from numerous schools to implement one or the other of our programs.”
India’s government also recently recognized the foundation’s efforts by granting them a status wherein private donations made to the foundation are tax exempt. “With private contributions that are matched by the company, we are now able to increase the reach of our programs and their beneficiaries, literally on a monthly basis,” Shetty explained.
“What has earned us the love of our local villagers and the respect of our government is that we have been doing these activities since 2004, years before our first power plant got commissioned,” he said. “What makes us stand out is the fact that we don’t do what everyone else does—plough profits into [charitable] programs. Instead we make them a part of our business plan.”
In addition to serving his home country, Shetty also gives back to his alma mater. He's a Fuqua alumni club leader in Bangalore, serves on The Duke India Advisory Board, and was one of the top interviewers for MBA candidates each year in India for nearly a decade.
“Two years at Fuqua did so much for me, and so I resolved to be a brand ambassador for the school,” he said. “It was this desire to do my bit for an institution that has done so much for me—and also the desire to be a source of support for scores of young and bright students from India—that has been my inspiration to do what little I have done.”
Modest as he may be, it’s clear that Shetty has done more than just a little.