Azim Premji Foundation
The Foundation’s vision is to contribute towards a more just, equitable, humane and sustainable society. Its work is focused on India.
Azim Premji set up the Foundation in 2001. Over the past years, he has irrevocably donated most of his wealth for philanthropic purposes and created a philanthropic endowment valued (as of Jan 2023) at approximately USD 29 billion (INR 2,40,000 crore) to fund the work of the Foundation. As part of this endowment, along with other assets, 66 percent of the economic ownership of Wipro Ltd is with the Foundation.
The Foundation does extensive and deep ‘on-the-ground’ work across the country – both directly through its own operations and through partners. The work spans education to other important areas of equity and human well-being.
Foundation’s Field Institutions
The Foundation works to improve the school education system in India, with a focus on the more disadvantaged areas of the country. The work ranges from teacher capacity development and leadership development to matters of policy and curriculum, including a significant contribution to the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2022.
The Field Institutions are spread across 7 states with over 3,50,000 schools. In addition, the Foundation also works deeply with 7 states in the northeast of the country to help improve the equity and quality of the state school systems. Currently, there are 49 institutions in the field. The Foundation also runs 8 schools for ‘demonstration and training’.
The Foundation’s own team of 1,500 people is spread across 250 locations. This team is projected to grow to 2500 - 3000 and the number of field institutions to 65 in the next 3 - 5 years.
The Field Institutions are in some of the most disadvantaged districts of the country, each staffed with 10–60 members. The Foundation also runs 240 ’Teacher Learning Centres’, in these districts.
This deep institutional presence is now being leveraged by the Foundation to start work on Health and Livelihoods, starting with a few regions and then expanding.
The Foundation supports with multi-year financial and corpus grants, over 550 other not-for-profit organisations (NPOs) across the country, which do deep ‘on-the-ground’ work across a range of issues – supporting people who are severely disadvantaged and marginalised with immediate care, access to essential services and the possibility of a dignified future. This partner support willgrow. 5 - 7 times in the next 5 years.
Some of these vulnerable groups are urban poor, persons with disability, women facing violence, adolescent girls at risk, children at risk, homeless, elderly poor, manual scavengers, migrant workers, farmers with marginal landholding, particularly vulnerable tribal groups and water-deficient communities.
This also involves collaboration with state governments and groups of NPOs to address issues systemically beyond immediate care and support. Some such collaborations are: in Odisha, an effort to improve nutrition and hygiene; in Andhra Pradesh, improving the livelihood of small and marginal farmers; in Tamil Nadu, setting up centres in district hospitals to rescue, treat and rehabilitate mentally ill homeless individuals and a multi-state programme to strengthen local governance and Panchayati raj institutions.
The Foundation is building a network of universities to contribute to capacity development and research for the social sector.
The first Azim Premji University was set up in Bengaluru in 2010. Today it operates from a 110-acre campus. The second one will be operational in Bhopal in 2023. The work on the third University in Ranchi has started and subsequently, a fourth University in the northeast will be established. In 5 years, the 4 campuses will have 8,000 –10,000 students; and in 10 years, this number will cross 20,000 students, with nearly 2,000 faculty members.
Azim Premji University, Bengaluru has been offering degree programmes since 2011. Its mandate is to run teaching programmes and conduct research to contribute to the social sector in India, and to be an exemplar higher education institution – with inclusion and quality.
The degree and short-term teaching programmes are focused on domains of human development, for example, Education, Livelihoods, Development, Governance and Policy, Public Health, and Sustainability. The undergraduate programmes offer a broad-based liberal education as envisioned in the NEP – along with fields of human development that are the overall focus of the University. The research programmes are designed for direct contribution to matters of policy and practice, in these fields of human development.
The University, Field Institutions, and Philanthropy (the operating unit that handles partner grants) work together to integrate the real grassroots and systemic knowledge to contribute to policy, research and continuing education.
Ten cohorts of over 3000 students from the programmes have graduated from the University and almost 100 percent of students from the master’s programmes have received job offers on campus. Nearly 90 percent of these students have chosen to work in the social sector, many in grassroots field locations across the country.
The Universities are entirely philanthropic; currently 89 percent of the expenditure is borne by the Foundation; in the long-term too, this would be 80 percent, with only 20 percent coming from programme fees and other income. Currently, about 60 percent of students are on scholarships offered by the University.
The student body is very diverse, from across 26 states and varied socio-economic backgrounds.
The University also produces a large collection of teaching-learning material for free public use. These include magazines on school subjects, development case studies, translations of higher education material, etc.
Health and expansion of domains of work, and new initiatives
The Foundation operates as an integrated organisation, with the Field Institutions, Philanthropy, and Universities as the three operating units working seamlessly together in a complementary manner.
While the Foundation contributes to a large range of domains and issues of human well-being as mentioned, over 20 years of work in School Education has built deep expertise in that domain and it is now building Health as a similar domain of expertise and contribution.
The work in Health has started in Bengaluru and is being initiated in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha. This work will span from strengthen the public health system to running primary health clinics, secondary and tertiary hospitals, and medical colleges.
The launch of the Master of Public Health programme at the upcoming Bhopal University is a definitive step towards strengthening the Foundation’s commitment to the cause of ensuring effective and affordable healthcare for all.
The Foundation is also collaborating with multiple partners, such as hospitals and NGOs, to make healthcare accessible to vulnerable communities and to improve community health.
The Foundation is also initiating new projects across multiple states in collaboration with the governments to strengthen the nutritional content of mid-day meals for children in government schools, run creches for infants and children below the age of 3 in some of the remotest geographies, and support through the government education system the improvement in the quality of learning in Madrasas.
Response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the lives of vulnerable communities have made health one of the priority areas for the Foundation’s work. It committed INR 2000 crore to the nationwide response to the challenges posed by COVID-19. Enabled by a team of over 1,10,000 people, in the past 2 years this response has included:
- Providing 63 crore meals to 1.5 crore people across 27 states; enhancing access to livelihoods in rural and tribal areas: helping 90 lakh people with livelihood generation in 13 states.
- Healthcare support across 100 districts to over 15 crore people by setting up over 10,000 oxygenated beds, 1,000 ICU beds and over 100 testing centres; and programme management.
- Supporting the vaccination programme across 3800 PHCs, serving about 11 crore people, in some of the most disadvantaged locations.
Having successfully built Wipro to be a business leader, Azim Premji felt the need to contribute to a social cause and address the various developmental challenges facing the country. Dileep Ranjekar agreed to assist him with the initial work of setting up a Foundation.
Discussions between them on the various developmental issues Wipro could work on, led to the ‘White Paper on Charity’ (alternatively titled ‘The Social Work Plan of Wipro Corporation’) on November 24, 1999. The note identified education, nutrition, healthcare and some initiatives in governance as possible areas of work. Through subsequent discussions, primary education was narrowed down as the Foundation’s focus of work because it was a critical factor that significantly impacted other issues in the country.
The Azim Premji Foundation India Private Limited, was registered in February 2000. Later it was re-registered as the ‘Azim Premji Foundation’ on 9th March 2001 under Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act of 1956. The Azim Premji Foundation was to be funded solely by Azim Premji by way of transfer of his personal shares to the Foundation. The objective of the funding was to facilitate universalisation of primary education rather than serve as a constraint in achieving it. The Foundation began its work in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in 2001 where the state leadership and education departments were supportive of its mandate.
This history of the Foundation in the last 21 years can be divided into three major phases. The first phase was from 2001-2002, the second from 2002-2009 and the third is the current phase from 2009 onwards till now. In the first phase a decision was taken to work in the area of public education on the issues of equity and quality. It was also decided that the Foundation would be an operating entity. During the second phase which was from 2002-2009 the Foundation worked intensively in collaboration with state governments across multiple states in the country. The range of work included assessment, curriculum reform, school textbook development, policy and capacity development of teachers and education functionaries. Towards the end of the second phase a conviction grew within the organisation that it had to commit to school education in a more permanent and sustainable manner.
The learnings from the seven years of working on the ground were consolidated to form the organizing principles of the current entity. The first was that if education has to fulfill its transformative power to society then it has to be a constant and continuous endeavor. Secondly, that while there is a universality to the knowledge and principles of school education, it must be brought to life in a deeply contextual manner. The third principle was that in order to attain systemic improvement it is necessary to work on all aspects of education (teacher education, curriculum, assessment, etcetera); all levels of education (early childhood, primary and secondary school, higher secondary and higher education and research in Universities) and with all stakeholders (with the school, the communities and the different levels of the education system from block to district to state).
The most important implication of the learnings from this phase was that the work of the Foundation had to be organized into institutions since institutions are permanent in nature. In concrete terms, this meant setting up district level institutions which will work on the ground and state level institutions that will work with the state on school education.
During this phase it also became evident that there was a great shortage of talent in the education sector in areas such as curriculum development, assessment reform or teacher education. There was a requirement for a number of Masters level and Ph.D. level programmes in school education. In keeping with the principle of establishing institutions, the Azim Premji University was set up by the passing of the Azim Premji University Act by the Karnataka State legislature in 2010.
The mandate of the University is not limited to school education. It includes other allied fields such as livelihoods, health, governance, and sustainability which contribute to human development as a whole. The University’s purpose is to prepare education and development sector professionals who can contribute to a just equitable and humane society.
In 2014, the Foundation built a third significant thrust to its work by setting up the Azim Premji Philanthropy (now referred to as the Philanthropy). It is a grants organization which provides financial support through multi-year grants to not-for-profit organizations (NPOs) who work for the most disadvantaged and marginalized people in our society.
Through the grants, the Philanthropy supports not-for-profit organizations to work for the wellbeing of vulnerable groups. These include urban poor (homeless, manual scavengers, rag pickers, migrant workers, elderly), people with disability, survivors of gender violence, adolescents at risk, children in need of care, marginal farmers, landless labourers and tribal communities. To these vulnerable groups, the grants offer immediate care, access to essential services, and the possibility of a dignified future.
The Philanthropy also engages in systematic collaboration with State Governments and not-for-profit organizations to address large scale humanitarian and development challenges through primarily a governance lens. Illustratively, reducing child malnutrition, offering legal access to under-trials, strengthening local democratic institutions, welfare delivery, rescuing lost, runaway or trafficked children at major railway junctions and improving livelihoods of small farmers through agro-ecological farming practices. In this space, the grants build capacity of stakeholders, strengthen existing Government service delivery systems in addition to providing access to immediate care and services for the vulnerable.
The Philanthropy is deeply committed to the values of fraternity, plurality and diversity enshrined in our constitution. It provides fellowship grants to not-for-profit organisations to support individuals and groups who further these constitutional values through their work with vulnerable communities. The Philanthropy also engages closely with the youth of the country, building their perspectives on constitutional values for socially relevant action and to become responsible citizens.
Recently, the Philanthropy has been engaging with community based organizations and early stage not-for-profit organizations to strengthen their leadership, governance, processes and systems.
Major Initiatives (2001- Present)
To know more about past programmes click on the titles.
Computer Aided Learning Programme
Accelerated Learning Programme
Learning Guarantee Programme
Child Friendly Schools Initiative
Policy Planning Unit
Andhra Pradesh Randomized Evaluation Study
Institutional Capacity Development
Education for Children of Migrant Labour
Namma Shale Plus
Education Leadership Development Programmes