Rajen Kilachand: A Family Tradition of Philanthropy
Rajen Kilachand, Chairman and President of the UAE-based Dodsal Group, is a leading global business leader and philanthropist. His diverse enterprises range from mining in Tanzania to Pizza Hut franchises in India, and his philanthropy from Boston University (to which he made a $35-million gift in 2011 and 2012) to hospitals and schools, community aid and humanitarian missions, and women’s empowerment organizations in India, the UAE, the US, Europe and Africa.
Founded in 1948 by the Nandlal Kilachand family in partnership with a British trading company, the Dodsal Group now has more than 25,000 employees in 22 countries and has received numerous awards for safety and exemplary project execution. Mr. Kilachand received the Global Business Achievement Award at the Masala Awards in 2011. Peace X Peace CEO Kim Weichel and Board President Gail Montplaisir interviewed him in Dubai, UAE, on June 1, 2013.
Why is philanthropy important to you, Mr. Kilachand?
Philanthropy is an indulgence to my soul. Every single time I see the difference I’ve made to the lives of the people I’ve helped, the communities I’ve nurtured and built, and the achievements of the initiatives I have encouraged, I feel joy unlike any that my corporate achievements have been able to manifest.
Besides, it is a genetic seed. My family has always been known for philanthropy, and it was something we talked about around the dining table. Meals were always a great social time―3 hours over dinner talking and sharing experiences; no TV and no other diversions, just talking and sharing. There would be 12, 14, 16 children at the table, and our mother and grandmother always talked to us about the importance of philanthropy.
My great grandfather’s son gave his entire fortune to his village, and the British gave him the highest award for philanthropy they could possibly give to a non-British citizen. He was only 32 years old when he was given this award.
What many forget is that India did not exist as a nation at that time; rather, the clans extended from Kandahar to Burma. In 1860 to 1870, my clan was on the border of Rajistan and Gujarat, where it is very barren. And, while they subsequently moved to a more dense region―to Bombay―their ties to their village remained strong.
In 1900, my grandfather’s son gave the village resources that were very valuable―water supply, hospitals, and an animal hospital, long before people thought about animal hospitals. Ten years before he died, he moved back to the village from Bombay and used his skills and fortune to help elevate people’s lives.
In 1950, the village honored my grand-uncle by building a mini Arc de Triomphe with a clock in it that is named after my family. Between the 1970s and 90s, my late father and his brothers built a temple there, and also a school for training teachers. India does not have enough teachers for its population of 1.2 billion. The college is still there, as are the temple and the arch. In 2012, I received a message from the mayor that they wanted to honor me on behalf of the family legacy, and I went there for a fete in March of that year. I have now established a maintenance fund for the village assets.
In the past 30 years, our businesses have taken a big jump in wealth and success. I took the family enterprises to a new, global level, and I moved the headquarters to Dubai in 2003.
As a global philanthropist, what are your goals and strategies?
I am the only major non-US sponsor of the New Orleans Jazz Festival. I host annual kite festivals in Gujarat to celebrate my family’s passion and my own expertise in this unique sport. Although it’s diverse, my philanthropy is focused primarily on health and education. One cannot prosper spiritually, physically, and financially without these two areas. These are not just for the rich, and must be available for all people for a society to progress.
I went to Boston University from 1971 to 1974, and the US fostered in me (although it was unbeknownst to me at the time) an admiration for great educational institutions and hospitals that were gifted by individuals. I found that very admirable. This left a deep impression, and made me realize anew how important it is to give to humanity.
My philanthropic outlook and my appreciation for life were also formed by three life changing experiences. I used to drive fast and wild, but now I no longer do. After a very serious car accident that left me incapacitated for six months, I rethought my life and it changed me. During that long recuperation I realized that I was benefiting from state-of-the-art medical facilities, but only because I could afford them. If I had been poor, I would have been left permanently disabled to some extent.
The second such experience was when I went to Tibet―hiking 12 to 15,000 feet up near Lahsa to a holy site, which is a mountain and a lake. The third was when I had an angioplasty, and again benefited from superb medical care.
During my convalescence I realized that I had a deep yearning for education. I inadvertently started operating a university out of my home. I hired professors to come to my home to teach me about the classical music and traditions of Europe and India, and about various religious philosophies. After 15 days of lessons, we had 60 village women there in the house during the day, also soaking up all of this knowledge. It spawned a real love of the history of civilizations, and awoke in me an even-stronger desire to bring education and health to the people.
By the way, when I pledged $35 million to Boston University (the largest gift in the university’s history) I requested that it be used to provide more general education. I feel that too many people are too specialized. And I desire to continue my focus on health issues. One of the health organizations I support is Pathfinder International and its Indian CEO, Purnima Mane. Their work is in women’s health. I also support the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and many other women’s organizations.
What advice would you give to women around the world?
I’d say: Don’t feel shy. We are all leaders. In my family we were raised with a great respect for women, and for our elders. When my grandmother was ill, we would all still go to her room regularly to receive her blessings and to keep her informed of our activities: where we were going, how long we would be gone, and when we would return home.
I believe in empowerment but also that it must be according to the culture of the particular country and region. In Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Burma, where women have often been treated like cattle, many women leaders have emerged and have led their countries.
In ancient civilizations such as India and Egypt, in the Arab countries and the African countries, women have had very equal and powerful roles. In my opinion, it is only in the last 200 years when women were made to feel second. I believe industrialization had a negative effect on women’s treatment. Men began to think that they alone could lead.
The world is 50% women. The distinctions are meaningless; they were created by men. But this will change again as the wheel goes around. Tell the women, a man is a man, a woman is a woman; yes, there are differences, but we are all equal. I read recently that in 40% of all US households, women are the greater income earners. That Pew study was just released the other day.
What advice would you give to men?
I would tell the males to stop being so high and mighty. In the history of the world, especially the last 2,000 years, the longest period of peace was when a woman, Queen Victoria, was in charge. All countries should have a woman ruler if they want to have peace. The message that we men are not ready to accept is that men should not be running the world.
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