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California donor Mohnish Pabrai’s strategic philanthropy

January 19, 2012

Mohnish Pabrai (c/o

Last week, Time Magazine profiled the philanthropy of Mohnish Pabrai, a hedge fund manager from Irvine, California, and “disciple” of Warren Buffett.  Mohnish and his wife Harina Kapoor have founded the Dakshana Foundation to help smart kids from poor backgrounds in India get into IIT and other universities to pursue their education.

In 2008, Mohnish “shelled out $320,050 to have lunch with his business idol, Warren Buffett”.  I’m happy Mohnish learned more from Buffett than just how to invest money – but also how to be a generous philanthropist.

There’s a lot I like about this guy and what’s he’s doing with Dakshana:

  • Collaborating with an existing organization – JNV, a government-funded rural school system – in order to identify talented children in need of help
  • Focusing on education for those who really, truly can’t afford it
  • Funding individual students while also contributing towards infrastructure
  • Helping students find internships and jobs to make sure their education is leveraged to the max
  • Complete transparency with the Foundation’s financials
  • “Future wealth recycling” (love that phrase!) – asking scholars who benefit from the Foundation and go on to success to pay 10% back into the Foundation to help others
  • Making sure to include girls as well as boys as scholarship-recipients

But, like Michael Edwards, I remain cautious about treating philanthropy in general like any other business venture.  I think there is room in the philanthropic market for minds like Mohnish and projects like Dakshana, but it’s also important for funders to think about how to fix the bigger picture – how to help students who may not be as bright as Dakshana scholars or those who are not interested in technology, or how to fix the slums that the kids come from to create healthy living environments for children, for example.

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