India's budding endowments industry is brimming with potential and the increasing number of academic institutions setting up their own funds is inspiring many more to do the same, a top industry executive told AsianInvestor.
"I see the phenomenon of endowments in India as an emerging trend," Chhavi Moodgal, CEO of the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A) Endowment Fund, told AsianInvestor.
"Our examples -- the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management -- are also motivating other academic institutions [to start endowments]," she said.
“My previous alma mater, Lady Shri Ram College, where I studied economics, is keen to do something in this [endowments] space. I know that Delhi University has also set up an endowment."
There is also some discussion about endowments at the prestigious Armed Forces Medical College, sources said.
“So I do think several institutes are being inspired to start their own endowment funds,” Moodgal said. “This is a very high growth industry and I am excited at its future prospects,” she said.
BRIMMING WITH POTENTIAL
IIM-A is India’s top business school and is known globally for its various management programmes. Established in 1961, It is based in Gujarat state and is part of a chain of 20 IIMs across the country.
Some of IIM’s famous alumni include World Bank President Ajay Banga, former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and former Indian central bank governor and chief economist of the International Monetary Fund Raghuram Rajan.
IIM-A’s endowment fund was launched in 2020 and Moodgal, a former student, was appointed CEO in 2021.
The past few years have seen endowment funds being created by some of the IIMs as well as some top technology institutes such as Indian Institute of Technology.
All of them are in their very early stages, but with a growing pool of wealthy alumni living in India and overseas, many experts say now is the right time for enhancing fundraising efforts and eventually consider more evolved investments and asset allocation strategies, government regulations permitting.
Indian Institute of Technology-Dehi told AsianInvestor earlier this year that it is closing in on an investment advisor for its growing portfolio.
“One of the big reasons why this trend is occurring now is that the philanthropy scene is becoming more organised in India.
“We have also seen a lot of private educational institutes coming up – they have done well mainly because of these generous philanthropic activities, which have helped them to acquire land and hire faculty and staff, etc. We see a lot of large business or corporate houses of India in this space too – helping with philanthropic donations,” said Moodgal.
Even family offices in India, and corporate who run foundations, are getting more organised, she noted. “Multi-family offices now have an advisory for giving and impact investing, and that did not use to be the case before when only a handful of big business names gave back,” she added.
With increasing awareness on sustainability, ESG and stakeholder capitalism, industry observers expect organised philanthropy to gain more traction, and consequently, help the academic sector to develop more endowments.
A growing tendency by the government to restrict funding while also encouraging academic institutes to find other sources of funding has also helped.
“Educational institutions have to find alternate sources of capital beyond their accruals to ensure there is greater reliance on internal sources of funding,” noted Moodgal.
“Having a long-term source of flexible capital also goes a long way in the longevity of an academic institute –- if you say Oxford or Cambridge, they have lasted over many centuries.”
The growth spurt in India has also piqued the interest of other countries.
“We even received a query recently from a middle eastern country because the government is thinking about setting up an endowment fund for all the private universities.
"And they wanted to understand what we are doing in India, and to see if there was anything they could learn from our experiences, because it is very new to them as well,” said Moodgal.
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It’s still early days for the endowment fund. Moodgal emphasises that developing the fund to scale will be a long-term process.
“It requires sustained efforts over decades. Global endowments are built over generations. We are not doing this in a hurry; we are trying to do this in the right way. This is also the guidance of our board which is extremely supportive and generous with their time.”
The IIM-A endowment fund has also started the process of systematically engaging with alumni, which is expected to lead to greater fundraising and eventually better investing.
That kind of longevity requires planning, strategic thinking and careful management of resources.
“I have a lot of respect for the extent of innovation that I have seen in global endowments,” said Moodgal, noting that US university endowments have been world-leading in fundraising and investing.
“They have a multi-asset strategy, and the CIOs of endowments are some of the top-rated investment professionals,” she said.
US university endowments are among the biggest in the world, with Yale, Harvard, Stanford and the likes boasting multi-billion-dollar funds. Many of their CIOs are highly regarded for their investing acumen.
David Swensen, for instance, is one of the best-known names in endowments -– he used to be the CIO of Yale University’s endowment fund – one of the largest in the world – until he died in 2021.
His model of investing eventually came to be known as the Yale model of investing.
The model requires investing the portfolio in five to six different classes, and leaning towards growth assets such as equities.
Today, many endowments are providers of long-term capital even to alternative assets like private equity and venture capital.
“Seeing their history is one of the reasons why I decided to be part of this journey (of IIMA) – to bring this trend to our country,” said Moodgal.
In India, the endowment hopes to push the envelope and “guide other to try and create a community around this as well,” she added.