From the Editor’s Desk – March 2016

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Rasheeda Bhagat

Two CSR Champions

There was elegance and style, class and grace … the mood was somber and yet celebratory. And there couldn’t have been a better place than Mumbai, the city of dreams and fantasies, glamour, showbiz and big business, to drive home the point that one of its own citizens, Rajashree Birla, Chairperson of the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, could show such an abundance of generosity. She has been the most ardent and consistent supporter of Rotary India in its mammoth battle to eliminate polio, and has donated a staggering $9.5 million to The Rotary Foundation so far, making her the second largest individual donor after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But her giving has been more than just chequebook charity. As PRIP Rajendra K Saboo pointed out at Mumbai’s Black Tie dinner, organised so competently by DG ­Subhash Kulkarni and his team and held to honour her, it was the personal and human touch in her philanthropy that set her apart. She would alight from the car and walk along with Rotary volunteers in slum areas to put the polio drops in the children’s mouths. I’ve interviewed Rajashree in 2012 for The Hindu Business Line, and remember being bowled over by her simplicity and humility, rare in somebody who was managing a whopping annual budget of Rs 160 crore for the Aditya Birla Group’s CSR initiatives. She smiled away the question on her simplicity by saying: “Having moved and stayed with Gandhiji, our family … my parents-in-law and grandfather-in-law (G D Birla) had a very simple lifestyle. There was no glamour or fuss in our home.” Well, pedigree shows!

But generosity has neither borders nor economic barriers. Last fortnight I travelled to ­Kathmandu to cover RI President K R Ravindran’s visit to District 3292. Along with RI Director Manoj Desai, he was taking stock of the plans and progress Nepal’s Rotarians have made in the relief and rehabilitation of the earthquake victims in the tiny Himalayan nation. Both Ravindran and Desai were stunned to find that despite such testing times — the devastation caused by the earthquake and further aggravated by the economic “blockade” for whatever reasons — District 3292 had raised a record $800,000 for TRF. The District’s previous best is only $333,000. Desai revised their target to $1 million, saying he would come there again to help them reach this magic mark. But no sooner than he had said this, an AKS member, the District’s first, sprung up from nowhere and the goal was reached!

This issue is replete with CSR initiatives, all of them taken well before the word was even coined! The cover story relates the journey of Sandra Shroff, Vice Chairman of UPL; a British woman, she came to India in her teens, and adopted it as her home after marrying Rajju Shroff. When UPL’s first factory was set up in Vapi in Gujarat, it had virtually nothing in terms of educational and healthcare facilities. When the Warlis or the tribals from Bombay, who were brought to Vapi by the Shroff family to work in their factory, refused to bring their families as there was no English medium school there, it was a wake-up call for Sandra. Along with PRIP Kalyan Banerjee, a member of RC Vapi and a Director of UPL, through sheer grit and focus she initiated the transformation of Vapi and surrounding areas through her passion for anything to do with education. The two English medium schools in Vapi and an excellent institute of chemical engineering and technology in Ankleshwar have resulted thanks to Sandra Shroff teaming up with Rotarians to bring major changes in the lives of the people of Vapi.

It’s no surprise to me that both the CSR champions covered in this issue are women!

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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