Two of TRF’s largest individual donors, both from India, were felicitated at the Centennial Summit in Kolkata for their magnanimity in giving.
Rajashree Birla, the Chairperson of the Aditya Birla Foundation for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, has been an integral part of Rotary India and the second largest individual contributor to The Rotary Foundation, after Ravishankar Dakoju, past president of RC Bangalore Orchards, who made waves with his generous giving of `100 crore to the Foundation last year.
Rajashree’s contribution to TRF has crossed over $12 million. She was honoured with the Angel of Benevolence Award at the Summit.
“Giving and caring epitomises the ethos of Rotarians, regardless of geographical boundaries. It is an aspect embedded in the DNA of the Birla family too,” said Rajashree in her acceptance speech. In fact, the philosophy of giving goes back to 150 years ago “when my great grandfathers-in-law Shiv Narayan Birla and Raja Baldev Das Birla felt that in life one must have a higher purpose that goes beyond oneself. In their own way they supported the causes of education, building temples and goshalas.”
Her grandfather-in-law G D Birla was a close confidante of Mahatma Gandhi. Her son Kumar Mangalam refers to giving as ‘compassionate capital’, she said, and recalled her husband Aditya Birla’s statement: ‘It is in giving that we receive.’
The Aditya Birla Centre is engaged in the development of 7,000 villages and reaches out to nine million people through projects in healthcare, education, sustainable livelihood and infrastructure.
“Giving in my vocabulary means offering whatever you have — be it your affection, emotional support, time and financial help, absolutely and unconditionally, beyond boundaries. ‘Have a heart’ is one of the most commonly used phrases. It is an emotional metaphor for caring and compassion. Heart melts the mind and body with its splendid qualities such as duty, sacrifice, devotion and giving. So have a larger heart and enjoy the joy of giving wholeheartedly,” she said, amidst thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
Rajashree congratulated Rotary India for its centennial and “unmatched commitment and dedication to its service projects. I have experienced at very close quarters the awesome work that RI is doing in life-changing projects in addressing diseases like polio, thalassaemia, diabetes and tuberculosis,” she said.
The session was chaired by PRID Ashok Mahajan who has played a leading role in bringing the Muslim community on board by forming the Rotary Ulema Council when there was a lot of resistance against polio vaccination in the community.
Mahajan thanked the government, Rotarians and volunteers for making India polio-free. “What better gift this world could expect from us as we immunise over 2 billion children world over by spending $2.5 billion and an estimated 18 million children who we have saved,” he said.
Ravishankar was recognised for his mammoth contribution to the Foundation. “As important as his contribution is, Ravi has taken on the role as TRF’s ambassador and has inspired several Rotarians, not only in India, but also in Nepal, Taiwan and Brazil, to donate generously to the Foundation,” said Session Chair and TRF Trustee Gulam Vahanvaty. He recalled how, during the installation of DG Deepak Gupta in Delhi, a donor made an impromptu announcement to become an AKS member, presenting cheque for $100,000 for TRF. She was solely impressed by Ravishankar and his wife Paola. “More importantly I was happy to meet this person who was very down-to-earth, humble, warm and affectionate. His wife Paola and he are equal partners in the Ravishankar and Paola Endowment Fund,” he said.
India, with more than 100 AKS members, ranks second in the world after the US and at the Centennial Summit, Vahanvaty announced that an AKS Association is being formed to recognise the philanthropy of their generosity and inspire more people to give to the Foundation.
Pictures by Jaishree