The Giving Back Foundation

Meera Gandhi works her connections for charitable causes

November 21, 2010
Source: Mumbai Mirror

It was a private screening arranged for a select group at a five-star hotel in Mumbai earlier this week, the latest in a series for veteran networker, humanitarian and debutant filmmaker Meera Gandhi.

The quintessential Bombay girl married to Vikram Gandhi, managing director of Credit Suisse, the global financial services group, is back to doing what she does best - schmoozing with the crème-de-la-crème, networking and raising funds for charity.

This time though she had the film - Giving Back, a documentary on international celebs associated with humanitarian causes, the likes of U2 singer Bono, Hillary Clinton, Steven Rockefeller, Kerry Kennedy and Cherie Blair to name just a few. Barely a fortnight ago, she'd hosted a similar bash at the Disney screening room in New York with Cherie.

At the Mumbai gathering, held earlier this week, she told the distinguished guests that included high-society regulars Smita Parekh and Sangita Jindal among others that this would be “her first and last film.”

Probably because of the effort that went into the making of the 19-minute film - seven months, 19 days of grueling editing and the agony of deciding what to leave than what to include. “Hema Deora was also part of the film and it killed me to have to edit that portion out,” sighs Meera, hoping to include all participants in a future coffee table book on the same subject.

The screenings are an introduction to various international charities, including her own foundation Giving Back, launched earlier this year with a personal donation of $500,000.

“For years I've campaigned for many charities, now was the time to start something myself. So far, I've managed to show the film to almost 6000 people. The numbers changed last week after Fox Television previewed it in America,” she says with evident pride.

But hosting parties and garnering attention of the biggies comes naturally to Meera. Her plush New York home is known for the stylish dinner parties she hosts starring influential names.

Just for the record her stately residence has had a long tradition of playing host to the rich and powerful - the five-storey Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse once belonged to former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

“There is so much history to the house and in the house. Once Nikita Khrushchev had got stuck in the residence elevator,” she smiles.

Her own story too has unfolded like a fairytale. Sassy Mumbai girl meets hotshot finance guy in high school and they relocate to the US soon after marriage. “Doors have always opened for me, no matter what venture I’ve associated myself with; I have a huge network of friends,” says Meera.

Friends who are willing to chip in for her. “For the first fundraiser I hosted back in 2000 I couldn't sell 20 tickets. The next year, I did another for Asia On My Mind and held a sale of Tarun Tahiliani's collection in my house.

It was a complete sellout and we collected thousands of dollars. If associating with celebrities gets public interest and participation, so be it,” she says.

Recounting her first meeting with Cherie Blair in 2006, Meera says she thought someone had played a practical joke when she got the sealed invitation from 10, Downing Street.

“I later realised it was because of a donation we'd given for the Motor Neurone Disease Association,” she says, speaking fondly of Cherie whom “she'd met on a Valentine's Day and just developed a connection”.

A fortnight ago, she had run into Sangita Jindal in New York. Their kids were studying in American School and Sangita was aware of her works. She immediately offered to host a screening of Meera's film in Mumbai.

Though maximum city will see her setting up an office, Mumbai will be just one of her many addresses. Currently in Hong Kong where Vikram is based since 2008, Meera's constantly shuttling between New York, London, Dubai and Mumbai.

“Each city has a character. New York is about endless possibilities, London is history and the future rolled into one. Hong Kong is about money - if you can write a cheque, nothing is impossible. Dubai is plastic, and therefore can be moulded into anything. But Mumbai is all about connections...” she says.

No wonder why it’s also home.