She might have been born with a sliver spoon but forty-eight-year old Meera Gandhi decided early on that she was going to use her privileged background to channelise change and more importantly, funds to those who needed it the most. But never did she realise that her passion for philanthropy would take the form of a high flying, jet-setting global career that would take her across continents representing the case of the underprivileged.
As a 16-year-old girl growing up in Mumbai, Gandhi often visited and volunteered at Asha Dan-Mother Teresa's home for the orphaned, The Blind home and The Lepers Home. "Working there gave a sense of meaning to my life," she says, adding, "more than me choosing philanthropy it was the latter that choose me."
Raised primarily in India in Mumbai, Pune and Delhi, Gandhi also spent her childhood years in London and Dublin, and is currently settled in New York. In town to register her trust, The Giving Back Foundation, she's also promoting her coffee table book Giving Back. The book highlights the 53 charities that have inspired her and The Giving Back Foundation, of which she is founder and CEO.
Testimonials of her dedication to the cause of philanthropy have been written by her friends. The foreword is by Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The idea of the book she says, "is to create awareness about the issue of giving back. I want the book to inspire people to donate to charities, to think less about themselves and more about others," adding, "as I feel a lot people are indifferent to the cause that is philanthropy and I want Giving Back to be the catalyst of change." With all the whose who of high society vying for an invite to the launch, the effect is all ready under way.
The book features personal stories of giving back and some of the names and organisations featured include Kerry Kennedy and her brother Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., TV personalities Alisyn Camerato and Deborah Norville, Loomba founder Sir Raj Loomba, Mother Teresa's Asha Dan, singer Bono; Centrepoint, The American Friends of the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry, Steven Rockefeller; Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, and such diverse and worthy charities as The Royal National Institute of The Deaf, Same Sky; I Create, Thorntree in Africa, St. Michael's Hostel for Girls in New Delhi, Wayuu Taya in Venezuela, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Ireland, and many more. Fareed Zakaria of CNN has written the cover blurb. 100 per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to charities.
"People hold back from donating to a charity because they fear that their money will never trickle down to the cause," she claims. Gandhi believes that with a credible name vouching for the funds and complete transparency, all that can change." The areas that she wants to focus on in India are education and women's empowerment.
"I want to work closely with the government as I feel that there is a lack of vocational courses and I want to fill the space between education and how you can apply it." Social entrepreneurship is another area that she is looking to explore. The reason she chose to register the trust both in India and the US is because even though New York is where she is primarily settled, India is her home.
"A need does not have boundaries, I want the foundation to cater to everyone," she says. Gandhi feels that India needs role-models, powerful men and women who initiate charity work and lead the way to a better tomorrow. "At the end of the day, success is empty without gratification or giving back. I am here to prove that you don't have to be a sack-cloth wearing sadhu in order to do philanthropy. It's a serious business after all," she signs off.