ATLANTA, GA (TIP): The American India Foundation (AIF) held its Annual Atlanta Fundraising Gala on April 2, 2016 at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek area of Greater Atlanta. About 240 guests attended the high profile event in order to support AIF’s Learning and Migration Program (LAMP). In total, over$297,000 was raised. $75,000 was raised during the pledge drive successfully conducted by George Franco, a BAS professional; these funds will go towards directly supporting LAMP.
This is the second year that AIF held its gala in Atlanta. Its inaugural gala in 2015 brought together over 200 guests and raised more than$100,000. The funds from that event’s pledge drive went towards supporting AIF’s programs that focus on Livelihood – skilling both disadvantaged youth, especially those struggling with disabilities.
Across India, approximately 72 million people migrate from their villages in remote rural areas every year in search of labor in hazardous work sites, uprooting entire families for up to eight months at a time. Their children are forced to migrate with the parents, leaving behind their schools, friends, and communities. LAMP has provided these children with resources to attend local schools, stable home and educational environments, as well as safe and structured care in seasonal residential hostels during migration season. To date, over 350,000 children have been educated over 9 states in India. The funds from the gala’s pledge drive will directly go towards supporting LAMP. It only takes $50 to educate one child per year.
Swathi Sekar, one of the beneficiaries of AIF’s Youth Leadership programs, gave opening remarks inviting Dr. Amitabh Sharma, Chair of AIF’s Atlanta Leadership Council. Dr. Sharma spoke eloquently about how as a youngster he was captivated by a BBC radio punch-line ‘when you see someone without a smile, give one of yours’. “Little did I know”, he said, “that I would 50 years later, one night, wake up restless with questions – epiphany -why am I born, what is the purpose of life and before late my inner voice echoed: dedicate the rest of my active life to giving. I can tell you I am having the best bliss of my life like never before”. He quoted “Sanatam Dharma professes Paropakaram Idam Shareeram (we are made by God for the benefit of others), the sooner we realize the happier we get. And American India Foundation facilitates and catalyzes social change through innovative programs making a difference at almost zero overhead and leveraged deployment to the extent of up 6.5 times”. An AIF video followed, showing how the organization has done this effectively with scientific impact measurement.
Dr. Sharma then welcomed the esteemed guests attending the gala on behalf of the Gala Host Committee Professors Jagdish Sheth, Jeffrey Rosensweig, Beheruz Sethna, Phil Bolton and Lani Wong and recognized the three Honorees David Abney, Chairman & CEO of UPS, Patrick Decker, President and CEO or Xylem, Inc (world leaders in water, water purification and water conservation) and NK Chaudhary (Founder of Jaipur Rugs) and illustrious speakers
Dennis Lockhart (President/CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta), Victor Menezes (retired Senior Vice Chairman of Citigroup & Chair Emeritus of AIF) and Nipun Mehta, Founder of ServiceSpace were the distinguished speakers for the evening.
Mr. Menezes spoke about how AIF had evolved into a strong pan American and pan Indian organization and how the LAMP (learning and migration Program), which was the theme of gala, was akin to all of us those who had migrated to the US and realized our dreams. His remarks were received with thunderous applause. Lockhart acknowledged the tremendous contribution of the Indian diaspora to the economic as well as socio-cultural and political growth of the US. He emphasized that India’s biggest strength over the US was its young population- with a large majority below 35 years of age, and in light of which “The United States needs to have a smart immigration policy especially in light of its aging population.” He also took the opportunity to share a few anecdotes with his longtime colleague and friend- Victor Menezes. Nipun Mehta reinforced the belief of being the change that we wish to see happen and ushered the idea of ‘giftivism’ as being above wealth generation. He talked about the power of ’emotional capital’.
During the event, AIF honored David Abney, President and CEO of UPS, Patrick K. Decker, President and CEO of Xylem Inc. and N. K. Chaudhary, Founder of Jaipur Rugs. AIF also recognized Dennis Lockhart, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Other notable personalities in attendance included Congressman Hank Johnson, President Pro-Tempore GA Senate David Shafer, Attorney General GA Sam Olens, the two-time winner of Marketing Educator of the year award Professor Jag Sheth, Ambassador Charles Shapiro, President of World Affairs Council of Atlanta and several other noted business leaders, academics, philanthropists, socialites etc.
Ed Martinez received the honor first on behalf of David Abney, Chairman & CEO of UPS (United Parcel Service) who could not attend the event due to his overseas travel. He expressed sadness over the Kolkatta flyover tragedy and reiterated that UPS was committed to upheaval of the disadvantaged in a vein similar to AIF and complimented AIF for its sterling track record in social change.
Patrick Decker, CEO of Xylem the second honoree recognized AIF’s transformational work with the most disadvantaged communities in India. He also took a moment to discuss Xylem’s work in WASH projects through Xylem’s “Watermark” initiative in India, as well as all over the world.
“AIF and I have a lot in common. We both work from the heart and aim to create sustainable change in the lives of people, regardless of their class, caste, religion, etc” explained Honoree N. K. Chaudhary, the founder and chairman of Jaipur Rugs who was the third honoree. He explained that it was this heartfelt dedication that drove his success as well as that of 40,000 women weavers across 600 villages in India.
Venkatesh Raghavendra, Sr. Director Philanthropy & Development introduced two Honorees and articulated the vote of thanks in his astute style.
The event had a unique entertainment segment of Rajasthani folklore dance presented by 7 dancers, only one of who was from Indian origin. It was a true representation of bridge building and multicultural ethos at play. The entire evening had an enriched flavor with flawless presentations across the board.