Meera Gandhi is CEO and founder of The Giving Back Foundation, and is a humanitarian and philanthropist dedicated to solutions for human suffering and deprivation around the globe. At last year's Woodstock Film Festival, Gandhi screened her film "Giving Back," that shows how several of her well-known friends are giving back to humanity in different ways. She produced, directed and hosted the documentary and on May 3rd, a launch for her book "Giving Back" was held at the Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park.
"I've known Meera for about two years and I was struck by her genuine dedication for supporting international causes related to women, children, health issues and education and her love for the arts," says Meira Blaustein, cofounder and Executive Director of the Woodstock Film Festival.
Meera's film and book feature inspiring stories and photographs of her friends who inspire her, including singer and global rights activist Bono; lawyer and human rights champion Cherie Blair, wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair; human rights activist and daughter of Ethel and Robert Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy; and Hillary Clinton.
You've done so much charitable work with so many amazing people and I know you have lots of stories to tell. Which story is your favorite?
I think my favorite is the Mother Teresa story when she came into the children's ward where I was working and took a little one from me to give her a hug. I had just finished feeding some cereal to the baby and she burped all over Mother Teresa's white sari. Mother just laughed her toothy laugh and said, "Good, now we know her food is properly digested." Mother Teresa was a small woman but the joy she radiated has stayed with me a lifetime.
You've done a film on your work and now a book? Why write a book?
The film featured ten amazing people and charities that touched me as I worked alongside them. The film did very well and I travelled to 10 countries, so the journey grew and the mission was clear and I decided to feature 75 amazing people in my book. The Giving Back Foundation, started in 2010, had grown wings and the book was a logical way to show my personal involvement. Next, we have a TV series in the works.
Do you really feel the world understands the magnitude of work that needs to be done when they see that celebrities are involved?
I think everyone needs to be involved — celebrities and non celebrities. My book features 75 people, of which only about 15 are known. Eighty percent of the people in my book no one had ever heard of and they are doing great work. The point of the book is to show the many creative ways different people are giving back. We need to help others. If we don't have a planet, no matter how well off certain people are, it will be of no use. Living well when others are dying is so useless — all people know this — some need ideas, other need to join others and some merely need to be reminded, but it's all very important as the problems are great and small and all need to be resolved. I firmly believe we can fix the problems, celebs and non celebs alike.
Speaking of celebrities, you awarded actor Mark Ruffalo your first Giving Back Foundation Award at last year's Woodstock Film Festival for his work on environmental issues. Mark said in his speech, "my work is my award," so why award someone for helping others? Isn't that what we should be doing?
The Giving Back Woodstock Film Festival award evolved as we understood the great impact of film on society. If film can impact badly, we are confident it can inspire good too. Mark Ruffalo was chosen by the Woodstock Film Festival and Woodstock community unanimously. We do not choose the winners. Our mission is to "promote good and giving back" and to that end we give the festival and the winner each year a cash award. Mark was awarded for the work in film he has done to promote awareness of a very important cause. Why not reward good? I think more people need to award good than bad. Rewarding those who help others inspires more people to follow suit.
What do you want readers to take away from reading this book?
Ideas to motivate them to do any good in their own backyard or on a global scale. I think I will have accomplished what I wanted to do through my book.
Giving Back highlights Deborah Norville, Ronan Tynan, Olympic gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, Irish designer Clodagh, Lord Raj Loomba, Kerry Kennedy and her brother Robert F. Kennedy, Homayra Sellier, fashion designers Donna Karan and Narciso Rodriguez, designer Emre Erturk, The Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Vail Kill, Mother Teresa's Asha Dan, The American Friends of the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry, RNID and much more. 100 percent of the proceeds from The Giving Back book will be donated to the charities that are featured.