The name Gandhi is synonymous with selflessness and tolerance. In fact, when it comes to Meera T Gandhi, tolerance should be her middle name (it's Teresa, though, in reality). The humanitarian and social activist, who grew up in India, the UK, the USA and Canada but now lives in Hong Kong, has travelled the world in a bid to helping those in need. She set up the Giving Back Foundation to help abused and hungry children, widows, the sick, the deaf and the blind and she recently produced and directed a documentary, musical CD and coffee-table book, all entitled Giving Back, which included vignettes from celebs like Cherie Blair and Patricia Velasquez - and even an interview with Bono. All of the proceeds go to charity, she tells Time Out, before her book launches in the city on February 28.
Giving Back. What's the book all about?
It showcases my Giving Back journey with 73 charities. I have been fortunate to work in charity for the past 25 years and have seen first-hand the amazing work so many people are doing. I have been inspired through my work and through reaching out to so many different kinds of people - some needy and some well-off. So I decided to chronicle this journey in the hope that it would inspire others on their own personal journeys of giving back…
What is it that you want to tell kind-hearted people through this book?
Every page clearly has the answer. The reader is shown 73 ways of giving back, with the hope they can find their own unique way of giving something back to the planet! The arts, the humanities, women, children, old people, blind, sick, music - everything is explored in this unique book!
Who benefits from sales of the book - and how?
A total of 100 percent of the sales goes directly to the Giving Back Foundation's global projects.
I think the best way to help women and children is to help them get a heave-up so that they can eventually help themselves and have self esteem, as well as some sense of control of their own life. To this end, education for children and women, and vocational training for those trying to get into the job market and make a living, is crucial.
How did you come up with this idea?
When we moved to Hong Kong three years ago, I mentioned to Neerja and Deepa - two dynamos that own Print Plus - that I was thinking of doing a book about my own Giving Back journey and the many good people who are doing the same. And they said 'the world is falling apart, recession is everywhere, and we need something uplifting right away'. So, with that, I started on my book in November 2008. But then, in 2009, my film project Giving Back raced ahead so I was forced to put the book on hold. I restarted in November 2009 when Dolphin and Jones of New York, a publishing house, contacted me through my New York office and said they had heard of my project and wanted to take my book on. The rest is history. I worked with their team and, in December last year, we launched the beautiful book in India and it is launched in Hong Kong on February 28.
Who is your audience?
Anyone from the age of seven to 107. It has beautiful pictures and the text, from the introduction to the conclusion - which is in the form of a photo which says it all - has been very carefully written by me. So any age and anyone will enjoy this book. It's truly a celebration of life! It will launch and sell in 10 countries - India, China, Turkey, the UK, Dubai, France, the USA, Ireland, Hong Kong and Jordon.
Was it easy to get the celebs on board?
Yes, people were delighted to be part of the book. The book is actually 25 years of my own hard work with the people and charities listed in the book. Many are well-known celebs and many are not. Most people were comfortable with the idea of being in the book and people like Cherie Blair were actually inspirational to the process.
Your life is dedicated to charity. Is that harder than a life dedicated to, say, business?
In many ways it doesn't matter what mission one is on. For me it's joyous and hard work at the same time. Charity is not harder per se but I feel, in business, you can switch off. In charity work there is always need so I never switch off. I love what I do so I don't really mind that at all…
What's next for Meera Gandhi?
We are working on the Meera Gandhi TV show that I think will change the way people look at philanthropy and charity. It's very exciting. Philanthropy is now a three-trillion-dollar enterprise and my TV show is going to revolutionise how people look at philanthropy and charity work.
Giving Back is published by Dolphin and Jones NY, priced $500, from Hong Kong bookstores or on www.amazon.com. For more details on the book or charity check out www.thegivingbackfoundation.net.
The book is launched in the Oasis Room at Harbourview Hotel in Wan Chai on February 28, between 6.30pm and 8.30pm. Call 6398 3177 for details.