Ms. Meera Gandhi's open and generous heart can be felt by all those who encounter her, and she loves to give. Last month, I had the opportunity to meet Ms. Gandhi at her gorgeous Hudson Valley home where she was hosting an intimate party to celebrate the work of artist Kelli Bickman. Ms. Gandhi's warmth and kindness were immediately evident. She is a successful philanthropist, humanitarian and CEO and founder of the Giving Back Foundation. Ms. Gandhi's focus is on underserved children and women. In 2010, she launched the foundation to not only create a new generation of bright young leaders but also to assist with education, illness and poverty at a global level. She explains, "I believe that transformative education is the key to changing lives."
On June 28, 2015 PBS aired a new series entitled "The New Faces of Philanthropy" and featured Ms. Gandhi and The Giving Back Foundation. She says the first step to giving back "is the need for mindfulness in our lives." In fact, the motto for her foundation is "We are to the universe only as much as we give back to it."
In 2014, Ms. Meera Gandhi was awarded The Maestro Cares Humanitarian of The Year Award; Photo used with permission of The Giving Back Foundation
Who inspired you to begin The Giving Back Foundation?
I have been doing charity work and helping others since I was young. I used to tutor the kids of my parents' staff when I was 13. And then at (age) 16 I started going to Mother Teresa's Asha Dan in Mumbai and I actually met Mother Teresa on several occasions. Soon I was in New York and helping the New York City Ballet and Asia society raise money for their causes and was co chairing almost 6 to 7 major benefits in New York per year. I decided to start The Giving Back Foundation so that I could directly impact the lives of people I want to help. I like being able to be face to face in contact with my beneficiaries, as it makes the journey so much more real. Hence, I decided to start my own foundation in 2010 while we were still living in Hong Kong. Now we are back in the USA and my organization has grown and grown.
I understand that the focus of your foundation is on empowering women and girls. Can you please tell me some of the projects that Giving Back has assisted with? Tell me about some of the achievements.
The Giving Back Foundation was established in 2010, and since then we have gone forth vigorously to implement several impactful programs. The Giving Back Foundation's largest and primary project is the St Michael's Giving Back School in New Delhi. We room and board and educate 150 girls from the ages of 7 to 18 when they go onto College or a career like sewing, beauty, office staff or teaching. This is fully funded by The Giving Back Foundation as I believe that transformative education is the key to changing lives. Every life is special to me and it is a privilege that we can affect these lives at St Michael's. Girls leadership programs at the Eleanor Roosevelt Centre in Val Kill upstate New York.
We also give out the Meera Gandhi award at The Woodstock Film festival to an actor producer write or filmmaker who produces a body of work with positive social impact. Mira Nair and Mark Ruffalo have been recipients of this award.
Ms.Gandhi giving her acceptance speech with Mr.Marc Anthony and Mr.Henry Cardenas. Photograph used with permission from Ms. Meera Gandhi
Who have been some of the recipients of The Giving Back Award and how were they chosen?
We started the Giving Back Foundation awards gala in 2014, and last year Barbara Tober from the Museum of Art and Design New York and Nimesh Kampani from Mumbai were honored.
This year on October 8th, we will host our second Giving Back Foundation gala at the Carlyle Hotel. Hollywood actress and director Phylicia Rashad will be honored and Suhel Seth from New Delhi who owns India's largest marketing consultancy. It will be an amazing event! The honorees are chosen by The Giving Back Foundation nomination committee.
Tell me a little about your upcoming United Nations event on October 14, 2015
On Oct 14, 2015 at 9 am we will begin the HOPE conference at the United Nations. I am on a the Child abuse solutions panel at 2 pm at the HOPE conference being organized at the United Nations by Juliet Hanlon and Countess Bobrinsky. At the United Nations chapel, many celebrated speakers will take the podium to speak out on this issue. Sting and several world leaders will address child abuse, young human and child trafficking and ways to enforce child rights. Children are entitled to a healthy childhood. I am so excited that the Giving Back foundation has come aboard as a sponsor and participant in this important dialog.
I was looking at the beautiful Giving Back book, which I noticed is available on Amazon, and I can see that your foundation has an incredible reach. Tell me about some of the people, organizations that you have met.
Our book features 75 amazing charities and organizations we have partnered with and or given funding to them. They span five continents and range from The Cherie Blair Foundation for women in the United Kingdom, to the Robert Kennedy foundation in the USA, to women helping women in Hong Kong to St Michael's in India. Marc Anthony' s Maestro Cares is featured as well as the Loomba foundation for widows.
I believe that need is real to the person who is experiencing a deficit of something in their life and we try to reach out and help by a grant or with some sustainable outreach programs. It is really a joyous journey of Giving Back!