The world of technology and finance, and now the start-up boom, has elevated India on the world stage in ways no one could have foreseen 20 years ago. I have been privileged to be part of this burgeoning sector through Genpact, a company I founded.
While the boom years in India have been empowering for millions, the fact remains that many individuals are also left many behind, a trend that has been made worse due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has thrown into sharp relief the deep inequities of Indian society. India is a place of contradictions – of significant wealth and affluence, but also a place where grinding poverty and lack of basic healthcare is a mere fact of life. For elders, this is even more compounded since in many instances they are seen as a ‘burden’ by their own families and communities.
Today, there are an estimated 138 million elders in India, of which 90% are outside the formal, organized sector. 40% of elders face abuse and crime and 62% feel that Covid-19 has only increased the risk of further abuse. The challenge is very real and only getting worse.
It is this stark realization which led me to HelpAge India, a non-profit organization I have been associated with for well over eight years. As we launch the US chapter of this extraordinary organization – American Friends of HelpAge India (AFHI – a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization), the critical importance of our central mission has never been clearer.
My interest in HelpAge India has been two-fold – one, because it is one of the few organizations focused on issues impacting the elderly; and second, because of their incredible programs on the ground which currently touch about 2 million elders. The Board of Directors of HelpAge India and AFHI include prominent names from the Indian corporate sector – these are also folks that are incredibly committed to the cause of eldercare. By helping the organization develop strategy and scale up, we hope to reach the goal of supporting 20 million elders.
HelpAge India reaches elders in the remotest parts of the country and provides access to regular and quality healthcare through programs like the Mobile Health Units (MHU); the Elder Self Help Group concept has pioneered self-empowerment amongst elders and provided sustainable livelihoods; the Vision Restoration program helps correct cataracts through free surgeries and provides free eyeglasses; the Agecare program supports senior care centers and also provides cancer care for end-stage patients and physiotherapy services; disaster relief work during Covid has aided the nation-wide vaccination effort while providing basic sustenance to needy elders; and our Advocacy efforts center on elder rights.
Now, through AFHI, our mission is to channel the power of the Indian diaspora, as well as well-wishers of India to think about the cause and care of India’s elders – a very neglected and almost ‘invisible’ sub-sect of the population. Amongst the Indian diaspora in the United States, I am sure there are many who left behind elderly family members and relatives in India – engaging with AFHI would be a wonderful way of supporting these very elders.
One could say my involvement with HelpAge India and now with AFHI is about philanthropy- however, that would suggest a one-sided arrangement. The fact is that if these organizations grow in size and scale, that means there are more elders across India being taken care of by our personnel and staff; that essential food and medicines are reaching them in a timely manner; they have access to quality healthcare; there are avenues for elders to get help during natural disasters; that they have a place to call home through the HelpAge run senior care centers; that someone is advocating for their rights and interests; that there are helplines available for elders who are abandoned or abused.
I would argue that these are far more momentous outcomes that truly exemplify the joy of ‘giving’.
Pramod Bhasin is the Chairperson of American Friends of HelpAge India, set up in the United States to support the work being done by HelpAge India. He is also part of the Governing Board of Help Age India. He is Chairman, Clix Capital, as well as ICRIER, an economic research think tank. He was the Founder and CEO of Genpact ltd, and the Chairman and Co-Founder of the Skills Academy. He was previously the President & CEO of GE Capital in India from 1994 to 2005, and GE Capital Asia from 1998 to 2001. He was with the General Electric Corporation in UK and the USA and Asia for over 25 years.