As I come to the end of my 5 year term as CEO of the Kaura Foundation, I am asked by friends and colleagues to reflect upon my experiences of running an organization that focuses on increasing access to health, education and micro financing in developing countries, and by MR in particular on my thoughts relating to our work in India.
I humbly offer the following.
I first became engaged in volunteering as a 16 year old bored teenager in Vancouver Island. I was spending my summer holidays in Victoria, British Columbia, with my aunt whose family had emigrated there from India around the same time that my parents moved to England in the 1960’s – my ‘Indian diaspora’ was spreading itself. For those who have had the pleasure to visit the island, I am sure that you will agree with me with that it is both idyllic and charming, but for a teenager, this can also equal boring!
Knowing that I would spend 6 weeks of my summer vacations on the Island, I eagerly set about trying to find work that would keep me busy as well as make me some pocket money. Sadly, as a British ‘tourist’ I was informed that I could not legally work in Canada under the terms of my entry visa. Instead of being downhearted, I got around the Visa issue by volunteering.
First for Greenpeace, which was founded in Vancouver, and then for UNICEF, who readily gave me the task of going door to door to local business owners in my shorts and t-shirts (basking under the summer sun) asking them to order their Christmas cards from UNICEF and committing their order by August, so that the printers had enough time to actually produce the cards for an October delivery.
The UNICEF Christmas Card campaign was started in the summer as they had a deadline by the printer, which was set so that it did not interfere with his actual business and thus lose him money – (the printer gave the use of his resources at cost to UNICEF and worked for free). By failing to make ‘sales’ in the summer, UNICEF would have wasted this kind offer and opportunity. It also showed that with good planning and execution, the funds raised by UNICEF that year could increase.
When I recall this story to students at University’s and Business Schools during my talks they normally get anchored with the thought that it sounds nonsensical to be selling Christmas cards to anyone in the summer.
But there are some who see other points to my first real life lesson.
– That when you are presented with obstacles, do not turn back, move around them.
– When you have a desire to give back and volunteer, find a suitable place that shares the same values as you and give your time and resources to them.
– If you plan well enough and in advance, and you can offer solutions to others, they are more likely to say ‘yes’, than ‘no’.
Twenty years later I can say that these lessons have guided me throughout my career, whether it be in Banking and Finance or in the Non-Profit world – which is where I would like to end this posting by talking about my experiences inIndia.
Poverty and wealth are visible everywhere in India, sometimes right next to each other. You see it in the streets, the cities and in the faces of the people you meet there. After working with so many amazing people through the Kaura Foundation, I have also seen the vibrancy, the happiness and the vitality of people who deal with the social issues in the country every day. They truly move around obstacles instead of turning back. They give back daily in all they do. They plan in advance and help the Kaura Foundation in meeting it’s primary goal – that is to help make people’s lives better. It has been a privilege to work in this field with these people and our many partners and to see the hope that progress (both economical and social) can bring to India in terms of improving peoples access to health and education.
As I transition out of my role as CEO, my trips to India now focus on speaking engagements and coaching assignments. But I remain certain that we as a greater humanity and as people of Indian origin can meet the goal of making peoples lives better, as I have met so many positive people during my term who do this daily and have seen so many worthwhile projects which are successful in meeting this goal.