Meera Gandhi knew from a young age that she would devote her life to giving back to those in need. As a teenager growing up in India, a young Meera would volunteer at Asha Daan, the orphanage founded by Mother Teresa. Inspired by Mother Teresa’s spirit, subsequently through the years, this humanitarian has donated much of her time and resources to helping an astounding number of charities around the world including Cry, United World Colleges, Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Center at Val Kill, Loomba Trust, Royal National Institute for the Deaf, Pratham… the list goes on and on. Today, Meera has formalized her altruistic life with The Giving Back Foundation, a global non-profit started by Meera and her husband Vikram Gandhi, to alleviate suffering, illness, poverty, exploitation and to help with the education of young women and children. The Foundation also supports the Arts.
Through The Giving Back Foundation, Meera has released a namesake documentary film, accompanying soundtrack CD and coffee-table book to showcase the works of others who continue to inspire her. The DVD, CD and book feature the work of such notables as Kerry Kennedy, Bono, Phyllis Farley, Queen Noor, Narciso Rodriguez, Hon. Cherie Blair and more. The Foundation has held book launches and film screenings all over the world with each event drawing celebrity support from those featured in the book and film to the likes of Cherie Blair, Donna Karan, Deborah Norville, and Phylicia Rashad, to name a few. Meera’s hope with these projects is to inspire the masses with the good works of others. In her own words, “With the Giving Back book, CD and DVD, we are donating 100 percent of the profits to charity. Equally as important, we hope that all three will inspire others to “give back.” The book, the DVD and the CD highlight others who have devoted their lives to giving back to humanity in unique ways.”
To further celebrate and encourage those “giving back,” the Foundation recognizes notable causes in the arts, with the annual Meera Gandhi Giving Back Award at the Woodstock Film Festival. Last year’s recipient was actor Mark Ruffalo, chosen by the Festival for his work fighting the use of fracking to tap fossil fuels. Earlier this year, The Giving Back Foundation supported Centrepoint, The American Friends of Prince William and Prince Harry, the leading UK-based charity that helps the young and homeless by offering housing, education assistance and health facilities. Centrepoint’s patrons are Prince William and Kate the Duchess of Cambridge.
However, what makes The Giving Back Foundation special is that it does more than simply provide
financial assistance to the projects it supports. Meera has made it the Foundation’s mission to also offer a more hands-on approach, seeing projects through on a more intimate level. All of these works are a culmination of Meera’s unique vision and generous spirit. Here, this humanitarian shares more on The Giving Back Foundation.
Tell us about The Giving Back Foundation? I began the Giving Back Foundation in 2009 when I was living most of the year in Hong Kong. I was inspired by the hands-on involvement of Mother Teresa, whom I had met as a teenager in India when I was helping out at her Asha Daan, and by the good works of the Hon. Cherie Blair with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. So I decided to give back myself by aligning with people such as these who are devoting their lives to helping others and who particularly inspire me. The Giving Back Foundation assists carefully selected existing charities with special emphasis on women and children. What is unique about the Giving Back Foundation is our hands-on and very personal involvement with every charity with which we partner. We do not just write checks, we become closely involved with each and every action and person to whom we donate our time and our funds. We never have, and never will, just write a check.
What projects are you currently working on? We are working very diligently on our 5-year commitment to St. Michael’s Girls’ Hostel in New Delhi. We have been providing all meals to the young ladies and now we are in the process of waterproofing the entire roof of the school, repairing all the ledges, repairing all electrical fittings and switches in every classroom and hallways, painting of classrooms, repairing of window panes and pin-up boards and all plastering requirements. We initially provided a playground for the girls and have accelerated our involvement with this worthwhile endeavor at St. Michaels. In the US, we recently gave out the first four of the annual Meera Gandhi Giving Back Foundation Awards and honorariums to young girls at the Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Center in Hyde Park, New York. This is an intensive leadership course for girls from around the world who take part in an intensive two-week leadership course annually. The Meera Gandhi Giving Back award winners are chosen by their peers and receive trophies and monetary awards from the Foundation. This is also a 5-year commitment on the part of the Giving Back Foundation. It was most rewarding to see the joy that the awards brought to these teenagers and potential leaders!
What have been some of the highlights on your time with the Foundation? The highlights have definitely been the personal involvement with our beneficiaries, seeing and interacting with those that we have helped even in small ways. The joy in the faces of the young people inspires all of us. Giving Back is so rewarding personally and thus our Foundation’s name!
What challenges are you facing or have faced? So far the challenge has been geography! I constantly am trying to be in three places at the same time. Because we operate on four continents, the travel schedule has been brutal at some points in time. However, with our strict Giving Back Foundation rules of hands-on involvement, that is the norm and I am becoming quite used to it now.
Tell us about the celebrity-studded book launches and screenings? The launches and screening have been held on four continents and are still on-going. We have had spectacular launches in Mumbai and New Delhi, India; Hong Kong; London; New York City, Washington, DC; Woodstock, Hyde Park and Brooklyn, New York; and Istanbul, Turkey. Two upcoming events will be in Liverpool, England, and at the Asia Society in New York City. We have been fortunate that so many friends and supporters in cities around the world have donated their space and their time to the Giving Back Foundation for these events, and we are extremely grateful to these supporter organizations, such as fabulous museums, hotels and screening facilities.
Cherie Blair of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women has been very supportive and has joined us for film screenings in New York City and at a recent book launch at my home in London. Kerry Kennedy of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, designer Donna Karan, Steven Rockefeller of the Grameen Foundation, Deborah Norville of Inside Edition TV, and so many others have inspired us with their own good causes and their support of ours. In the UK the fabulous fashion designer Elizabeth Emanuel supported our book launch.
Where do you see the future of the Foundation? We intend to be even more hands-on with our 5-year commitments to St. Michael’s, the Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Center, the Woodstock Film Festival, and the many others whom we help. We are currently exploring other causes, some in India and Africa, to see if they are a “fit” for the Giving Back Foundation mission.
How can people contribute? Please visit TheGivingBackFoundation.net and click on the Donate button. For the new Giving Back book, please visit Amazon.com or purchase it directly from our Website. I do wish to thank all of you who are helping us on our journey. Our motto is, “We are to the universe only as much as we give back to it.”