Navneet Mendiratta speaks to Geeti Bhagat, President and CEO of Earth Foundation and Bhagat Group, to find out how successful we have been as a society to address the issue
Recently, a very interesting fundraiser was held in Delhi in the aid of the girl child. Held at the residence of the Brazilian Ambassador in New Delhi, heads of mission and their spouses from several countries walked the ramp wearing ensembles contributed by leading Indian designers including, Rohit Bal, Gaurav Gupta, Abraham & Thakore, Raghavendra Rathore, AM:PM, Ashish Soni, Pero, Anu PD, and Anupamaa Dayal. The event, tiled Ray of Hope, was organised by an NGO — Earth Foundation — dedicated to pushing the cause and raising awareness and funds in their support. We caught up with Geeti Bhagat, President and CEO of Earth Foundation and Bhagat Group, who shared that this was not the first time that so many diplomats had come forth to support this cause. Excerpts from an interaction with Bhagat:
Your thoughts on working for the betterment of the conditions for the girl child in India…
While we are all aware of the plight of the girl child in India, this awareness does not translate into action often enough. This is the case particularly in economically underprivileged families, where anything spent on the Girl Child’s education and health is seen as a waste of resources that can be better utilised for her male sibling who will then be able to repay this investment when he starts earning unlike his sister who will impose a further drain on the family’s already slim resources as she will be requiring a dowry when she is married.
What inspired you to engage in social services?
The one thing that I’ve always taken for granted is the imperative to give back. I believe that my strong affinity to acts of giving is founded by my cultural ancestry. Both pre and post Partition, my grandparents developed an attitude of retaining only what they needed to live comfortably and provide for their seven daughters. Fortunate as they were, they donated multiple large properties to the cause of educating the underprivileged to form institutions that are still in operation today.
As a little girl, I dedicated many an afternoon to being a Girl Guide which made me acutely aware of the value of making a difference by empowering girls and young women to do amazing things. As I grew older and attended Rotary Club meetings with my father, who in fact was the Founding President of a Rotary Club, I found that empowerment had an immense power to uplift entire societies. Keen to enter into the social sphere in a more autonomous fashion, the Bhagat family founded the Earth Foundation NGO in the 90s. The rest is history!
When was Earth Foundation NGO founded and what was the thought behind it?
The Earth Foundation NGO was formed in the mid 1990s with the idea of improving the quality of life on earth.
How many lives does the foundation touch?
The Foundation’s ideal is quality over quantity. Our NGO has always identified institutions that are already working with the needy and doing a fantastic job but lack only one thing — the funds to sustain and proliferate. This is how,almost every campaign or endeavour run by our foundation impacts several hundred to over a thousand people each time they are run. In the last five years alone, we have helped over 2,500 underprivileged children at both scholastic and graduate levels. Since our inception, my estimate is double that.
What are the various social service campaigns undertaken by Earth Foundation?
We like to capitalise on the current reach and abilities of ourselves and our volunteers which changes over time. This is why, we have been able to cover a relatively wide range of campaigns in an extremely meticulous manner. Some of these are eye camps for the elderly, beat the heat, and health and hygiene,
Could you please tell us briefly about the Rays of Hope project and the recent event that was held in Delhi?
Rays of Hope is a multi pronged campaign to raise awareness about the actions required to help the underprivileged, particularly, girls. It is our unique flagship fundraising event wherein we use New Delhi as the base and widen international exposure through the participation of over 120 heads of mission since its inception. The Earth Foundation NGO holds the copyright for this Ambassadors Fashion Show where Heads of Mission and their spouses gather together for the cause supported by India’s leading fashion designers, corporates and generous citizens. Our latest edition was supported by the Ambassador of Brazil and was held at his residence. Thirty seven Heads of Mission and their spouses walked the ramp in the ensembles of 30 of FDCI designers. One of the event’s many highlights was the auctioning of a football and jersey signed by the legendary footballer Pelé which attracted almost Rs 9,00,000 in funds.
What kind of help have you been able to gather for the girl child? Where are the funds used?
We get donations both in cash and kind, and at this recent event, a leading e-commerce retailer has donated Rs 10,00,000 worth of winter garments for children in desperate need. Our funds are used for scholarships, health and nutrition for girls in need and supporting a college in Himachal where we have built a four-storey college block called the Earth Foundation Uday Block.
Lessons for others from the experience(s) that you have gathered from your activities and engagement with the underprivileged…
Helping the needy doesn’t mean that one needs an abundance of time. We should find avenues to make a difference, whether small or big. Try to take actions that are important and game changing for others. If you can’t effect change on your own, cooperate with NGOs and others. Always work for a cause that moves you because charity isn’t only for others, but your own soul too!
Any particular experience that you would like to share from your projects?
All linking back to our ethos of creating lasting and quality differences in the lives of those who need it, I am instantly reminded of the story of Prachi. Prachi is the daughter of a struggling class teacher at a school that the Earth Foundation very frequently works with. Being the daughter of an educator, Prachi was intrinsically aware of the power of knowledge and made it a part of her lifestyle. Her circumstances, however, weren’t conducive to her development to say the very least. Her father was unemployed and abusive and consistently tried to hinder her studies by attempting to cut off her mother’s livelihood and interfering with her attendance at school. Struggling to make ends meet, I met Prachi’s mother at a campaign and the school and happened to strike a conversation with Prachi. I was mesmerised at her dedication, desire and overall aptitude. With a focus on making her dream to become an IAS officer come true, we funded her education and are proud to say that she is now pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Given her interest in serving her country, we arranged for her to meet with key people in the various departments of the Brazilian embassy, after which she had a long discussion with the Ambassador himself! Prachi is now seriously considering joining the IFS and aims to represent her country, not only to strengthen India’s relations with the rest of the world, but to do it to show that women from all backgrounds are capable (of being extraordinary).