Honorary member Rajashree Birla feted on being conferred the ‘Padma Bhushan’
recalled that the late Mr. Aditya Birla was also an Honorary member of
the Club and had contributed significantly during his membership. In
1995, the Birla family had established the Aditya Birla Foundation in
The late Mr. Birla was one of India’s foremost
industrialists and an active philanthropist. He was inspired by his
grandfather, the industrialist G.D. Birla, who was a confidant of
Mahatma Gandhi and a pioneer in corporate social responsibility.
Birla was carrying on that tradition through the family’s foundation
whose healthcare and educational initiatives improved the lives of
under-served populations in rural Indian villages near ABG’s plants.
Renukoot was an example of this and most NGOs envied the model that had
been established there.
Paul said the Birla family had strongly
supported the End Polio Now campaign and had generously contributed to
Rotary’s $200 Million Challenge.
As already reported, Ms Birla
had donated another $1 million for the cause at the R.I. Convention held
recently in Bangkok. This had taken her total contribution to nearly $7
“We must thank her for her generosity...Let me now
take you to the few occasions when I had the privilege of interacting
Paul recalled that he had met her for the first time
about seven years ago in the company of PP Gul Kripalani to discuss the
Habitat for Humanity project. It was when Mr. Jimmy Carter, former
President of the United States, was visiting Lonavala. Her eagerness to
know about the project, her keenness and enthusiasm to get involved
served as an inspiration for many of the other team members.
second time he had had the privilege of sitting next to her was at the
inauguration of the Children’s Park at Cuffe Parade. Coincidentally, at
that time he had been carrying a file relating to women’s empowerment
and vocational training.
Ms Birla happened to glance at the file
and at the end of the function had walked up to him and said, “George
Saab, can I have your paper?” Her humility was so touching that it had
been etched in his memory as an unforgettable experience. Ms Birla had
donated Rs. 10 lakhs to the Club (during Kalpana Munshi’s term as
President) for women’s empowerment which was later channelized for
Paul said that every time he met her at
Rotary functions, she made solicitous inquiries about the Club’s work
and the projects it was implementing. “There is always a long line of
people to meet her. She spares an equal amount of time (for everyone)...
from the corner of her eye she notices who’s waiting and then steps
forward and comes and meets you. That’s the kind of humility that I have
encountered while meeting her.
“Every letter that I have sent during the course of the year has been acknowledged
words of encouragement, be it the installation function last July, when
she had great words of advice, or the champagne brunch fund-raiser in
April. She had to be in Calcutta at that time, but she wrote to say that
she would be very happy to know how we fared at our fund-raising
programme. For me, she is the epitome of grace and humility
Paul read out the citation engraved on the silver memento that was presented to Ms Birla.
then escorted her down from the podium and led her to the front of the
head table, quite close to the audience, where Rotary Awards Chairman
Nelum Gidwani joined them.
And then, amidst thunderous applause, a well-encased silver salver was presented to Ms Rajashree Birla.
Following the presentation, Ms Birla delivered her acceptance speech and took a few questions, too.
The following is a verbatim report on the talk, “Giving is living”,delivered at the last meeting by Ms Rajashree Birla President Paul George, fellow Rotarians and friends, Iam indeed delighted to be with you this afternoon. I want to say a big thank you to all of you Rotarians for this warm felicitation. I feel most honoured. I would also like to tell you that Kumar Mangalam’s, Neerja’s and my engagement with Rotary stems from our belief that giving is truly living.
For us in the Birla family, giving is also rooted in a sense of duty. Rotary is an institution that I hold in deep esteem and total admiration. The work that Rotarians do to make a difference across the world is an absolute inspiration. And India is very much a part of the scene. The Rotary Club of Bombay’s massive contribution to making a difference through projects in healthcare, education and sustainable livelihood is invaluable. I applaud your sense of service.
I am also impressed by the tremendous spirit of camaraderie and solidarity that Rotarians display. Regardless of geographies, Rotarians go the extra mile and unite for a common cause. As an Honorary fellow Rotarian, over these years I have moved out of the ringside to bond with Rotarians all over the world. Since then, there has been no turning back.
In my talk, I will focus on two aspects.
Firstly, I want to assert that for corporates giving and thriving must become an integral part of a corporate ethos, a corporate character. Most of you are from corporates and several of you are businessmen; hence the relevance.
And secondly, I would like to move to the stoic part of why “Giving is living”.
Let me dwell on why I think all corporates must embed giving in their DNA. First of all, when a corporation pushes its energies and helps resolve social sector issues, through its engagement,
indirectly it stimulates its own business development. There is much to be gained when business leaders take giving to heart and set the mandate of making a difference through caring for people, mainstreaming it into their companies.
Mainstreaming such a philosophy within an organisation entails incorporating it in a legitimate, credible and ongoing manner into its day-to-day activities. It means integrating those aspects into the innards of the organisation, into its marketing, into its community initiatives and encouraging employee volunteerism on an ongoing basis. It implies allocating funds and ensuring high visibility on the corporate agenda. It calls for your wallet share. So that it becomes a part of the organisation’s DNA. The canvas is vast.
Let me give four reasons why this must be done.
First, and most important of all, healthy communities make for a healthy workforce. At the end of the day, a corporation’s catchment area and its most important constituency is its workforce. All of you here represent, as I said earlier, corporations that you either work for or lead. We know that 70% of the body is comprised
of water. Without this component,
the momentum would be lost. Likewise, in most organisations while 20% may be the executive force, 80% are the work bees. They come from communities in proximity to the location.
It is critical therefore to ensure that this is a healthy community. Healthy communities make for healthy organisations – in every way. It is also important to keep your gaze beyond these immediate communities to the larger community at the periphery.
Another point that I want to stress is that today it is talented people who provide the cutting edge to organisations.
Professionals of the highest order wish increasingly to align with a company that not only enjoys a reputation for its values, quality products and services, but is also committed to giving.
Today’s young want to ensure that the benefit of capitalism percolates down. Talent believes that wealth creation is a noble pursuit.They feel that wealth can be best enhanced by distributing it. So