Founders of Indian-American Non-Profits Reflect on the Causes They Work Toward in India

Ritu Jha-


With the objective “Be the Agent of Change” one of the pioneer Indian-American non-profits in the San Francisco Bay Area, Indians for Collective Action (ICA) Action says the second and third generation wants to give back locally.

ICA celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and this year it pledged $10,000 to The Spartan Food Pantry of San Jose State University in California as well as supported two India based non-profits, Vinayak Lohani’s Parivaar and Satyajit Bhatkal of Paani Foundation, at the annual gala held in Villa Ragusa in Campbell, California.

Abhay Bhushan, former Co-President of ICA said they have been giving to local organizations and contributing locally for some time, like youth programs in the US, feeding the homeless, and giving to environmental groups, some with no direct connection to India.

He said they have honored US organizations and people every year, along with Indian Honorees. ICA honored Dr. Vivek Murthy and his organization Doctors for America, and also launched Sukham which helps the local community here in the US. Last year Sukham spun off as separate non-profits (Asha for Education and Foundation for Excellence before that).

“However, it(US) was not one of the focus areas. But now recognizing that 2nd and 3rd generation Indian Americans are interested in giving back locally, we have made it a focus area, and will grow from a few percent of our activity to a significantly higher amount,” Bhushan added, “The $10K is one time for now from core funds, but we intend to do it regularly, as well as send donor-designated funds like we do for projects we support.”

“We already received sizable additional contributions and pledges for [The Spartan Food Pantry] at SJSU and additional contributions were also received for Parivaar.”

Bhushan said that the total amount raised at the event in contributions and pledges was about $30,000 and more are coming in as we are receiving envelopes that people took or donating through their funds.

“To date, ICA has raised over $2.3 Million in 2019 for different projects it supports and disbursed over $2.2M to projects and programs,” Bhushan informed.

Satyajit Bhatkal, CEO of Paani Foundation, a Maharashtra based non-profit organization that is active in the area of drought prevention and watershed management in the state of Maharashtra, India told indica on the sidelines of the gala, “I feel [good] going to villages meeting them and working with them. I found it very-very enriching to my own life.”

“They are very inspiring and the kind of commitment and sacrifice they bring to the table is very humbling. “They have done everything, we only provided them the platform to come together,” said Bhatkal, who shared with the attendees how a village to village competition scheme called the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup competition has helped villagers to implement watershed management and water conservation methods since 2016.

When asked about the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report published in 2018 by the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) about water crisis in major cities in India, Bhatkal said, “I am not equipped to tell whether its accurate or not, there is a water crisis, of course…and it’s a terrible crisis.”

When asked about why government schemes are not working he said, “Government schemes work when [the] government and [the] people work together.”

Bhatkal, who works with Bollywood actor Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao who are the founders of Paani Foundation also hopes the water crises should end forever. “My dream is that there should be no need for Paani Foundation.”

When asked about dealing with the village casteism issue and how they have succeeded in narrowing the gap, Bhatkal said that because of the water crises, lots of casteism gets diluted.

“[Has casteism] gone away? The answer is no, the caste issue is not over, but [it] has reduced,” Bhatkal said and added the rule of the competition is to bring everyone together – a [collective] action.”

Another non-profit honored at the ICA gala was Parivaar, founded by Vinayak Lohani, who says it is highly inspired by the humanistic ideals of Swami Vivekananda.

Lohani, who is a recipient of the president’s award for child welfare and has earned a degree and a MBA from India’s elite schools IIT Kharagpur and IIM Calcutta, respectively, told indica, “I always wanted to lead a life of service and [I] aligned my life to [my] inner goal. My inspiration comes from Swami Vivekananda.”

“These corporate jobs [and] money never attracted me,” said Lohani and added his parents too were not materialistic and they just wanted him to be committed to a cause.

Sharing about Parivaar, which offers residential and educational institutions to provide better quality of life and opportunities to the homeless told indica he started with three children, all boys between five to eight years old and today there are 2000 children.

When asked if being so highly educated help Parivaar he said, “It might have because when people [learn that] some IIT alumni has opened Parivaar, that’s the first impression in mind and that has helped me.”

Established 17 years ago first in Bengal and then in Madhya Pradesh to help serve deprived and malnourished tribal children he said he lives with the Parivaar children and they are his family.

When asked about the changes he’s seen in the past 17 years as child labor is prevalent in India he said, “Parivaar can help in a small way and there are millions of children but the government cannot solve all the problems.”

He said there are so many challenges that you have to face and the main reason behind poverty in Kolkata is unemployment. The challenges Kolkata faces today are because there is not much industrialization and commercial development has not happened in West Bengal in the last few decades.

The visiting guests of honor, was Dr. Anagha Amte of Lok Biradari Prakalp participated in the conversation held during the afternoon told indica on the sidelines of the event, there are two  kind of India, one where she lives which she calls “Bharat” (a small village of Hemalkasa in Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra, India.) and other India that she talks about is like reaching to Moon and Mars.

“Bharat lacks access to basics like education, healthcare, and pure water to drink. A person dying of diarrhea or a snake bite is the ground reality,” said Dr. Amte, who is the daughter-in-law of Dr. Prakash Amte, who runs a hospital to address the health-care of tribal people and also runs animal orphanages and offers vocational and livelihood skills training.

Dr. Anagha Amte said that there are now residential schools but Bharat still lacks roads and infrastructure.
“[Staying] in Bharat means [staying in] remote places where a politician cannot see us. Reaching Mars is necessary as well and everyone has a role and but we have to know there are certain parts in our country where basic [needs] have not yet [been met] and we as educated individuals, what can we do?” she said.

When asked if government schemes are useful she said, “Most of the schemes are good but not all are executed and are suitable in all areas.”

Giving an example of giving a mid-day meal of sweet sooji(Semolina pudding/Halwa) to the children, she said that many of the tribal children don’t like sweets so they don’t eat, so the scheme offered should be adaptable to the social environment.

At the event, ICA also paid fond tributes to two ICA members – Dr. PK Mehta, far-sighted scholar and social entrepreneur and Dr. Paul Polak.

Dr. Mehta was one of the founders of ICA and Dr. Polak was an ICA honoree for his unique contribution to poverty alleviation in India. He invented a radically affordable irrigation technology available to farmers through local small-scale entrepreneurs and opened private sector access to markets for their crops.