Entrepreneurs, investment bankers and retired executives were among the around 150 guests who attended the Foundation For Excellence’s (FFE) 11th annual gala on April 23, here in Manhattan at the prestigious Pierre, a Taj-owned hotel. This marked the second year the gala was held on the East Coast by the Silicon Valley, California-based non-profit.
Begun by venture capitalist Dr. Prabhu Goel and his wife Poonam Goel, the FFE endeavors to provide educational funding to exceptionally bright students in India who have serious financial constraints, enabling them to achieve professional success as engineers and doctors. Since FFE’s inception in 1994, over $30 million in scholarships have been awarded, including over $1 million raised last year in the US alone for the first time.
Verifying candidates’ financial need and pledging them, once they’ve achieved professional success, to support at least two other candidates in the program during their lifetime, is something the Foundation prides itself on.
Ron Mehta, Board member of FFE in New York and chairperson for the event, gave opening remarks.
FFE scholarship recipient Bismay Mishra of NIT, Trichy, emceed the evening, reflecting on his own family history of each generation helping the next and how that translates into providing each successive generation’s education.
The highlight of the evening was the fund-raising period just before dinner, overseen with good humor by FFE Founding President Venk Shukla, which generated $175,000 in donations.
On a somewhat lighter, although still topical note, stand-up comedian Rajiv Satyal, of the one-person show “No Man’s Land”, amused the audience with his “non-veg jokes”, commenting on how, due to the Trump administration’s immigration rhetoric, the Mexican workers renovating his house had to return home to Mexico, “…so because of Trump’s cabinet, I have no cabinets!”
Minoo Gupta, current President of Foundation For Excellence, chronicled some of the organization’s achievements since it was started, in having helped more than 17,000 students at over 450 colleges in 23 states throughout India. She also noted that 100 percent of donations go towards the scholarships and that the scholars have access to an online English language training program to improve their marketability for future employment.
The keynote speaker of the Gala was mathematician Anand Kumar, who recounted through a multi-media presentation, the poignant story of the Super 30 initiative under his Ramanujan School of Mathematics (RSM), which provides coaching to 30 economically disadvantaged students per year for the entrance exams to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).
“We’re not just helping people, but helping them cross psychological barriers (to success),” Kumar said.
Kumar founded and has maintained the initiative through his school, despite fraudulent competition, as well as threats of physical violence and has relied on FFE for the financial support it has given his students.
“Education is the key and nurturing brilliance is the motto he follows which is so similar to FFE,” said Anand. “Poverty should not come in the way of education of talented students. It is in this light that I value the contribution of FFE immensely, but it should not confine its support to just higher or technical education. There is need to support students right from the primary or secondary stage,” he added.
Anand got a standing ovation from the audience.
“I don’t normally get emotional, but Anand Kumar’s story moved me to tears,” said up-and-coming fashion entrepreneur Ankita Kant.
Speaker Vidya Swaminathan of Bristol-Myers Squibb spoke about the incredible impact investments have in making every scholar a future role model, adding “It’s not just a Foundation For Excellence, but an excellent foundation!”
Satish Chittibabu of CIT Coimbatore and Dr. Purvesh Malaviya, DMD, of the Dental School in Baroda, both past FFE scholars, remarked on the immaterial benefits of giving back to other scholars.
Chittibabu stated “You get satisfaction in your heart before you go to sleep!” while Dr. Malaviya mentioned, “If you can educate someone to have a good life, they can help others to have a good life too!”
Many in the audience expressed their support for FFE.
Dr. Sushil Bhatia committed himself to support a student and to help FFE expand its reach in New York City.
Brij Seth, who came down from Florida, praised FFE, saying “it stood out like a beacon”.
“FFE’s growth record is phenomenal and showed the passion of the entire team. I was also impressed that FFE’s initiatives inspired many scholarship recipients to contribute to the organization after completing their studies,” said Seth, adding, “It is very rewarding for me to honor my parents by establishing a perpetual scholarship endowment fund in their memory and advancing the mission of FFE.”
Dr. Papachan Kolattukudi, a professor at the University of Florida, said that he is so impressed by FFE, that he has contributed funds to FFE for endowment to support four students, perpetually. He said in future he will add more to the endowment.
Anita Balaji, who has supported FFE since her student days at MIT, said that her entire family is taking part as donor, volunteer and facilitator.
Air India sponsored the FFE fundraiser. Parikh Worldwide Media, TV Asia and India Abroad were the media partners.