Community, Headline, Tristate

American India Foundation raises whopping $2.25 million at gala in New York

15th anniversary gala honored Victor Menezes.

By Sujeet Rajan

AIF Chairman Emeritus Victor Menezes is honored. (From left to right: Pradeep Kashyap, Victor Menezes, John Reed)

NEW YORK: The American India Foundation (AIF) raised a whopping $2.25 million to further its poverty alleviation programs in India, at their grand 15th Anniversary Gala, held at the iconic Cipriani Wall Street, in Manhattan, on Tuesday.

More than 600 guests, including some of New York Tristate area’s most influential business leaders, investors, and community leaders came together to wine and dine and raise money for a stellar philanthropic organization which is known for transparency in its operations, dedication, commitment, and steady growth of laudable programs in India.

The President and CEO, MasterCard and Co-Chair of the Board, AIF, Ajay Banga, was present too, and spoke at the meet.

The gala highlighted AIF’s Digital Equalizer Program, which is transforming government schools across India through technology in order to enhance the quality of teaching, and capture children’s imagination while instilling a lifelong love of learning.

“This evening’s event was a great opportunity to celebrate the impact that AIF has created in India in the last fifteen years with some of our most dedicated supporters and volunteers,” said Alex Counts, the President and CEO of AIF, at the meet. “Looking to the next 15 years and beyond, AIF is committed to continuing to develop and massively scale pro-poor innovations in India.”

During the gala, AIF honored Victor Menezes, the Retired Senior Vice Chairman of Citigroup and the Chairman Emeritus of AIF.

“Of all the things I’ve done, the AIF cause and organization is closest to my heart,” said Menezes. “We continue to experiment and innovate. None of our programs was designed in the U.S., but rather the innovations took place on the ground in India. Through our partnerships with foundations, governments, and like-minded people, AIF has touched and transformed over three million lives.”

AIF Ambassador Rahul Bose (right) interviews Keerthana Vivekananthan about AIF's Digital Equalizer program
AIF Ambassador Rahul Bose (right) interviews Keerthana Vivekananthan about AIF’s Digital Equalizer program

The evening also featured remarks from other prominent leaders who lauded AIF on its long-term success in fighting poverty for the most marginalized people in India. Apart from Banga, others who spoke included the actor, director, screenwriter Rahul Bose, who is also Ambassador, AIF; Lata Krishnan, Co-Chair of the Board, AIF; and John Reed – Retired Chairman, Citigroup and Chairman Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

AIF invited two special guests from India this year to speak at the meet, a school teacher and a 9th grade student, both from Tamil Nadu.

It was a poignant moment for the guests as Bose interviewed the 9th grade student, Keerthana Vivekananthan. She spoke about how AIF had transformed her and her family’s lives. Her father is a mill worker, and barely makes enough money to support the family. Her sister is now studying to be an engineer, and she has aspirations to be a doctor.

“Before the Digital Equalizer program came to my school, learning subjects was very boring,” said Vivekananthan. “Now, me and my classmates are able to see subjects through visual images and it has made learning more fun and easy.”

With 70% of India’s one million public schools lacking basic computing technology, the country is facing significant challenges to prepare its youth for success in the 21st century global economy. Poor school infrastructure, high teacher absenteeism, a large volume of teacher vacancies, and persistently low levels of learning and achievement all contribute to a staggering dropout rate that sees nearly 50% of young people abandoning their education at the key transitional ages of secondary school.

Since 2002, AIF’s Digital Equalizer program has been bridging this educational and digital divide by bringing technology to schools across India and utilizing technology to transform teaching and learning into a collaborative, project-based approach. This approach helps teachers to be more effective while motivating and inspiring students to continue their education and open doors of opportunity to higher education and career success. To date, the program has connected over one million children to technology.

AIF partners with NGOs to develop and test innovative solutions and with governments to create and scale sustainable impact. Founded in 2001 at the initiative of President Bill Clinton following a suggestion from Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, AIF has impacted the lives of 3.1 million of India’s poor and aims to reach five million by 2018-2019.

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