Indian American entrepreneurs Bharat Desai and Neerja Sethi commit $1 million to AIF.
The American India Foundation honored Dell Technologies Chairman and CEO Michael Dell and Aditya Puri, the Managing Director of India’s largest private sector bank of HDFC, at its annual gala in New York, on April 24.
The gala raised nearly $3 million, with a third of that amount committed by Indian American technology entrepreneurs Bharat Desai and Neerja Sethi.
The glittering gala, held at the historic Cipriani Wall Street, was attended by 600 people, among them, a number of prominent Indian Americans from the Big Apple.
The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, which focuses on improving the lives of children living in urban poverty through education, health and family economic stability, has committed nearly $1.7 billion worldwide for the cause. In India, the foundation has spent $200 million in the past 15 years.
AIF is one of the Dell Foundation’s partners in India, where the two are providing digital education to one million students in 8,000 schools across six states.
“Tomorrow’s future is shaped by what children learn today,” Dell said accepting the award. “And we believe that it is not enough to show up with computers in classrooms—of course, that’s important—but we must apply our expertise, our technology and our giving to ensure that students everywhere have the skills to succeed, the critical thinking skills to succeed in the digital world.”
Dell said that was the reason his foundation is partnering with AIF.
Puri, who runs India’s largest private sector bank, spoke about his company’s philanthropic activities. “We have our intervention in health as well as education,” he said. “As far as education is concerned, we have helped 1.6 million children get better education.”
Among the other highlights of the night was a $1 million pledge by Desai and Sethi. The couple, cofounders of IT consulting and knowledge process services firm Syntel, sold the company for $3.4 billion to the French IT services company Atos last summer. They live in Fisher Island, FL.
The evening began with a call to arms by MSNBC host and Master of Ceremonies Ali Velshi and AIF Co-Chair Harit Talwar.
“Our mission is simple and audacious,” said Talwar, who serves as Global Head of Consumers at Goldman Sachs. “We want to make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of underprivileged women and children in India. India is doing well—we are proud of that. But the facts are startling. Over 175 million people live below the poverty line [in India], which is defined as $2 a day. Over 150 million children live in extreme poverty, and unfortunately, India’s share of children living in extreme poverty is a staggering 30 percent.”
Talwar said poverty is not a uni-dimensional issue, and, therefore, AIF not a single-cause organization. “Poverty requires a multidimensional assault,” he said. “We have chosen to focus on programs on education, livelihood and health.”
According to AIF, till this date Digital Equalizer has empowered over 2,800,000 children, trained 132,000 teachers and transformed 12,000 schools boosting technology use and increasing student scores.
Other speakers included AIF Co-Chair Lata Krishnan, its CEO Nishant Pandey, the organization’s two Chairmen Emeritus Ajay Banga and Victor Menezes and Pradeep Kashyap, who transitioned from the group’s board to Director Emeritus.
Among the attendees were Indian American Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, AIF board members Venkat Srinivasan and Raj Sharma.
The Gala Chairs this year were Rich Rothberg, General Counsel at Dell Technologies, and Stephen M. Scherr, Chief Financial Officer at Goldman Sachs.