On Saturday, April 30, the American India Foundation (AIF) hosted its Annual Bay Area Gala, bringing together 600 guests, including some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most influential corporations, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 CEOs, luminaries, and community leaders to raise more than $1.5 million in support of AIF’s poverty alleviation solutions across India. The evening showcased the organization’s groundbreaking work in vocational training and advocacy for India’s disabled population, the Ability-Based Livelihoods Empowerment (ABLE) initiative.
AIF Co-Founder and Co-Chair Lata Krishnan welcomed the audience, thanking sponsors and supporters, while introducing the organization’s new leadership, Co-Chair Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard, and AIF President and CEO Alex Counts, longtime CEO of Grameen Foundation. Dr. Vishal Sikka, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Infosys, and Chip Bergh, President and Chief Executive Officer of Levi Strauss & Co., were each presented with the AIF Corporate Leadership Award at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco. A longtime supporter of AIF, Dr. Sikka spoke of the growing importance of the India-US relationship, and how Infosys has embedded social stewardship in its business practices on both continents. “It is my deeply held belief that every individual should be encouraged and supported to reach their true potential. All around us are passionate and determined people who have achieved great things, often overcoming significant personal hardship to flourish. Only by sharing what we have with each other can we amplify our human potential,” said Dr. Sikka. “At Infosys we care deeply about purposeful work – since our founding and through our global Foundations, ours is a culture of creating local and lasting impact in the communities we are part of. In the same spirit, the work of the American Indian Foundation aims to not only solve immediate problems but to develop understanding and knowledge that helps bring meaningful change to communities and positively impact future generations. At Infosys, we are proud to share the same values and mission.”
Abra Annes led a stunning live auction and fundraising drive, which raised a remarkable $404,000 dedicated to the Ability-Based Livelihoods Empowerment (ABLE) initiative. The drive was preceded by a captivating personal testimony by Sophia Shetty, a hearing-impaired woman whose life was changed through the ABLE initiative. “For the first time I realized I had choices that I could make,” said Sophia. “I have an identity of my own, which I never thought I would. I love my job. My colleagues respect me. I am the most hardworking person in my department. I love sewing and I always get more work. But there are millions of deaf people in India who don’t have the same opportunities like I do. They will be dependent on others their entire lives. But all of us are capable of doing something; we are not helpless. If we have the training, we can contribute to the society, take care of our families. It is my dream that all the deaf people in India can get to where I am.”
Award-winning comedian Dhaya Lakshminarayanan emceed the event and delivered humor throughout. Guests enjoyed an exquisite menu designed by internationally acclaimed chef and James Beard Foundation winner Madhur Jaffrey, and a lively performance by Britain’s Got Talent top performer Signature.
AIF’s Ability-Based Livelihoods Empowerment (ABLE) initiative is revolutionizing the industry paradigm in India by providing equal opportunity and access to employment for persons with disabilities, based on a simple belief – it is one’s ability, not disability, that defines any individual. ABLE trains persons with disabilities in fundamental and specialized skill sets – and facilitates their entry into the job market through a robust advocacy platform for disability inclusion, promoting inclusive growth in India.