American India Foundation Annual Bay Area Gala Celebrates Women’s Empowerment, Maternal Health

Santa Clara Weekly

The American India Foundation (AIF) hosted its 19th Annual Bay Area Gala on March 16 at the Fairmont San Jose. The event brought together 600 guests, including some of the Bay Area’s most influential corporations, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 CEOs, luminaries and community leaders to raise funds in support of AIF’s health care and poverty alleviation solutions across India.

The evening’s theme was women’s empowerment — strong women make strong communities. At the gala, Maya Patel and Mona Shah were honored with the AIF Service Award for making a significant impact in the lives of women both in the US and India. This year, AIF awarded the Corporate Leadership Award to Sumir Chadha of WestBridge Capital.

Co-founder and board co-chair Lata Krishnan said, “I salute Sumir for his leadership at Westbridge and the constituencies he works and lives in. His unbridled passion for the community he lives in and the country he hails from is clearly demonstrated by his generous philanthropy in both countries. It is AIF’s privilege to collaborate with a corporate leader who takes the time and effort to understand the plight of the underprivileged and invests in their future with thoughtfulness and empathy.”

At the gala, Payal Kadakia Pujji brought her award-winning Los Angeles-based Sa Dance Company to San Jose to support AIF. Through movement and music, Sa weaves together the Indian heritage of its dancers and traditional Indian folk and classical dance forms. Pujji is the co-founder and executive chairman of ClassPass, a popular fitness class subscription service, and has appeared on Fortune’s 40 Under 40.

The evening showcased the organization’s two flagship programs, Maternal and Newborn Survival Initiative (MANSI) and Market Alliance Skills Training (MAST), which empowers women entrepreneurs. Guests heard from two women who have traveled from the northern state of Uttarakhand in the Himalayas to share their AIF journey.

MANSI tackles some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. According to UNICEF, nearly a quarter of all maternal deaths worldwide occur in India. Babies without mothers are far more likely to die in their first two years of life than babies with mothers. Fewer than half of Indian mothers deliver their children in hospitals or other healthy environments. For women in remote, isolated villages, access to and knowledge about care can be a matter of survival.

Since launching the initiative in 2009, MANSI has trained nearly 4000 community health workers and served more than 81,300 pregnant mothers. The program has lowered neonatal mortality rates by 46 percent and child mortality rates by 44 percent. Compared with the existing government program, this is a 500 percent better outcome.

At the gala, Savitri Devi, a MANSI health care worker, spoke about her own personal journey from being married at 10 and having a life-threatening pregnancy at 17 which was a turning point in her life to help other women learn about the health risks.

The MAST financial empowerment program promotes an entrepreneurship culture among low-income women. Women are expected to take care of the home and family and traditionally do not have marketable skills or access to jobs. To date, the MAST program has created nearly 100,000 jobs and provided skills training to almost 125,000 youth in 206 centers across 24 states. Guests will hear Babita Rana’s story of financial independence through the training she received with the Shahnaz Taplin Women’s Empowerment Fund.

The gala’s host, the American India Foundation, is committed to catalyzing social and economic change in India and building a lasting bridge between the United States and India through high-impact interventions in education, livelihoods, public health and leadership development, with an emphasis on empowering girls and women to achieve gender equity.

Working closely with local communities, AIF partners with NGOs and government 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 request from Prime Minister Vajpayee, AIF has impacted the lives of 4.6 million of India’s poor in 24 states.

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