Promoting Philanthropy While Celebrating India-US Ties

The Capital Post – December 5, 2012

WASHINGTON – Juxtapose a celebration of India-US strategic ties with philanthropic efforts directed toward the impoverished in India and you have the theme of the American India Foundation’s annual gala in the nation’s capital.

Headlining the event was Indian Ambassador Mrs. Nirupama Rao who told an elite and erudite gathering of business and industry leaders, indeed trailblazers, who packed the elegant Hall of Flags in the US Chamber of Commerce: “When you think of the strategic partnership between India and the US, essentially what this partnership emphasizes is the relationship between people” and once you have an “understanding and empathy between people and that spirit of caring which philanthropy symbolizes, then you can build solid relationships, what we seek to do, all of us who practice the art of diplomacy and who come from government from each of our countries to try to progress these relationships”.

She acknowledged that while she has attended many events, as India’s foreign secretary and now as its ambassador, in the hall at the US Chamber of Commerce, “this evening is special because it celebrates the coming together of our two countries in the cause of philanthropy, in the cause of development, in the cause of friendship. We, at the Embassy, at the Government of India, are with the American India Foundation”, she emphasized. “We would like to see your work prosper. We share goals, we share a common vision, we share common values. Whenever we speak of the strategic partnership between our two countries, we speak of those shared values and convergent interests. This strategic partnership, which President Obama has very eloquently said is a defining partnership, is an indispensable partnership. If India and the US are able to work together not only to further their bilateral relationship, but also to address regional and global challenges, you can visualize what a difference that would make to the world at large”.

Ambassador Rao was the chief guest speaker at the American India Foundation (AIF) gala which honored Congressman Jim Moran (Democrat-Virginia) and accorded special recognition to Dr. Natwar Gandhi, Chief Financial Officer for the District of Columbia. Among other luminaries were: gala chairs, Mr. Victor Menezes, retired senior vice chairman of Citigroup, and Mr. Ranvir Trehan, entrepreneur and philanthropist, The Trehan Family Foundation; gala co-chairs, Mr. Sudhakar Shenoy and Geoff Stewart; Terry McAuliffe, an entrepreneur who has announced that he plans to run again for Virginia Governor; Aneesh Chopra, the first Federal Chief Technology Officer, currently running for Lieutenant Governor in Virginia; Diane Farrell, Executive Vice President of the US-India Business Council, a supporting partner of the gala; and Gaurav Malik and Venkatesh Raghavendra of AIF’s active Young Professionals program. Natasha Barrett, reporter, ABC 7 News, served as the mistress of ceremony and Vijai Nathan, a Washington-based, well known comedian, regaled the audience with her rib-tickling stand-up comedy act.

It is noteworthy that AIF is the largest diaspora philanthropy organization which is focused on India and based here in the US. Since its inception in 2001, AIF has benefitted over 1.5 million people by implementing programs through some 150 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It mobilizes resources in the US and India and invests these to improve education, livelihoods and public health for the marginalized in India.

At the gala, Ambassador Rao noted that “India, the world’s largest democracy, a teeming nation of 1.2 billion people faces many challenges as it moves forward on the path to complete development”. She stressed that while America is the world’s oldest, modern democracy, India is a young democracy with a young population: some 65 percent of the Indian populace is below the age of 25.

“So, that is the proportion of people who are going to carry forward India’s message to the 21st century”, the envoy said. “When we talk of inclusive development in India, we would like to focus in large measure on this group of people”. Looking around the packed hall, she told AIF’s August audience: “When you speak of education, livelihood, health, women’s empowerment, you are essentially singing the song of India’s development. The actions of people like you can provide a momentum, an acceleration, a drive, that enables us to reach the goals that we have set for ourselves”.

Foremost among those goals are fortifying India-US ties. Expressing optimism, Ambassador Rao noted: “Today, the dialogue between India and the US has acquired so many facets. We are no longer estranged democracies as described in the 1950s and 60s. This is a very different situation today. There is communication, there is convergence, there is coordination, there is cooperation. We have already moved beyond the three C’s”, she declared.

Congressman Moran, who was re-elected for an 11th term from Virginia’s 8th District, lavished encomiums on Indian-Americans, the most educated and affluent of all ethnic groups in America! The long-standing and influential lawmaker said: “The Indian-American community, in general, has been extraordinary, not just in our economy and in our society, but our politics as well. These numbers were just phenomenal”, he gushed, referring to Indian-American participation in the recent election. “The White House cannot be more pleased at the participation of the Asian community and knows that the Indian community really led the way”, he said. “The Indian-American community is clearly so well informed on so many issues much better than people who have lived here for generations”.

Declaring that the India-US relationship “has no limits”, Moran noted that bilateral engagement has continued to blossom across the whole spectrum of cultural, political and economic ties. He credited the Indian-American community for what he called the “profoundly close partnership” between the world’s greatest democracies.

“This human bridge of three million Indian-Americans is just so strong and vibrant”, he said. “It has enabled us to draw so much closer in recent decades and our governments have formed a strategic partnership”!

The lawmaker extolled Mr. Sudhakar Shenoy, Mr. Ranvir Trehan and Aneesh Chopra “for contributing so much to our economy and our society”. About Dr. Natwar Gandhi, who was recently re-appointed as the District’s CFO for the third consecutive five-year term, he quipped, “They just won’t let him go and understandably so”!

Former Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans (2010), Moran emphasized that it is the largest ethnic caucus in the US House of Representatives. He noted that “there are 100,000 Indian students attending American universities, fostering strong ties to this country, contributing to its future. We will keep as many as we possibly can”, he affirmed.

Dr. Natwar Gandhi, who is largely credited for the District’s financial recovery, elicited much applause from the AIF audience when he underscored that “Only in America can a first generation Indian-American achieve the position of CFO of the nation’s capital”.

Warmly commending the Indian envoy, he said, “India is extraordinarily lucky to have Ambassador Rao who fulfills her unique role as India’s voice in Washington”.

Describing AIF as “a wonderful organization”, he quoted President Bill Clinton, honorary chairman of AIF, who said: “AIF plays an ever important role in bringing together Americans and Indians to become active contributors to India’s development. By supporting the AIF bridge, you are not only helping AIF remain a bastion of opportunity for the country’s poor, but also helping its democracy to thrive and flourish”.

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