|CURRENT ISSUE DECEMBER 27, 2004|
|THE GLOBAL INDIAN: NRI DO-GOODERS|
| Returns Of The Natives |
Driven by a 'nurture your roots' credo, NRIs are pitching in with more than just dollars to build the much-needed social infrastructure back home
|By Ramesh Vinayak|
From a distance, Brahampur looks like any other village in Punjab. Up close, however, it is refreshingly different-clean, concrete-paved streets lined with saplings, underground sewers, piped water supply and a waste-treatment plant. This village of Ludhiana district had fallen off the map for government-funded development. Life in this backwater, however, began to improve unexpectedly 11 months ago after the return of one of its natives from Canada. Globe-trotting banking consultant Anant Pal Singh, 60, who donated $60,000 (Rs 27 lakh) to transform the village he had left in 1965, now visits Brahampur frequently to oversee the Rs 1 crore development project under the aegis of the Rural Life Improvement Foundation, an NRI-floated NGO.
Singh represents the new face of NRI do-gooders. And the trend is not confined to Punjab, home to two million expatriates, the highest in the country. From the deserts of Rajasthan to the backwaters of Gujarat to the slums in Bangalore, affluent first-generation expatriates are pitching in not only with dollars but also with hands-on involvement to leave an impact on the communities they hail from.
It is philanthropy redefined. From "pounds-for-plaque" charities to "nurture-your-roots" projects. Donating to religious and other institutions is still in vogue among wealthy NRIs, especially in Punjab's Doaba region. But a small yet significant section is focusing its ideas-and investments-on big-ticket projects in the core sectors of education, healthcare and community development. They not only invest in well-conceived, need-specific projects but also make them happen with their direct involvement. "Instead of piecemeal philanthropy, expatriates are now taking to a cooperative approach for a holistic development of need-based social infrastructure," says G.S. Bains, Punjab's commissioner of NRI affairs.
Exemplifying this trend in Gujarat is the 300-acre, landscaped Ganpat Vidyanagar campus in Kherwa village near Mehsana. Built over the past six years by the Mehsana District Education Foundation (MDEF)-floated and funded by the wealthy NRIs from the area-the state-of-the-art institute houses colleges for engineering, computer technology, pharmacy and business management, besides India's first sainik school for girls. The inspiration behind this dream is California-based power equipment manufacturer Ganpat Patel, the son of a farmer from Bhunav village in Mehsana, who has contributed over Rs 15 crore to the project.
Not only are NRIs redefining their philanthropic priorities, but also forging partnership with global NGOs. Like Sir Ghulam Noon, 64, who oversees a thriving food business in the UK but has not forgotten his roots in Rajasthan. Last year, he joined hands with Care International, UK, to set up a Rs 2 crore water-harvesting project in drought-affected Jhalawar district. "Even if a few hundred benefit from what I do, it is money well-spent," says Noon who migrated to Britain in the 1960s. Noon's cardinal rule is: "I don't give money but ask the people what they need." He has a team of contractors and engineers in Jhalawar to implement projects ranging from a community hall for Dalits to an intensive care unit at a hospital and a sports complex for children.