My vision is to fight for the underprivileged’s survival: Prema Sagar

Corporate social responsibility is no longer just a footnote in a company’s HR policies. Corporates today have firm strategies in place to give back to the society and are doing a tremendous job in lending a helping hand to the less privileged. 

This Saturday saw a unique musical performance in Mumbai by 40 leaders of boardrooms divided in teams from Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. The fund-raiser event, organised by Genesis Foundation, saw a friendly competition between the teams. The repertoire of songs ranged from popular western to Bollywood. Celebrities from the world of Indian entertainment judged the performances and announced the Best of the Best Band title winner. 

The funds raised will go to support the treatment of critically ill under-privileged children. 

In conversation with Adgully, Prema Sagar, Founder Trustee, Genesis Foundation, sheds more light on the work of the Foundation, CSR and Indian corporate, her vision to help the underprivileged and more. Excerpts: 

Please tell us about the work that Genesis Foundation has been doing over the years?
When we started many years ago, we just did orphanages and some child who needed critical help. We then decided that we shouldn’t be all over the place and not do just everything. We were already working with orphanages, but we wanted to go to the hospitals, where so many children need medical treatment. So, we decided to cover heart problems, cancer and Thalassemia. 

How did you come up with the idea of getting CEOs to sing as part of the fundraiser for critically ill kids?
When volunteers used to come, they used to cry and I said, nobody will cry because what we are giving them is life, so we have to be very positive. And quite by chance there was some event and one of the CEOs started to sing. He said, ‘if you want me to sing other one, I will give money to the Foundation’, so from that I thought why not try it. Thus, this initiative took off from there and it has been more than eight years that we have doing this. 

How challenging was it to get 40 business honchos together for this initiative?
They love it. They said we also want to be together, we want to know each other, and we want to meet them. So, last year we started with 40 CEOs. 

How did Dia Mirza get involved with this initiative?
Somebody introduced Dia to us and when I met her I knew she could contribute a lot. I didn’t want a person who was a brand, and Dia is not a brand, she is a person who goes to meet the children, talks to the doctors. And she has been associated with many social causes. 

What have been the most satisfying and the most challenging aspects of being part of the Genesis Foundation?
I have a company which has 330 people and I don’t get stressed. But I get stressed by seeing such little things. Lots of people are supporting us, but you still feel that there is much more that you can do and that makes you think why am I not doing? So that is the challenge. Fund is the biggest problem, it’s a new thing in India; 25 years ago the economy opened up, so I can say that at least we get money, but I would say it needs to be much, much more. I don’t know with demonetisation what is in store in 2017. There are so many children who are dying because their families just don’t have enough money. How can a family with an annual income of Rs 10,000 or less pay for the treatment of their child who requires Rs 4,000 or more per month? That child hardly has any chance of surviving. Hence, we take up only those with BPL cards. 

Do you think Indian businesses are doing enough to help the underprivileged? What more should be done?
I think they are, and have been doing this for many years. If we look back, companies like Ranbaxy and SRF have been doing a lot for the community – be it education or health. But now, things are done in a different way, so you have fund raising, bringing people together. It is a very difficult job now. 

Though the government is doing a lot in terms of social causes, it should not be just a 3 per cent cess on education. I think 50 per cent of the help should be for health care and 50 per cent for education. If you don’t have life, then what’s the point of education? 

What does your future vision to help the underprivileged entail?
My vision is to make them survive. And I have to look around for serious fund raising as it is done in the West, otherwise where will the money come from? There are people who donate cheques, but we need to take it to next level. Next week, I will be meeting with several CEOs and people who have been supporting us on how to get the money and make our effort bigger. It is very tough, and sometimes I can’t sleep at night. 

When you look at these children, in a lot of cases they need nutrition before they need surgery. And they need to stay in the hospital for the surgery and for recuperating. However, in the North, there aren’t enough shelters for the poor parents, hence, they have to sleep by the road side. In the South, a lot of hospitals have shelters for the parents while their children are admitted in the hospital.


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