(Marina del Rey, California) Nearly 500 people filled the main ballroom in the glamorous Ritz-Carlton Hotel here in Marina Del Rey on December 5th to help support the American India Foundation’s Seventh Annual Gala which raised funds for needy rickshaw drivers in India and also honored filmmaker and director Shekhar Kapur.
Entitled Wheel Power, the AIF annual gala raised an estimated $425,000 for its Rickshaw Sangh protocol, which is a microfinance program helping cycle rickshaw drivers in India rise from poverty by helping them own their own vehicles and rid themselves of debts. The AIF program has reportedly already assisted more than 10,000 rickshaw drivers.
It was AIF’s goal to have its Southern California supporters contribute enough funds to the Rickshaw Sangh program in order for the non-profit charity organization to reach its mark of assisting 100,000 rickshaw drivers.
“We want the people of Southern California to not only come together to help accelerate economic change in India but to celebrate our shared community--and spirit--of giving,” gala co-chair Ravi Talik stated.
That very community included several notable dignitaries representing both Hollywood and Bollywood, including actors, filmmakers, executives, community leaders, and media personalities. Among those in attendance included president of Fox International Productions Sanford Panitch, the cast and crew of Outsourced, actors Kunal Nayyar, Janina Gavankar, Ravi Patel, Sunkrish Bala, Kavi Ladnier, Fagun Thakrar, and Rupak Ginn.
In all, the nearly 500 guests here at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey enthusiastically attended the Wheel Power Gala in support of many the many bicycle rickshaw drivers AIF aims to help.
“It changes the lives not only of the rickshaw drivers but of their whole families,” Ethan Veneklasen, executive director of AIF West Coast, said of the Rickshaw Sangh program. “(Our) programs leverage resources, creating the greatest possible impact engaging government, business, and other social sectors … to be a force for continued economic development in India.”
Both Nayyar and Gavankar, who currently star in CBS’s The Big Bang Theory and HBO’s True Blood, respectively, served as co-emcees of the gala’s formal program, which included speeches, a video presentation of AIF’s Rickshaw Sangh program, and a presentation of an honorary award to Mr. Kapur.
Both emcees, however, were quick to point out the symbolism of the AIF gala and what it meant to them.
“Tonight we’re really focusing in on rickshaw drivers, and that’s a group completely taken for granted,” Ms. Gavankar told Buzzine. “This organization is helping them to own their own rickshaws, and that is completely different. You are giving people with an entrepreneurial spirit the power to become a real entrepreneur and give them ownership over their own business.”
Similarly, Mr. Nayyar felt a deep connection to AIF’s causes, mostly because the actor was born in India and can personally relate to the very people the organization supports.
“It’s all about giving back. I’m from India, so what (AIF does) I see direct-handedly, especially with the rickshaws … giving them small loans,” Mr. Nayyar told Buzzine.
While Ms. Gavankar and Mr. Nayyar spoke of how the Wheel Power gala and charity event touched them individually, Fox International’s Mr. Panitch mentioned to India-West that he was open to figuring out how he could help further AIF’s causes.
“We’ve only just recently come in contact with AIF, understanding the things they are doing--it’s quite impressive,” Mr. Panitch told Buzzine. “Today I was hearing about the social entrepreneurships with the rickshaws; it’s incredible. We’re trying to find some way we can help.”
One person who truly believed in the help AIF provides to its constituents is Mr. Kapur, who directed Mr. India and Elizabeth, who spoke to the audience about how the non-profit organization can improve the lives of many.
“India is a country of entrepreneurs. I have seen … what education can do. I have seen what the contributions make and what the AIF makes--what difference it makes to people,” Mr. Kapur said to the audience shortly after being introduced by Mr. Panitch and honored by the AIF. “Can you imagine what we can do to the world if we bring more education, more employment, more empowerment to what we call the bottom of the barrel?”
The largest U.S.-based social development organization dedicated exclusively to India, AIF was founded in 2001 and aims to accelerate “social and economic change in India.” According to the organization, it has “impacted the lives of more than 1.5 million Indians in the critical areas of education, livelihoods, and public health.”
AIF’s Rickshaw Sangha program currently has partnerships in seven cities in India to help empower rickshaw drivers. The organization works with non-governmental organizations and commercial banks to help rickshaw drivers gain ownership of their vehicles and provide a better life for themselves and their families.