Giving back is worth a million smiles

Giving back is worth a million smiles

After meeting Mother Teresa, Meera Gandhi knew her mission in life was to help others

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Meera Gandhi with students from St Michael's School for Girls in New Delhi. Gandhi's foundation has helped build playgrounds and pay for computers and textbooks at schools in India.
Meera Gandhi with students from St Michael's School for Girls in New Delhi. Gandhi's foundation has helped build playgrounds and pay for computers and textbooks at schools in India.
Photo: The Giving Back Foundation
"We are to the universe only as much as we give back to it." That is the motto of Meera Teresa Gandhi, founder and chief executive of The Giving Back Foundation. Launched in 2010, the foundation helps educate and empower women and children in need, including those who are abused, sick and poor.

Gandhi - who lives at different times in Hong Kong, New York and London - was raised in a privileged family, but she has not lost touch with the needs of others. She learned this from her parents, "the best human beings in the world".

Gandhi was born in Mumbai to an Indian father and Irish mother. Her mother was a big influence, but it was another woman who inspired Gandhi to do charity work.

"I was 16 years old when I met Mother Teresa at Asha Daan, a home for abandoned children in Mumbai," Gandhi says. "I was going there every week during my last two years of high school, helping to feed and bathe the children."

Mother Teresa was a nun from Europe who worked with the poor in India; she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and died in 1997.

"I didn't [really know who she was] then, but I never forgot her big smile and how she hugged everyone. People could feel her happiness when they were near her," Gandhi says. "I thought to myself: I want to be that person who brings happiness to people."

After going to school in India, Britain and Canada, Gandhi got an MBA at Boston University in 1989. She graduated from Harvard Business School in 2007. In 2008, she moved to Hong Kong with her husband, Vikram Gandhi, and their three children.

In February, her foundation released a book, Giving Back, which features 75 charities she has started or funded around the world. The first chapter focuses on women.

"I know first-hand that mothers, and women in general, are the cornerstone of any society. It is a sad fact that countries with the greatest number of starving people are also the very same countries with the highest [gender] inequalities," she says in the book. "Providing education to women will ease so many other societal woes ... On average, an educated woman will reinvest 90 per cent of her earnings into her family, in contrast to 35 per cent by a man."

Gandhi also believes we should learn to give back at a young age. "Like our temper, a habit of giving back can be cultivated while we're young. We will shape the person we will be in future," she says.

From the moment she met Mother Teresa, Gandhi knew how she wanted to live her life.

"A lot of people wonder what they want to do. It is extremely clear to me that I want to help others [with my foundation]," she says.

"I can buy any diamond, but I'd rather spend [the money] on people and influence them to give back. Living in a materialistic world is lonely. You need to stay in touch with your soul by reaching out to people and by sharing.

"Giving is joyful. Without giving back, your life can become a vacuum."

Giving Back is also the name of a music album and a short documentary featuring lawyer Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, human rights activist Kerry Kennedy, rocker Bono and other celebrity activists. All proceeds go to the foundation. Visit www. TheGivingBackFoundation.net for more details

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