Indian philanthropist commits US$1 million to polio eradication
During a ceremony on 21 April at Rotary International headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, Arch C. Klumph Society inductee Rajashree Birla gave a brief speech. The Rotary senior leaders in the audience expected her to talk about her US$300,000
contribution to The Rotary Foundation
, which endows an
. Instead, Birla, of Mumbai, India, focused mostly on polio eradication.
As she concluded, the soft-spoken Birla then made an announcement that took everyone by surprise: She is committing an additional $1 million to
Rotary's US$100 Million Challenge
for polio eradication.
"You took our breath away," said an elated Bob Scott, trustee chair of The Rotary Foundation, after a standing ovation for Birla.
Birla's late husband, Aditya Birla, led his family's business to become one of India's largest. Today, Aditya and Rajashree's son, Kumar Mangalam Birla, heads the Aditya Birla Group (ABG), a Fortune 500 company with 40 plants employing 100,000 workers in 20 countries.
Integral to the Birla business philosophy is a longstanding commitment to accountability, not only to shareholders and employees but also to the local communities in which the business operates. Birla continues the family legacy of giving back to society through her leadership in the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiatives and Rural Development, which focuses on sustainable development in the communities around ABG plants.
An honorary member of the Mumbai and Mulund Rotary clubs, Birla feels a strong kinship with Rotary and its commitment to community service.
"As a fellow Rotarian, I'm always happy to see the amount of work you do. The Rotarians symbolize a culture of giving and caring which is strikingly close to our group's philosophy," she said.
Birla has been a key supporter of
Rotary's top goal
of eradicating polio. The Aditya Birla Centre has helped immunize some three million children in 3,200 villages in India, one of the four remaining polio-endemic countries.
"At the same time, we perform reconstructive surgery and try to rehabilitate polio victims so that they become independent and regain their self-esteem," said Birla.
Scott later said that, to some extent, he wasn't surprised by Birla's announcement. "I know of her keen interest in the eradication of polio," he said. "I just knew that she would do something as generous someday."
Past RI President Rajendra K. Saboo praised Birla and her family for their leadership in Indian society. "Mrs. Birla is one person who connects the corporate sector with the community," he said.
RI Director Ashok Mahajan described Birla as a "shining example of what humans have to do to be humane."
Birla is the
from India to make a commitment of $1 million or more for Rotary's US$100 Million Challenge for polio eradication.
When asked what lessons Rotarians can learn from nongovernmental organizations like the Aditya Birla Centre, she humbly replied: "Rotarians have a lot of compassion, which is very necessary. I do see people going to the smallest details to give all their support to the downtrodden or the needy people. I think
have to learn from Rotary."
More Arch C. Klumph Society inductees