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An unique foundation that supports  the cause of the education of girls - exclusively in Poona, the Lila Poonawala Foundation is a trend setter. An enterprising women's dream unfolds into reality as the Foundation in its tryst with girls education does away with all the age-old traditions to give the brilliant and go-getting young ladies from Pune a boost….." When parents send their elder daughter abroad, they do it so that younger son will have an easier time in following her footsteps….." But changing the mind-set of the people is the Lila Poonawala Foundation, and has given away outright gifts in cash to the tune of four and a half lakhs last year and five lakhs this year the Lila Poonawala Foundation has a vision to groom and inspire all those that are in need of education. It all began on Lila Poonawala's fiftieth birthday. In keeping with company's tradition of presenting each excelling employee with a token of their appreciation on their fiftieth birthday, the owners of Tetra Laval Group were in a quandary as to how to celebrate Lila's birthday, especially as she was the only lady M.D. in the group. They even conferred with Firoz Poonawalla, Lila's husband, and thought about giving her a custom-made Swiss watch, or a car to celebrate the momentous occasion. They even thought of giving a donation to the Quality Circle Movement in which Firoz had played an integral role and which cause Lila supported….. Then they struck gold as Lila thought they could form an organisation or fund one, which could be propogated even when they were not there. Slowly the idea took shape of setting up a charitable trust to promote the cause of higher education amongst brilliant girls who lack the resources. Thereby raising a new generation of more dynamic Lila Poonawallas………

ph1.jpg (26106 bytes)Lila comments on how it all began, " Firoz and I, have always been supportive towards the cause of girls education. And as I progressed in life I felt that I have a lot of opportunities in life- a husband who understood me, a family who pushed me to excel further. So I felt that I got a good break in life. Quite often, one encountered families where one saw that whenever there is a crunch in funds, normally the money was spent or rather invested wisely into boy's education. With girls, they believed that it was a ' risk investment' as one did not really know what kind of husband she get, the kind of in-laws she would get - whether they would allow her to work or her career would be sacrificed at the altar of home, family and children. Whatever little could be possible, we did- like I contributed to the Mount Carmel's School, while my husband gave some monetary assistance to the Poona Women's Council."
Lila's wonderful idea of setting up the Foundation was approved by the owners who also believed that it was a fantastic opportunity to groom more Lila's from India. It took Lila roughly two years to get everything approved from the Government to organize and set up the foundation, to get the approval of the Charity Commission, to find the trustees who were committed to the cause of education. And Lila did have to go through a lot of paper-work for the currency remittance- even with the Charity Commission. She had to make a lot of trips to Delhi, to appear in front of the commission to convince them of her good intentions; the reasons as to her setting up the trust. And the money that Lila received was kept in is trust. Invested wisely to give more and more dividends, the Lila Poonawala Foundation now has plans to given a lot more in monetary help to more deserving candidates.
"I was looking for trustees, principally connected with education - who would help me to select the right candidates, and who would have the time to go through the rigours of paper work to select the best candidate…..And who would do it from an honourary post. The trustees are from different walks of life, which makes it easy to relate to, and are very dedicated to the purpose and the goals that were present setting up the foundation."

ph2.jpg (33109 bytes)Talking about how they went about selecting the right candidates, Lila explains, " There were primarily five criteria that we were judging the girls on - Besides, having an exemplary scholastic track- records;
They were also required to have admissions to the Universities in which they wanted to pursue their Masters.Besides social obligations and social service, and doing something more above and beyond the call of duty, would fetch them extra brownie points. The kind of monetary assistance they required. Besides being judged on al these criteria's there were points for the 'Statement of Purpose" and the personal interview too. All these helped to give us an overview of how good each student was. Each and every trustee reviewed all the applicant forms."
"What one looked for was 'focus'. A definite goal in mind and not just swimming with the tide kind of an aspiration. Besides the long interviews that we subjected them to, the cross-checking of references, the careful scrutiny of their statement of Purpose was all in a bid to make sure, that the candidate we selected was really deserving and the best. But what satisfies me most is that these girls have all gone to wonderful universities abroad and in India." Avers Ms Maya Thadani, a trustee who has been associated with various educational institutions.
The fact that the scholarships were not just awarded for students in computers or management, but also in the field of social sciences also made it extremely unique. These are outright gifts, which are given to the girls, with no contract and no obligations. All that we asked them to do was to send us a progress report on their activities, which incidentally, none of them did in the last year's batch!"lashes Lila indignantly, and continues, " Out of the twenty scholarships awarded last year, only two of them have kept in touch! And despite my several attempts at contacting these girls; sending them various reminders to send us their progress report regarding their performance and this has only been met with silence and no correspondence from their end. That has been very disappointing as their ' Statement of Purpose' spouted such lovely ideas….I expected them to have certain values- just to write a one page, every four months, but even that seems to be beyond their means.The fact that they feel it is their birthright is a difficult attitude to adjust to. When they found that we had extended some more scholarships in the second year they contacted us apologizing profusely at not having been in touch with us before. But I don't hold it against them. In fact we are even thinking of organizing some lectures on the values of life, quality, the kind of courses available, the possibilities available for them. We also try and fund girls who already received some amount of scholarship. Otherwise, what is the point in awarding a girl one lakh when she cannot fund the rest of nine lakhs, " retorts Lila.

ph3.jpg (20812 bytes)As we spoke to some of the students and parents to whom these scholarships had been awarded, they all echoed the same sentiments. " It is not the money which is most important, but it is the recognition that comes with it that makes it so worthwhile. Besides, it is so systematically arranged that one knows that it has been given only to the very deserving, " gushes Anil Gupte, whose daughter Manjusha is now studying in America and was awarded the scholarship to finish her Masters in Political Science (Environmental Studies). Even Neetu Bhatia's brother, a student whom most of the trustees cited as an example of an ideal applicant and scholarship holder, Akash echoes," The monetary aid was something that gave my sister immense piece of mind when she went to MIT as she did not have any scholarship or financial aid. So when his scholarship came through, she felt that at least her first semester is taken care of. And she could concentrate on trying to get the Research Assistantship (R.A.) for herself for the next semester which she acquired. Now she is doing extremely well for herself."
"Our chief guests Kiran Bedi and Shabana Azmi were called because they are the people who have so much. Shabana is not just a film star but also such a committed social. She has achieved perfection in acting. As a matter of fact, Shabana's commitment showed through when she insisted that she would be present for the award ceremony despite the fact that she was feeling extremely ill and flew down leaving an ailing mother behind. This is the kind of commitment that we want these role models to inspire in the girls, " explains Ms. Poonawalla talking about the grand Scholarship Award ceremony.
The numbers of students sending applications has increased as the fame of the Lila Poonawalla Foundation and their genuine purpose in helping the girls, comes through. With the awardees increasing from twenty to twenty-nine, this is a flagship trust that believes in more than doing its bit for the empowerment of women……

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