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Chronicle features Ray Umashankar and ASSET India

April 10, 2009

Ray Umashankar (c/o Chronicle of Philanthropy)

What a lovely and inspiring story about a South Asian philanthropist in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s latest edition!  Part of a new feature called “Regeneration,” a series on the growing movement to recruit older Americans to work or volunteer for good causes, Ray is profiled about his volunteer work with his daughter Nita to help the children of sex workers in India.

Most impressive to me was how Ray and Nita founded the ASSET India Foundation, a nonprofit to offer educational programs to these marginalized children, teaching them not only technology, but also the “soft skills” required to find and keep a job.  Ray describes a great lesson in philanthropy – not to duplicate what’s already out there, and to research what the need really is in order to have the greatest impact.

This is how Ray describes the moment that Nita broke the news that she wanted to work with charities that help sex workers in India rather than go to UT-Austin to do a graduate degree in marketing:

My wife and I wanted to support [Nita] completely, but we were worried at the same time. I told Nita that this could be a dangerous undertaking, with pimps and brokers who would not like our interference. I said we had to find qualified, fiscally responsible nongovernmental organizations that were already working with these children and find out what programs were in place.

I gave this assignment to Nita so that I could determine how committed she was to the project. I also said we needed to find out what programs failed so that we didn’t repeat the same mistakes.

I loved a lot of things about this article, but particularly the way it is written in the first person and sounded like so many of our dads and uncles.  (I mean, how many of us have heard the “I came here with XX dollars in my pocket” line?).

And although Ray has a full time job as a university assistant dean, he dedicates all his spare time to ASSET India, dropping some wisdom and great fundraising lessons in the process:

Since I will be 67 in June, I want every day to count for something meaningful. Through my daughter, Nita, ASSET has made me realize that the only purpose of my existence on this planet is to help those in need.

Fund raising is one of the most challenging and fun activities that I have undertaken. I look at it like a chess game and constantly figure out new ways to reach potential donors and build relationships. I scour business journals, magazines, and The Wall Street Journal for stories on successful businesswomen and -men, find out about their philanthropic interests, and hunt for their contact information.

Once I get the contact information, I congratulate them on their business successes and tell them about ASSET and share our success stories briefly…  It feels great when a fund-raising pitch goes well, breaking through another major barrier…

We’ve now added ASSET India Foundation to our Organizations page.

Do you all know of other folks like Ray that we should profile here at SAPP?  Have you had conversations like this with your parents?  Were they similar or different?

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