Please Introduce yourself. [Dr. Geetanjali Chopra – Wishes And Blessings, Interview]
I am Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, founder of the Delhi based NGO- Wishes and Blessings. Born and brought up in Delhi, I finished my schooling from Convent of Jesus and Mary, completed my Bachelors from Lady Shri Ram College, my Masters, M.Phil. and my Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. I have traveled the world, given talks and lectures in India and abroad, published a book and have worked at Center for Policy Research for about 5 years, and founded my NGO, Wishes and Blessings, in 2014.
When and how did you think about Wishes and Blessings NGO?
My family has always believed in the power of philanthropy, the power of using our privilege and access to resources to help those who need it- the lesser privileged, those who do not have access to things that fulfill basic needs and wants. So, the seeds of charity were planted at a very young age.I used to visit a school for the visually impaired with my grandfather to celebrate festivals and events with the children. I continued this tradition even after he passed away. Every visit I would ask the children what they wanted. In 2014, the children made an interesting request- they wanted to play Holi. This request shook me. I could not associate Holi, a very visual festival, full of colour, with children who do not have 20/20 vision.
But I was determined to bring happiness into their lives. With the help of my colleagues at Center for Policy Research I was able to raise funds, and in the month of March 2014, 100 visually impaired children celebrated Holi with water and colour. I had never liked this festival before, but that Holi changed my life. The smiles on the children’s faces, their enthusiasm and happiness were infectious and incomparable.My job at Center for Policy Research was very well-cushioned, and also allowed me to travel the world. However, somewhere I did lack some sort of inner satisfaction. The experience of the 2014 Holi gave me the final push to actually follow my heart and on 25 April, 2014, Wishes and Blessings was established, to fulfill wishes and make dreams come true. While we are still very young, we have grown in leaps and bounds over the last 4 years, and look forward to even more growth in the coming years.
From whom you got inspiration to start Wishes and Blessings NGO and who is your mentor?
I do not think I have a specific mentor. Anyone who is out there, willing to make a difference, can make sustainable change is an inspiration. The memories I have built with my grandfather have been one of my biggest motivations. The smiles I receive from people we have helped, from our beneficiaries is also a big source of motivation.
Introduce your Co-Founder/Founders and Team.
My younger brother is a trustee, as am I. We now do have an expansive body in terms of a full board. As an organization we do not differentiate between volunteers, full-time employees and part-time employees. My organization is built up be people who have given up lucrative careers to work in the social sector. Each one is as passionate as the next, and we all work together.
We are growing everyday as an organization, and we hope to continue to grow in the future. Anybody and everybody who is associated with Wishes and Blessings becomes a family member.
Explain more about Wishes and Blessings NGO, What makes you special and Unique?
What makes us special is that we do not focus on one cause. We believe that happiness isn’t just a final effect, but is also a major cause. So, in order to spread happiness, we focus on 9 areas some of which are infrastructure, relief work, education and hygienic nutrition. To work in these 9 areas we have more than 15 projects, some of which are:Daily Meals Programme: We feed over 350 people daily, and serve 3 nutritious hot meals. Currently under this project we are feeding 225 women and children in 5 different shelters homes. Till date we have served over 2.5 lakh meals in Delhi NCR.Birthday Manao: Many of the children we sponsor do not even know when their birthday is, let alone what it means to celebrate a birthday, what it means to cut a cake. Every month we celebrate the birthdays of all the children that have a birthday in the same month. This acts as a huge boost to the self-esteem of our children.Sponsor a Childhood: We invite donors to fund the education of underprivileged children. Education is the prime way to change the future of children, of society. The programme can be modified to suit both donors and beneficiaries.
Special Treats: We encourage people to celebrate their birthdays, festivals and other events with our beneficiaries. Celebrating with others widens the circle of happiness.
This makes us unique; while other NGOs focus on one area, we successfully cover 9, and are adding to the causes as we grow.
What challenges did you face while setting up Wishes and Blessings NGO? How did you overcome?
I did face some censure from family and friends. They could not understand why I wanted to leave a well-cushioned, well-paying job for something a bit less secure. However, their belief in me has been unshakeable and they have been my strongest pillars. One problem I faced in the professional sector is countering the popular notions of NGOs. Most view NGOs as a scam, as a front for money laundering. To counter this, we, as an organisation, have always been transparent and accountable since day one.
One of the larger problems I faced was a trust deficit. People have had bad experiences when they have collaborated with NGOs in the past. However, once the intentions of Wishes and Blessings was made clear, and they saw how we work as an organization, this obstacle was easy to overcome.
I believe that if you follow your heart and bring your head along, nothing is impossible. The combination of emotions and practicality is an unbeatable combination.
What’s the Current Path, Wishes and Blessings NGO, Funding Status and Future plans?
We have just inaugurated our first home for the elderly. Launched in April 2018, the home is called “Mann Ka Tilak” and aims to house 15 old and destitute women who are abandoned. The home is aimed at giving them the respect and dignity of life that they deserve, and to ensure this, all facilities provided to the inhabitants are free of cost. This year all funds we collect will go towards the upkeep of “Mann Ka Tilak” and also towards building an old age home for abandoned, elderly men. The initial stages of this project are restricted to Delhi, however this is part of a larger plan to build a chain of old age homes across India.
In terms of funding we are looking to form more partnerships with more donors and corporates. We are also looking at the FCRA to increase our reach.
In the future we plan to expand our donor base as well as the number of beneficiaries we impact.
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