I did not have surplus money when I made my first contribution. But, God gave me much more. -
Rtn V. Raja Seenivasan is a Leather technologist from the First Batch of Anna University. He started his own Leather business in 1987, which has now transformed into a leading company—VRS Leathers Private Limited— that manufactures and exports finished leather around the globe.
Rtn. Raja joined the Rotary Club of Madras West in 1997 and served as its President in 2002-03 when he won ‘The Silver Rotary Action Trophy’ for best overall performance. From 2003-04, he held various District Positions and assignments including Assistant Governor. He initiated many projects of which the ‘Care for tender feet’—providing footwear to children —is ongoing.
Rtn. Raja and his spouse Mrs Jayanthi are well known for their philanthropic nature both in and out of Rotary. Rtn. Raja was unanimously elected as the District Governor in 2012-13.
In an exclusive interview, Rtn. V. Raja Seenivasan tells Marie Banu what inspired him to venture into philanthropy.
Who has been your inspiration to venture into philanthropy?
I can say that it was my mother. She used to say: “You give, and God will give you more.” This has been my philosophy right from my college days. I used to help my fellow students who could not afford to pay their fees. Later on, after getting into business, I wanted to do something more for my society. Once I joined Rotary and started meeting amazing people here, I was motivated to contribute more. In Rotary, Past District Governor J B Kamdar (who has given more than 250,000 USD and still keeps giving) is my inspiration.
You have been offering awards to outstanding students in academics? Does your passion lie in education?
I strongly believe that education is the key for our country. Rotary or the government need not have to give anything free to our society, if we empower them with education. Once educated, people will get jobs and be on their own.
Besides instituting awards in my parent’s name, I also support children who need financial assistance to study, either through Rotary or directly.
With Rotary Club having several school projects, what efforts has the club taken to sensitize girl children on prevention of abuse?
School is one of the key focus areas of Rotary. When Rotary celebrated its 100th year in 2004-2005 under a project called ‘Schools into smiles’, we surveyed about 1,000 schools that needed attention. On need basis, we renovated 100 schools and provided many schools with toilets as well.
Educating children on awareness and prevention of abuse who are in the age-group of 12 to 15 is difficult as it is a sensitive topic. We therefore conducted several sensitization programs for school teachers on how they can educate children to be careful and prevent abuse.
One of the key achievements of Rotary Club in India is the ‘Pulse Polio Campaign’. Can you tell us more about this?
Pulse polio program is a global program. During the 1980s, the whole world had around 400,000 polio cases every year. It was at this point in time, Rotary wanted to take up the polio eradication program. We were already successful with the red measles program in Tamil Nadu.
The polio vaccine was invented by a Rotarian. When Rotary celebrated its centenary, we initiated the 20-year program (1985 – 2005) with the objective of eradicating polio in the entire world. We first launched a pilot project in Philippines, and after its success took it to a global level. We convinced the government one by one, and launched the program in many countries.
Many governments joined Rotary in its efforts, but funds were an issue. Rotarians mobilized funds and even gave 2.5 crore rupees to the Government of Tamil Nadu to buy the polio vaccine.
Three years ago, Bill Gates, a philanthropist donated 100 million USD as a challenge grant to the Rotary. Once Rotary raised this amount, he offered 255 million USD. This time, he asked us to raise only 100 million USD. We succeeded in this as well. He was impressed with the way in which Rotarians raised funds and conducted the programs, and offered a third grant of 100 million USD.
People asked Bill gates why he chose to contribute to Rotary, and not to WHO directly. His answer was: “I have worked with the Rotary in Africa and in other places. I am confident that whatever money I give Rotary, it reaches the beneficiaries fully.”
In 2012, we had only 200 cases reported in all the three countries put together—Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. India has become polio free for the last two years. In another year, we will be certified by WHO as a ‘Polio Free Nation’.
What are the programs that you envision during your tenure as District Governor for the Rotary?
In 1995, globalisation and liberalization of economy began in India and our growth has been terrific since then. I asked myself: “Has this growth reached all the people?” The answer was “Not yet.”
Today, around 70 percent of the people in our country still live in villages and lack access to education, health care, and basic facilities. Having visited several villages, I believe that if we improve access to education and health care facilities, the average Indian life expectancy, which is 63 years now, would increase considerably.
There are 118 clubs in Rotary which comes under 5 revenue districts—Chennai, Kanchipuram, Thiruvannamalai, Vellore, and Thiruvallur. We wanted to make an attempt along with the government and corporate houses to create 100 model villages in these districts and provide them with education, vocational training, water and sanitation facilities, and social support.
Rotary termed this project as ‘Happy Village’ as we believe that only happy villages can create a happy India. We involved the community in each of the villages in our sanitation awareness program that was conducted by experts.
The villagers were made to draw their social map in an open space of land. Different colors were used to denote houses, temples, roads, water facilities, and places they used for open defecation. Once this was outlined, they were made to realize the need for proper sanitation. With funds from Rotary Foundation, we have now constructed several toilets in villages and this project is a huge success.
How do you find time for social work?
After I got involved in Rotary, there was no looking back. It became my passion. It is because of my family involvement that I am able to spend more time for Rotary than anything else.
Being the District Governor is demanding and like a full-time job. I feel that it is a great opportunity that has been given to me to change hundreds of lives. While giving, you feel happy. I did not have surplus money when I made my first contribution. But, God gave me much more. I remembered what my mother told me: “You give, and God will give you more.”