AYESHA L. SETHI | 16 FEBRUARY, 2017
The NRI Who Is Changing The Lives Of Girls In Mumbai
NEW DELHI: Sonal Sachdev Patel is a dynamic young woman with an energy and enthusiasm for social change in India that is palpable when speaking to her. Sachdev has a business background, having graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Economics and Management and a career in strategy consulting with Bain & Company. Although she always had a strong desire to drive social change, it was only after Sonal had her two daughters that she made a change in direction, and was able to give that vision a concrete structure.
“Instead of getting involved in the family business I took the role of running our family charitable foundation.,” Sonal tells The Citizen. That charitable organisation is GMSP Foundation, which was set up by her parents – Ramesh and Pratibha in 2006 and has given away over £8 Million. They came to the United Kingdom from East Africa and built their wealth primarily through the nursing home business. “My parents had been giving for years but always privately and under the radar,” Sonal tells us.
“When I came onboard I wanted to be more vocal about the exceptional work of our grassroots partners. We undertook a strategic review and analysed our giving. We articulated our theory of change and took time to bring together our personal passions and beliefs with market data and trends. We looked at where the gaps were, and where we felt we had not only the resources, but the skills and networks to make a difference,” Sonal explains. “My parents are actively involved and it’s wonderful to be able to work with them.”
The organisation works in India and the United Kingdom, where the Sachdevs are based. “In India our focus is Mumbai and Gujarat – these are the areas we visit regularly, where we speak the language, understand the culture and are well networked. We have the luxury that we can look long term – we don’t have donors to satisfy with short term impact – so we looked at where we could support where others may not be able to,” Sonal tells The Citizen.
“Our focus is women and girls – they reinvest 90% of their income back into their families. Investing in them means investing in the entire community. That’s not to say we don’t support men and boys too as we believe they are part of the solution,” says Sonal of the work that the organisation does.
One of the organisations GMSP Foundation supports in Mumbai is Aangan, that seeks to empower girls against harm. A statistic of significance here is that in India, a girl that is married before the age of 18 is twice as likely to be beaten or threatened by her husband than if she marries as an adult. “We fund community volunteers to run girl safety networks and to deliver an empowerment and resilience-building curriculum that enables girls to identify risk and develop safety plans. So the volunteers identify and mentor girls that are at risk of, or suffer from, abuse; and link them to child protection officials and community adults,” Sonal says.
Another organisation GMSP supports in Mumbai is Arpan, which works at ending child sexual abuse. GMSP Foundation currently funds Arpan’s Personal Safety Education (PSE) programme. It aims to empower girls and boys within schools and other institutions to reduce their risk of sexual abuse. It does this by providing children with the necessary skills to report abuse, to seek help and to overcome it through psychotherapeutic support. This is important because these are preventative measures at an early age, which may stop a whole host of other issues later on in life.
Or take the case of Majlis, a legal centre established in Mumbai to work on the issue of women’s legal rights and access to justice in India. As a next step GMSP Foundation is helping Majlis to train 1,200 High Court Judges across 36 districts of Maharashtra for prevention of domestic violence.
The above examples are only a small fraction of the work Sachdev Family’s GMSP Foundation is doing. There’s also, in Mumbai alone, Swasth Foundation, Sol’s Arc, and CORO, in addition to several other organisations in Gujarat and in the UK.
When asked about her attachment to India, Sonal tells The Citizen, “I was not brought up in India but I was brought up with a lot of Indian culture. My parents lived this in their daily lives and so we learned from their example. When I was in my early 20s I spent one year living in Delhi and I fell in love with India. Her vibrancy, her uniqueness and the depth and beauty of her history.”