Blog by Hemang Desai…
“What made you form your own charitable foundation, Ray of Hope, rather than giving back through other charities? I’m often asked this question.
The answer to this question dates to my childhood, when as a child I engaged in various fundraising efforts through my school. Leveraging my vast network of friends, family & neighbors, I was successful in collecting a fair amount of donations for various causes such as leprosy, care for the elderly, children’s education, etc. It made me feel really good that as a child or young adult myself, I was able to help others. I had the privilege of not only having the support of my parents & extended family, but also great role models in my parents who never backed down from an opportunity to donate. I would think about my dad making contributions to help others (monetary and in kind), while others with far greater means than us would hesitate. This example set by my parents lives on with me and has motivated me to give back to a large degree.
Fast forward to the year 2000, and I came to this great country to start a new life. I was finishing up my undergraduate studies at Drexel university in Philadelphia, and this is where I met my wife, Anwesha. Among the many things that we connected on was the passion for giving back. She’d been involved in lots of fundraising initiatives, including some at Drexel, and we both shared the desire to make the world a little better through our work.
My wife also had a passion for dance & organizing events of various kinds. A few years after we met, she started an Indian classical & contemporary dance school, Nava Nritya Dance Academy (www.navanritya.org) as a hobby. As the academy quickly grew, we decided to do an annual recital for the students to showcase their talents. The recital presented us an opportunity to combine our passion for dance with our passion for giving back. After some discussion, we determined that it would be a charity recital, with all net proceeds benefiting a large charitable foundation that does free eye surgeries in India. This became an annual affair, and over the next five years, we raised over $100,000 for various large non-profit organizations & causes.
During this time, we began considering some pros and cons of having our own charity, with great encouragement from our closest family and friends. This would enable us to engage with smaller organizations in India (& potentially other countries) who did not have a US presence. This work at a grassroots level would allow for a more direct social impact, by being able to govern the usage of funds within specific projects & allow us to support specific causes in the areas of greatest need. The other aspect we were interested in was that we could branch out beyond the dance recitals for fundraising – leverage other channels such as social media, different kinds of fun events & activities that bring people together for a greater cause.
Ultimately, the Ray of Hope story involves two people who are passionate about giving back in their own small way, taking their passions, skills & expertise and turning it into a cause that has grown with the support of friends, family, colleagues & patrons. Onward and upward in this amazing journey, and so much to be thankful for to our supporters.