UK : Raj Loomba

Founder and Chairman Trustee, The Loomba Trust

“I was very humbled to receive the CBE”


Raj Loomba

U.K. based Indian origin businessman Raj Loomba, founder of the Rinku Group, has been a tireless campaigner for improving the plight of widows and their children all over the world. Raj and Veena Loomba set up the Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba Trust, in the name of Raj Loomba's mother, as a charitable trust in 1997. In the ensuing over eleven years the Trust has concentrated on building a programme to educate the children of poor widows in India. Today the Trust educates over 3,600 children throughout India, including 500 in Tamil Nadu who lost their father or both parents in the tsunami. The Loomba Trust is a prime example of how the Indian diaspora can give back to its motherland through the vehicle of philanthropinism. After presenting a paper at a session on philanthropy at the PBD 2009 in Chennai, he spoke with Editor Sayantan Chakravarty

You grew up in Punjab, but your childhood went through several ups and downs. What made you move to England?
My father was a businessman who was very well-off. He handled many businesses. As a result, he could afford to send his eldest son to study in the USA. But he suffered from TB, those days it was an incurable disease. He died young, leaving behind my mother, me and my siblings. I was only ten years old. The family business swiftly collapsed. Harsh times came upon us. But my mother never gave up her vision of educating her children. Another brother of mine was sent to England, I myself was educated at the State University of Iowa, and my sisters attended the Punjab University, all this in the 1950s. When we were down to our last pennies, my mother joined my brother in England, and I went along.

You had to struggle hard in England. It could not have been easy those days to find work as an Indian?
Initially I worked in a factory and cleaned floors, then in north England I started selling ice-cream from a van. I saved enough to join my uncle in his clothing business. We went from strength to strength in the business. From marquee to high street, wholesales to imports and then on to manufacture, we covered the entire spectrum of the clothings business. These days as the Rinku Group we supply to most multiple stores in the U.K. and to 350 concessional outlets. Today my son runs the business, while I'm focused largely on charity through the Loomba Trust and the Loomba Foundation.

Please tell us about the activities of the Trust and the Foundation…
The Loomba Trust is registered in India and in U.K. In the USA, the word trust is not used, so we have the Loomba Foundation there. These are sister charities. We set up the Shrimati Pushpa Wati Loomba Trust, named after my mother, as a charitable trust in 1997. The Trust has concentrated on building a programme to educate the children of poor widows in India. Today it educates over 3,600 children throughout India. The Trust has hosted several global events including ones at the Trafalgar Square in London, in the USA, South Africa, and through a partnership with the Youth Business International, a charity of HRH Prince of Wales, is supporting the children of widows, as well as young widows in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Kenya, Uganda.

So you have dedicated the charity work to your mother…
Yes. My contention is that if my mother did not have the vision, then I would not have reached where I have been able to. She was 37 when she became a widow. At that age she was subjected to horrifying prejudices. When I was married, she was not allowed to be present near me. It left a deep scar inside me. She was not allowed to wear jewellery, and colour clothes given her by my father. I set up the charity in her name to honour her and to educate children of poor widows, and to empower their children. It was my mother who ensured that all her children received education and that prepared us well for our later years. Education gave me an insight to differentiate between right and wrong, it gave me an ability to process my thoughts better.

You have been able to do a lot of work in your native state Punjab. Tell us about your projects…
Firstly, I believe that whatever I've been able to do is a result of four factors—vision, resources, hard work and luck. Education, of course has been the base. Besides, I did not wish to forget my roots. I've been fortunate enough to meet with the Punjab chief minister P.S. Badal, he was introduced to me by S.S. Dhindsa (MP). We now have a public private partnership, an arrangement through which the Loomba Trust has put in Rs 50 lakh into a project to rebuild a school that I attended in my native village, Dhilwan.

The amount has been matched by the state Government of Punjab. We found that the school building was run down, there were no toilets, even for girls, no clean drinking water, and students did not have desks. We found that often parents would not send their girls to village schools since there were no toilet facilities, it is that embarrassing. We have renovated the school, built a state of the art extension, raised facilities like incinerators to burn disposable wastes. Our project has been appreciated by the state Government, including the chief minister.

Last year you were bestowed the CBE during the Queen's birthday honours list. What does it mean to you?
I felt extremely honoured, and at the same time very humbled to receive the CBE. But let me tell you that it is not what I was working for.

Now having attended so many PBDs, what is your impression about the latest one?
Firstly, I'm grateful, the MOIA invited me to be a keynote speaker at the Philanthropy session. Philanthropy is a subject close to my heart. At the forthcoming PBD itself, there is a huge scope for innovation, and building this event up for the diaspora. If I look back at the very first PBD, it was successful from every point of view. The gathering was the largest, we worked together with the organizers, FICCI to make it a huge success. We got groups like Virgin and Cobra Beer, and several others from London to participate. People will keep coming back only when they see value in the event. I'd like to know how many people are coming back to the PBD, year after year, are we able to retain participation. The Government, of course, is trying its best, but the necessary momentum is not there. The business community needs to be involved deeply, like at the Vibrant Gujarat event, and not just the political community. We need to move the date to the last week of December, most people are in India then, and without spending extra money for travel, they can attend the PBD. But the event does bring the diaspora together and keeps one's roots alive. As long as there is purpose, it will flourish. May be more focus is required.

Building Bridges: Diaspora Philanthropy

Ever since Indians left for distant shores 2500 years ago, bridges have existed between them and the motherland. These bridges not only require funds but also new systems, knowledge, technology and expertise with which the PIOs have succeeded abroad

What is Philanthropy?
As we all know, philanthropy is giving back to society for some worthwhile causes. Though so many say they “give back”, rarely has anyone tried to explain precisely what the phrase “give back” means. Note the two words. Those advocating, “giving back” are not merely saying that a successful individual should give to society out of generosity. They are saying he should give back according to the noble code of earning one’s money and paying one’s debts.

When you follow this line of reasoning, the consequences for the donor are not simple. If your philanthropic action is “giving back”, how much are you withholding that you have not yet given back. When should we expect to see you give back the rest of the money that you have earned through your efforts and hard work? Of course, in the real world successful people are frequently benevolent and generous. The most common scenario is that their achievements result in the creation of wealth that did not exist previously. A common reason for using the phrase “giving back” is the desire to appear modest and unpretentious. Undoubtedly, many wealthy donors are advised that giving back is a polite way to avoid looking arrogant.

In my opinion, I would like to see generous people explain their philanthropy in honest forthright terms, refrain from using “giving back” and to describe philanthropy, replace it with something like “I am glad that I am able to contribute to this important cause”. Giving should be a way of life rather than an obligation or responsibility.

Ever since Indians ventured abroad over 2,500 years ago to distant shores in South East Asia, the Far East, and East Africa; over 150 years ago to South Africa and the Caribbean; and 60 years ago to Britain, Canada and the US; firm and bridges have always existed between them and their motherland. Today, these bridges need to be upgraded, re-designed and reinforced for the 21st century. These bridges not only require funds but also new systems, knowledge, technology and expertise with which the PIOs have succeeded abroad.

In my opinion Mahatma Gandhi was the most inspirational philanthropist born in India even though his philanthropy did not involve providing material support to the disadvantaged in society.

Today, we have over 25 million PIOs living in about 130 countries outside India. PIOs have worked hard in their adopted countries and achieved success in many fields, mostly in business and the professions. But they have also distinguished themselves in politics, science, economics, literature, cinema, the arts and almost all fields of human endeavour.

In some cases their success has been outstanding. For example that of Nobel Prize winners such as professor Amartya Sen and V.S. Naipaul. Outstanding scientists such as Dr Har Gobind Khorana and Dr Abraham Verghese. Businessmen such as Mittal Steel’s L.N. Mittal, Lord Swraj Paul and Lord Karan Billimoria and in entertainment Ravi Shankar and Gurinder Chadha. Politicians like Lord Dholakia have succeeded in becoming president of a major political party in the UK—the Liberal Democratic Party. Likewise, we have Ruby Dhall, a Punjabi girl, who has become the youngest Member of Parliament in Canada.

To encourage greater traffic over this bridge of philanthropy, the Government of India needs to become more ‘pro-active’ on the ground and not in statements and speeches at conventions such as this, or, during visits by Indian leaders abroad. Among the issues they require to be addressed are: reducing red tape to a minimum by eliminating ‘the license raj’ that still reigns supreme at the state and district level; allowing PIO professionals like doctors and dentists to work in India; greater on-line interaction with PIOs and speedy responses to their requests and, finally, an understanding of the mindset and intentions of PIOs in their endeavours to assist India.

For example, PIOs can assist India’s star athlete present here, such as P.T. Usha, to expand athletics training so that Indians can garner more medals in the Commonwealth Games next year; Mr Kashi Rao to provide inputs for upgrading some rural educational institutions to Canadian standards and certification; inter-act with Prof. Chetty for greater academic interaction between South Africa and India.

PIOs are ready to bridge ‘the Income Gap’ between India’s rich and poor and alleviate poverty, ignorance and disease in India by donating funds, technology and training, professional expertise and, most of all, their time. PIOs need a more enabling atmosphere with a modern, wider and stronger bridge for this effort and they are ready to cross this bridge.

Philanthropy is very close to my heart. Ten years ago I, along with my family, set up a trust, named after my late mother Shrimati Pushpawati Loomba. Although the Loomba Trust started its core work in India, we are now working in 11 countries around the world. The United Nations accredited the Loomba Trust as a UN NGO on 30 June, 2008.

The task of covering every state in India—from Kashmir to Kerala and from Gujarat to the North East is a very onerous one. Many global NGOs and multinational aid organisations are not working in every state of India. The trust has taken on this challenge and has succeeded.

The Loomba Trust is currently educating over 3600 children of poor widows in India and supporting their mothers to live a life of dignity. As part of its global work, it is supporting a community building project for 1500 HIV orphans in South Africa, in partnership with Virgin Unite, Richard Branson’s charity. The trust has become a global Partner with the Prince of Wales’ charity, Youth Business International, and has launched the Loomba Entrepreneur Programmes to empower young widows by setting up businesses for them in Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Syria and Columbia. We will be launching a new project to support 600 genocide widows in Rwanda later this year.

As we all know, education is important for all children regardless of their gender, religion, colour or creed. It is their birth right. Yet, in India, not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of children do not have the fortune to receive education in their life. According to statistics, there are millions of children who are out of school in India. And it is a national problem. I am certain that many overseas Indian organisations and PIOs will be keen to work with the India Development Foundation to help such worthy causes.

The objective of The Loomba Trust is to spread its work in educating the children of poor widows throughout the country, and in the process become one of India’s few truly national charitable organisations and in the course of its work to inspire others to think and develop along national rather than local and provincial levels.

The Loomba Trust certainly cannot address the whole problem alone. We hope to establish modules for other people to join us with to expand our work. We are eager to encourage organisations throughout the world, the governments of India and all India-friendly countries to join with us in raising the profile and importance of not only education for all, but an education that augments an individual’s life chances and developmental progress. I am confident we will be able to achieve our objectives and aims through an association with the India Development Trust. A great way of Building Bridges between the Loomba Trust and the disadvantaged, deprived and ignored sector of widows and their children in India.

Thank you.

February 2009

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