Meera Gandhi is the founder of the Giving Back Foundation, a charitable organisation she started with the intent of using her family’s wealth to give back to those who need it the most. Meera firmly believes, “To love others we must love ourselves,” and takes action towards self-care in her everyday life and choices, from what she eats, to whom she surrounds herself with. Her foundation is also an act of self-love, and a way of doing something for the world. “As the joy of giving is incomparable. It’s an on-going process,” she says. Edited excerpts...
What was your childhood like? Did you have such big goals right from the start?
I grew up in Mumbai with my loving family. My father is Indian and mother is Irish. I have a sister and a brother. I was not and am not particularly ambitious. But, whatever I do in every moment, I try to do it to the very best of my ability.
I met Mother Teresa at an early age of 16, while I was volunteering at Asha Daan in Mumbai, every Saturday for the last two years of high school. It gave me perspective on how much joy one can gain from helping others. The experience taught me that I would always want to give back in some shape or form, in my own future. Mother Teresa was always joyful and that image has stayed with me in my mind. Today, that idea has become my mission and has grown into what we call as The Giving Back Foundation.
How do you balance it all—your children, charity work, and also having your own television show?
I am a mother of three kids, and fortunately all of them are well settled in life now. What I learnt in my earlier days was the importance of being organised. I carry my schedule everywhere I go, and make a note of my engagements; I even carry a correction fluid with me and keep a tight check on the changes.
I plan my calendar 12 months ahead and that really helps me balance all the aspects. I am also a firm believer in meditation which gives me clarity of thought.
While being a major player in the industry, you are also someone who has made it trendy to be charitable; however, the world is a tricky place, where everything comes down to hits and popularity. Does failure intimidate you?
My perspective on obstacles is a little unusual. I don’t believe that setbacks are something to be afraid of, as there is a potential to learn from things—good or bad, alike. If something goes wrong, it is up to you to bring yourself out of it, and achieve what you want with conviction, despite all hurdles. Failure and success are mental constructs. Life is simply meant to be lived. Every breath counts in the end.
When you say hits and popularity, it really does not apply to the world of giving back. When one helps another, it’s instantly popular with the person receiving the help, and the person giving back receives joy, so its win-win. If the intent and goal of giving back is clear, there is no question of a setback.
What keeps you going? What makes you wake up every morning, thinking about helping others?
Being calm and relaxed in everything I do is more important to me than anything else. I think any kind of work is more productive if done with a composed mind and body.
I usually meditate, do yoga or just introspect about all the things that I am grateful for, and apply that calmness into my work. I work hard, and I don’t like to waste time as working without awareness is harmful to the universe.
How do you perceive the humanitarian spirit of the world? What has made The Giving Back Foundation the success that it is?
Something that I personally follow is to be involved and stay connected to the projects that I am supporting. I visit the St.Michael School at least once a year, whenever they organise a bumper sale to fundraise, and connect with the local people at the grassroot level.
The Giving Back Foundation has grown from the original mission of providing education to girls, to our current three-fold mission— Empowering through education, Joy of being alive on this planet, and Healthy living.
The Meera Gandhi Giving Back Award has been bestowed each year at the Woodstock Film Festival, to the director, producer or actor who best delivers a message of social change, and has a strong compassion for philanthropy. Do you think cinema is a medium that aims at affecting a positive change in the world?
Television and cinema shape our world views, hence it is important that we make sure the content is in the right hands. I have been fortunate to have met Mother Teresa and several amazing people, and learn the intrinsic values of giving back from them.
Today, many good values are transmitted to the general public, thanks to the contribution of multimedia and cinema. In my small way I am doing my bit to impart those values, through a television show currently airing on Times Network. My aim is to echo the sentiments of many other world peace leaders: Good thoughts, Good words, and Good deeds.
After winning many noteworthy awards over the years, what are your plans for the future?
For 2020, my mission is to expand the work of the foundation and focus on our product line. A large portion of the proceeds from these products will go towards the foundation.