Published: 03rd October 2018
How this Gurugram-based NGO 'Nanhi Chhaan' is giving back to India's daughters and promoting interfaith harmony
Founder and Chairman of Nanhi Chhaan Foundation Harpal Singh tells us how the skewed gender ratio in our country can be made better by celebrating the birth of a girl child
Headquartered in Gurugram, the Nanhi Chhaan Foundation is a not for profit organization set up with the objective of addressing three important issues on the social agenda of the country relating to an adverse gender ratio, environmental degradation, and secularism. The objectives of the foundation since it's inception in 2008 has been to wholesomely address these issues and to restore nature's balance.
Harpal has a diverse and wide-ranging experience (of over 35 years) in the corporate sector. He served as the Managing Director of Fortis Healthcare Limited until May 2018. Currently he is the Mentor & Chairman Emeritus and a member of the Board of Directors of Fortis Healthcare Limited, Fortis Clinical Research Limited, Religare Enterprises Ltd., HealthFore Technologies Ltd., and SRL Diagnostics Ltd. He is also Director of Impact Projects Private Ltd. He was Non Executive Chairman of India's largest Pharmaceutical Company, Ranbaxy.
During his recent visit to the city, Founder and Chairman of Nanhi Chhaan Foundation Harpal Singh spoke to us about the foundation's approach towards addressing their objectives. Excerpts from an informative conversation:
1. What drove you to give back to the girl child? What was your primary objective behind setting up the Nanhi Chhaan Foundation?
I would like to begin with a little background about Nanhi Chhaan. The name 'Nanhi' means little girls and 'Chhaan' is the shade of a tree. The concept of the foundation dates back to 2008. Currently, there is a lot of talk about the girl child and the environment, but if you go back 10 years you will find that in the national debate there wasn't much talk about these two extremely important subjects.
It so happened that I was visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar and I came across a little park that adjoins the temple. To my unpleasant surprise, it was not well-maintained. I offered to look after the park and took to the issue to the concerned management at the temple. After six months I was told I could do so.
When I visited again after six months, I realised it wasn't a small park, it was actually a two and a half kilometres stretch that circled the temple.
One of the problems relevant in Punjab and the northern states is the adverse gender ratio — more men are born as compared to girls. So we decided to do something, we decided whenever a girl joins the family — she can either be born into the family or get married into a family — in case of such an event the family would take a sapling from the park and plant it in honour of the girl who joined the family.
Girls grow up to be mothers, nurturers and they are givers not takers. Saplings also grow up to be the same. They give without conditions.
We started at the Golden Temple but very quickly launched the idea from most places of worship — we went to churches, temples in Jaipur, Durgah in Ajmer, Mahabalipuram temples in Chennai. The idea was it should be across all faiths and they should all try and do something to change the gender ratio in the country. Since then we have had associations with several schools, places of worship and corporates like CII.
The reason why I am here in Chennai is that it's the second year of the National Nanhi Chhaan schools' essay contest. Starting out with only children from five to six states, this year children participated from 22 states of the country.
2. Working with the idea of secularism is scary in India. Why did you do it? How are people reacting to that?
Faith is a very powerful idea, Indians are religious in their own ways, so we said let's use the power of faith in a positive way, let's get them to engage with India's issues. All the faiths, all corporates, wherever we have been till now, they have hugely supported our ideas. I will give you two examples:
At the Ajmer Sharif dargah, the chief Khadim said that the Friday prayer is the most important. He completely cleared the sanctum and told us that the first prayer would be to create success for the three ideas of Nanhi Chhaan.
We also went to the Govind Devji Temple and the chief mahant there said he has one condition after we explained to him what we wanted to do. He told us when we launch the program of giving saplings to families from the temple, he will call the ten most important mahants of temples in Rajasthan and give them a sapling each in honour of our foundation.
I think this is why we do well, we never say it's our idea, we tell everyone it is your idea, you can adopt it as your own and thus become ambassadors.
Let me tell you a very interesting story here:
Two girls got into Cornell University two years ago and they met up as they are both from India. While introducing themselves they find out that both of them have been a part of Nanhi Chhaan programmes in their respective schools — one in Madurai and the other in Ludhiana, Punjab. Interestingly, one says to the other that I am one year senior to you as my sapling is one year older than yours.
3. How has the shift from an all-nighter and fast-paced corporate life to a life of social service changed you?
For the past 10 years, I have spent 90 per cent of my time not for a corporate sort of world but being a part of many not-for-profit institutions. In those places, we work for the most disadvantaged children around the world, we work in places like Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan and with the Rohingyas now.
I have enjoyed my work with the corporate world, but I would say I have learned a lot more while working for non-profits. The basic phenomenon of how one should integrate empathy, good work, and services that the society needs and combine them not just for profit but for a larger purpose, that has been a wonderful evolution and I have been enjoying it thoroughly.
4. Almost a decade later do you sleep better at night knowing that you are making a difference?
Many people in my generation feel we should do socially relevant work when you are of a senior age. In my case, I can say I have been doing it for many years, it's actually immensely more satisfying and rewarding than what I was doing in the corporate world.
What is really satisfying is nowadays I find more and more young people who are finding reasons to be a part of not-for-profits.
Experiencing this wonderful shift is satisfying — youngsters becoming social entrepreneurs and they are finding good cause to address social challenges like water, environment and women's safety.
Watch his full interview here: