The Lila Poonawalla Foundation (LPF) was established in 1994. There’s an interesting tale in the way the foundation was started. Lila always wanted to do something to help promote education among women. And her chance came on the occasion of her 50th birthday, on September 16, 1994.
It was a custom at Alfa Laval to bestow a special gift on successful managers on their 50th birthdays. Lila did not wish for any expensive bauble, she preferred to receive a more worthy and tangible gift.
The Rausing family, owners the Tetra Pak Worldwide group, knowing her, decided to give her a special birthday and an even more special birthday gift –100,000 Swiss francs to start the Lila Poonawalla Foundation. Because as Gad Rausing put it, “We want many more Lila Poonawallas to come from India.” Dr Lars Hallden, former CEO of Tetra Laval World Wide, and loyal friend to India and Alfa Laval India, took a keen interest in the start-up of the foundation.
"I want to motivate women to step into the next millennium with confidence and encourage them to meet the challenges."
Lila Poonawalla recognized the need to provide financial assistance to deserving young girls, in pursuit of higher education, and in shaping their own destinies. It was this consideration that motivated her to institute the foundation. When she retired from Alfa Laval, she requested the management not to give her any personal parting gift, but to invest in the LPF instead, who made a contribution of Rs 4 lakhs.
“I conceived the idea of starting the foundation, keeping in view the girl child’s predicament in a typical middle-class Indian family. When the girl completes her graduation, she finds it difficult to find the resources to do post-graduation. The middle-income family’s limited finances allow a different set of priorities – parents’ medical needs, family’s expenses, son’s education (which gets preference before the girl’s) and the girl’s marriage (expenses as well as dowry demands). In this process, very often the girl’s dreams are lost. As education is the foundation for a strong and successful career, it was my dream to be able to provide such women a ladder to success. Mind you, it is only a ladder, the women will have to find their own career paths eventually.”
The girl students are gifted up to a lakh of rupees, to pursue higher studies in India or abroad, depending on the financial needs of the person. Prominent educationists from Pune form the highly motivated team of trustees of the foundation, which is a registered charitable trust (September 9, 1995). Shernaz Edibam, Maya Thadani, Freny Tarapore, Vasantha Ramaswamy, Surabhi Nag, Uttara Dasgupta
Purushottam Date and Firoz Poonawalla are the dedicated trustees.
Girls with outstanding academic records and below 30 years of age are eligible. The Foundation, which on an average, receives 250 applications annually, has already funded 233 young ladies so far, in the last eight years.
LPF does not limit itself to providing financial support for science and engineering subjects only. It awards scholarships in varied subjects to women only --- ranging from computer engineering, mass communication, management to the performing arts, making a happy blend of technological studies and the humanities.
At present, they are given to women in Pune city only (since Lila is a Pune girl herself). If a girl student is found to have the merit, finance is extended with no conditions attached and it is not a loan, but an outright grant.
Lila and husband Firoz Poonawalla look forward to making an enduring contribution towards cultivation of excellence in education. Lila will remain the lifelong trustee, with her husband as the co-trustee.
Firoz Poonawalla expresses the basic principle of the foundation – “ Lila and I want to develop a taste for giving – a habit that is bound to produce happiness for us and the society to which we owe so much.”
Varsha Borkar, 1996, one of the early Lila Fellows recipients of a gift from the Lila Poonawalla Foundation, who completed her Masters in Electrical Engineering from College of Engineering, Pune, acquitted herself with distinction, and like many of the other Lila Fellows, has this to say: “The full financial support rendered by the LPF scholarship has freed me from the heavy burden of tuition fees and other expenses this year (1996).”
Hamsa Subramonian, 1997, who received a scholarship for doing MBA from Pune University, says: “Madam Lila has been an inspiration to me. I see her as a role model, since she has made a name in business, and I want to do the same.”
Jyoti Dalvi, 1998 She sends a communique from her University in Hull- U.K. "Everything is nice and strange for me. But i am finding all this very nice. I am greatfull to God who gave me this opportunity (Of course through angels like you) to come here. I will work hard so that you find it fulfilling "
Shalaka Sankpal, 1999, asked to speak on behalf of all the awardees: “Each and everyone is proud to be a Lila Fellow. We will all put in our best to make India proud. As Mrs Lila Poonawalla said, this is a stepping stone and we have to set our own milestones. We will not let you down. We young ladies will make a difference in the New Millennium. We believe and that’s why we are.”
Mitali Gujar, 2000, She is the most recent reciepient of the highest award for studies overseas.While recieving the award she shared her joy, her aspirations with the audience. She said "Some people come in to our life and quickly go away, some stay for a while and leave footprints on your hearts and we never ever are the same. Thanks to Lila Poonawala Foundation, my life has changed in a big way. I can now visualise my dream of doing postgraduation stduies and doing challenging research abroad."
Srika Deore, 2001
Radhika Lahankar, 2002
Haripriya Rajagopal, 2003
Amruta Prakash, 2005, she got the scholarship to pursue Masters - Development Studies from University of Est Anglia,Uk.She said, "Lila Mam,in my room I had kept the photograph of the moment I received Lila Poonawalla Fellowship.Whenever I used to look at the photograph I used to feel a sense of responsibility and optimism that nothing can go wrong in my life and I have to strive and give my best to line up to the expectations."
Ms. Priya Shinde , 2006, she got the scholarship to do Post Graduate Diploma in Hospitality Management from Ealing Hammersmith & West London College,UK.Sheexperssed "This is to thank you for whatever you are doing & did for us. I specially like to thank you made me realized my social responsibilities towords my country, social life which I was not aware of before. 1st time I realized my social responsibilities when I read application form of scholarship."
Since 1996, the LPF Scholarship Awards function has been celebrated with a feeling of togetherness. The ceremony is not a mere formality, but a meeting ground for the Lila Fellows, past, present and future, and a forum for the girls to share their experiences. The awardees become part of the LPF family for life.
For the last five years, eminent women achievers from different fields have been invited as chief guests, and their words of wisdom have further encouraged the girls: Kiran Bedi (super cop and Magasasay Award winner), 1996; Shabana Azmi (celebrated film actress and five-time National Best Actress), 1997; Shobha De (well-known author/journalist), 1998; and Dr Reena Ramchandran, 1999 (Chairperson and Managing Director, Hindustan Organics Chemicals Ltd.), Dr Mallika Sarabhai (Director Darpana Acadamy of Performing Arts), Dr.Kiran Bedi, 2005 (who had promised to be with us if we completed a decade) and Ms.Geetanjali Kirloskar (2006)