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 and Vasantha Ramaswamy.
Firoz Poonawalla is the Founder Trustee.
Girls with outstanding academic records and below 30 years of age are eligible. The Foundation, which on an average receives 1000 applications annually, has already funded more than 1900 young ladies so far, in the last eighteen 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 her 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."
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 eighteen years, eminent individual achievers from different fields have been invited as Chief Guest and their words of wisdom have further encouraged the girls: Dr. Kiran Bedi, Shabana Azmi, Shobha De, Dr. Reena Ramchandran, Dr. Mallika Sarabhai, Padmashree Ms. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Dr. Ms. Amrita Patel, Ms. Naina Lal Kidwai, Dr. (Ms.) Indira Parikh, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Dr. Mashelkar, Dr. Vijay Bhatkar, Dr. Majumdar, Padmashree Ms. Anu Aga, Ms. Vinita Bali, Dr. Usha Thorat, Ms. Sabina Sanghvi, Ms. Arnavaz Damania and others.
To know more about the Lila Poonawalla Foundation, and the girls who have been benefitted through this gift, please click here: www.lilapoonawallafoundation.com