Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Exponential Power of the Gift of Giving - TEDxIIT Talk

I am happy to share the talk I gave at the TEDxIIT (my alma mater, in Chicago, Illinois) on April 13, 2013.  

The live streaming link is at: the video to 6:37:40 when my intro and talk comes up. Eventually, an YouTube will be posted at the TED website.  

I am also delighted to receive the American Society for Quality (ASQ) 2013 Spencer Hutchens Medal for Social Responsibility at the ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Indianapolis, Indiana on May 5, 2013. You can view photos from the ASQ Award ceremony at:

I am privileged to be an IIT Chicago alumnus and will be talking about the “Exponential Power of the Gift of Giving”. 

For the first quarter of my life, I have received a gift of education and it took me almost half a century to give back. 

First let me share my gratitude for the opportunities received in India and the US…..
  • Both my parents were gone by the time I was six. My extended family provided great support.
  • The Government of India subsidized 80% of my undergraduate education at the IIT BHU in India.
  • The J. N. Tata Endowment Scholarship made it possible to come to the US for my higher education. 
  • At IIT Chicago, Prof. Wasan offered me teaching assistantships for completing my graduate work. 
These acts of generosity made me realize that now it was my turn, to start giving back. And my IIT Chicago days gave me opportunities to practice the art of giving back. As we know a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 

My giving back started in small ways….
  • During 1970-1971, East Pakistani refugees had crossed the Indian border. We screened Indian movies at IIT to raise funds for the CARE International which provided blankets to thousands of refugees. 
  • There were several other projects such as raising money for drinking water during a draught in India and shipping clothing for needy people over 10 years. 
  • At AT&T Bell Labs, led the Save the Children Holiday Campaign for 15 years raising funds during Christmas time from coworkers. We sponsored 50 children in 20 countries globally. 
  • Served as the Vice Chair of “Investing in Quality” Capital Campaign at the American Society for Quality and raised $1.75 million. 
  • I began to appreciate what President John F. Kennedy said, “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.”
Now let me share my story of the exponential power of the gift of sight in India. 
  • I want to take you back in time to my high school days and visualize an incident when I am playing with firecrackers during the festival of light celebrations. One of the firecrackers did not go off. When I put a puff of air, that firecracker did explode in my face, and I lost my eyesight. During that darkness, I pondered about my future without eyesight. Luckily, with help from an eye doctor, I regained my eyesight after 24 hours.
  • That incident in 1959 left an indelible impression on me about the plight of blind people. The God planted a seed which would germinate 30 years later, when in 1989, the Blind Foundation for India (BFI) will be established.
  • In 1988, Dr. Rajendra Vyas, an Indian lawyer by profession, but blind due to an accident visited with us. He gave a challenge to help over 15 million visually impaired people in India.
  • Inspired by him, we started the BFI in 1989. The mission of BFI is to prevent and cure blindness, and educate and rehabilitate permanently blind people in India.
  • Using quality principles we built a lean organization. We have only six Directors, 100 plus Advisors, an Overseas Coordinator (Kishobhai Shah), and a Field Officer in India.
  • There is a massive issue of blindness in India. One out of every three blinds in the world live in India. On one hand, youngsters 4-6 year old go blind due to lack of Vitamin A in their diet. On the other extreme, elderly people with Cataract do not get any support from their family for Cataract removal. Hence, they are needlessly staying blind.
  • The Johns Hopkins University studies have shown that Vitamin A not only prevents blindness in children but also prolongs their life span. For a young child, Vitamin A doses over a two-year period cost only $1. When a child stays in school and finishes education, he/she has a lifetime earning potential of $100,000. A true exponential power of the gift of giving.
  • Our medical partners examine the eyesight of students, provide glasses, Vitamin A, and in some cases free Cataract operations. Around 2-5% of students with eye problems drop out of school. Thus, they become a burden to their family and society facing destitution. So far, over 500,000 children have been examined.
  • During our visits to India we saw several BFI child sight projects. Here children are gathered for morning exercise before a screening camp. Next an eye doctor is checking boy’s eye sight for lack of Vitamin A. Again children are gathered for their eyesight checkup and Gita in far right is having her eyesight examined.
  • Let me explain the exponential power of the gift of restoring sight in India. It takes only $20 for a Cataract removal in India, as compared to $4,000 here in the US, a multiplier of 200. That mere $20 creates an exponential impact for elderly people to enjoy the beautiful world around them and become useful to their family and society.
  • BFI has supported over one million free eyesight checkups and performed over 110,000 free Cataract operations. Here Gangaben is recovering at a hospital after a short 10 minute Cataract operation.
  • We have donated 104 vans for transporting eye doctors and patients, and also provided 10,000 Braille Kits to blind children for their education.
  • At BFI it was a slow and difficult journey. However, with the power of collaboration and teamwork, we were able to stretch our resources. There is an Indian saying that ‘every drop of water when collected fills up an ocean’.
  • With special help from a Rotarian friend Godrej Billimoria, BFI received matching funds from the Rotary Foundation worth $500,000. And we went exponential! 
  • Since 1989, the BFI Team has raised over $3.5 million to support all the projects. We have provided hope to children and elderly through the gift of sight. Watching joy on their faces is priceless.
  • Let us remember what the 18th Century French Missionary, Etienne de Grellet said, "I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."
  • Through the grace of God, I am privileged to have touched over 1.2 million lives around the world through philanthropic, academic, professional, and corporate service. 
  • We all have a potential to replicate the BFI model and find low-cost solutions to social issues. To create an exponential impact, we need to engage human capital and use simple quality tools such as process mapping and problem solving.
  • I want to close with a positive story. Here, after a treatment, Kamla with squint eye has much brighter future due to a simple surgery. There is a silver lining to the massive problem of blindness in India, 80% of blindness is preventable or curable.
  • Finally, all of us should find a cause which touches our heart, join hands with like-minded people, and recognize donors and volunteers. Philanthropy requires three things: your gift of Time, Talent, and Treasure. You too can experience an exponential power of the gift of giving.
Thank you!


  1. Thanks a lot Dr. Manu Vora for share your feelings and thoughts. Receive my blessing from Ecuador. Hope to see you in the near future. César Díaz

  2. Cesar, many thanks. We will see you in Lima, Peru at the 2nd ASQ Peru International Quality Congress. Manu Vora

  3. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting. Keep it up
    Wedding Return Gifts | Return Gifts

  4. I am always searching online for articles that can help me. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job!
    Best Wedding Return Gifts | Return Gifts