One of Rock Your Life’s greatest reasons for existing is to assist people to become their best selves and in doing so, making a difference in the world with what they do.
With every interview that I do, I get to understand what the true impact of the above words are in relation to the assistance that Rock Your Life provides.
Rock Your Life has been involved in numerous philanthropic projects, including sponsoring the Happy Family Orphanage in Siem Reap since 2007, training teachers in India, planting trees in Asia and promoting and assisting in many different causes.
Helping out in Cambodia
As part of Rock Your Life’s mission to encourage and support our Circle of Excellence members, we have started interviewing them to showcase the impact of the Social Responsibility and Sustainability work that they do and how that makes the world a better place.
On the first day that I walked into Rock Your Life’s office here in Cape Town South Africa; I heard the name Maya Shahani, linked with ‘Global Sage’. Since that day I have heard her name countless of times in Rock Your Life conversations and mentioned by Mike, Dave or Landi at our events.
There are many unique quotes of inspiration and hope in what Maya shares with us in her interview. Maya’s life story and her wisdom shared holds lessons for all of us.
Something else also came to light for me. Due to the circumstances that they were born into and / or how poor they are, many people may believe that they are not deserving or worthy of a better life, a quality education or being treated like a human being. I believe that the work of Maya, The Sage Foundation and The Shahani Group touches and heals these very aspects of self-worth in each of the lives that they interact with and assist. I also believe this to be one of the greatest gifts that Maya brings to their lives and to the world.
This is our showcase of the remarkable impact of Maya Shahani and her family’s work.
To lend insight and depth to the interview, allow me to first share the following with you:
Maya Shahani is the Chairperson of the Shahani Group and the Chairperson of the Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management, which imparts global quality management education and focuses on creating heart centric, ethical business leaders. TSCFM has won the DNA award for the best business school for industry academia linkages.
Maya is the Chairperson of the SAGE Foundation, the CSR arm of Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management, which educates and empowers the under resourced. The SAGE Foundation works closely with the Clinton Global Initiative , with a commitment to build a model village which could be replicated globally.
She is also the Trustee of Shahani Trust, founded in 1952 by her father-in-law with the prime objective of promoting quality education, healthcare, low cost housing and poverty alleviation.
As the Vice Chairperson of Global Dialogue Foundation/Unity in Diversity, Maya is working under the aegis of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations to bring in Unity in Diversity through embracing all cultures. She will help in building Peace Gardens in different cities of the world, promote multiculturism in the business environment, and open civil society country chapters under UNAOC.
She is also the Governing Board Member of the HSNC Board running 27 prime educational institutes in Mumbai with over 50,000 students graduating every year. The Thadomal Shahani Engineering College, named after the Shahani family, is a premier institute of the Board.
She is an active member of XL Nation, and was awarded the Extraordinary Lives Award from over 5000 members globally.
At Rock Your Life‘s Entrepreneur X-Factor Business School in Bali, SAGE Foundation under the chairmanship of Maya, was a winning team out of 80 business plans submitted globally.
Maya is working with Rock Your Life‘s Mike Handcock & Dave Rogers on their vision of building transformational leaders across the world.
She is a Founder Trustee and Chairperson Emeritus of the Women’s Movement for
Peace and Prosperity, an initiative of the Times Foundation which gives a voice to the voiceless women.
As the Vice Chairperson of the Bombay Mothers and Children Welfare Society,
Maya helped to redevelop a tribal school with the active involvement of Inspiring Lives Global which has become a role model for other rural schools.
She is the Chairperson of Justice H.K. Chainani Senior Citizen’s Home, one of the first retirement homes set up in Mumbai. Maya is on the education board of Priyadarshni Academy and Sadhu Vaswani Mission.
As a Patron of the Cancer Patients Aid Association, Maya helped to set up the Lila Shahani Centre for the Early Detection of Cancer and the Ajit Shahani Diagnostic Centre in loving memory of her mother- in- law and brother- in- law.
SAGE Foundation is the Indian partner of PATT Foundation, a UK based charity and has planted thousands of trees across the country.
SAGE Foundation is a close affiliate of Buy1Give1, a global organization which connects corporates with NGO’s and has donated thousands of dollars to the various charities like Mid Day Meals, Shikshan Gram Shelter for the Homeless, Geeta Nagar Slums and others adopted by Maya.
A focus on the villages adopted by Maya is created through SAGE Tours to India which bring voluntourists from all parts of the globe to Mumbai to share their expertise.
Maya is a Dreamcatcher. “Dreamcatchers“, a full length feature film by Mike Handcock with an International cast and crew, showcases Maya as an ordinary person achieving extraordinary results. She was a motivational speaker on the Celebrity Cruise of “Dreamcatchers”; taking off from Beijing in August 2010 and is now working with Mike Handcock’s team on “The Reluctant Heroes”movie, based on the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.
1. Maya, how did you get involved with doing what you do?
I like that this is the first question because this starts with the story of my life right from the beginning, from the day I was born. Our life here begins not just in our immediate past life, but from our previous past lives and I believe we come here with a purpose.
” Whatever we do in our life on earth is an extension of our past & past lives and we are destined to do it.”
In this life I was born on the day that the United Nations came into existence – that was the 30th of October, 1945. A month before I was born, World War II ended, so my parents always told me that I am responsible for World Peace and as a kid when you hear that, you feel that to be your responsibility.
I’ve always been a seeker. When I was a little girl I asked my mother why am I here and what she said was really beautiful; she said ‘You are here to bring smiles into peoples’ lives.’ This made me wonder about how to do this, so I made it a point to do something good every day so that somebody somewhere would smile.
So that was the beginning of my journey to doing the type of work that I am doing now.
My childhood was pretty interesting because when I was born, our family was seen as pretty rich; we had a horse drawn carriage and seeing that there were not any cars around, it was viewed that anyone with a carriage, especially with two horses, were supposed to be very rich. I don’t know if you have read the history of India; it was partitioned in 1947 and it became India and Pakistan. We were born where Pakistan is now, so when the country became partitioned, we had to flee for our lives and people were being butchered, it was such a tremendous upheaval and it was very traumatising. Fortunately I was spared to remember any of that as I was too small to realise what was happening, but my Mother told me that it was really traumatising.
So we fled as refugees from there, came down to India with absolutely nothing in our pockets and we were really like the slum children that I look after now. So I have been through all of that and that is where all the empathy stems from, because when you experience a life like that, you know what it feels like to have nothing, not even a roof over your head. You can understand the kind of upheaval and experiences that a refugee goes through. So that was a good grounding for me.
My life has been such a rollercoaster ride, because I had absolutely nothing – no money, no looks, no brains either – I used to come last in class in those days! But somehow from that time onwards I noticed that I was catapulted in some way into a higher level, I always feel that it had to do with my past lives or karma, because I did not understand how that happened.
So with no looks at all; at least I thought I had no looks, I managed to win a beauty crown, and from coming last in class, I came first.
“There is no such thing as impossible, you can achieve what you set you heart onto.”
So then, because I won the beauty crown, my prospective husband spotted me, married me and overnight I went from having no money to being rich, as this is a very rich family. Money of course does not buy you happiness, but the good thing about this family was, that their money was spent on other people so they were known for their philanthropy. That’s why I like this family.
So that’s where destiny comes in – remember that I asked my Mother why I was here, and she said you are here to bring smiles to peoples’ lives – becoming a part of this family was a God-given gift to me, like God was saying to me: ‘Here it is, you have all the money and all the wealth, you can now do whatever it is that you want to do.’
Everything was laid out for me and it was up to me to choose to do it in a right or a wrong way, so I chose to do what my heart told me to do; which is how I ended up doing what I am doing. When I look back on my life I feel so fortunate; it was all being orchestrated for me and I was being prepared to be propelled into what I really wanted to do. So I wanted to tell you the whole story so that you can understand where I come from and how that led to me doing this work.
My father-in-law started the Shahani Trust and I earned this legacy from him because I always looked up to him, he never forced me into anything and because I was so receptive to what he was doing, I was ready to receive whatever he has passing onto me indirectly. When he passed away I took it head on and I said that this is my home and I really wanted to carry on with his work. The Shahani Trust is very well known in India and is highly respected because my father-in-law was known for his giving.
” If a business is in the business of giving, they are remembered and loved more than other businesses that are bigger. If they don’t give back, they are not remembered and loved.”
No matter how big a Trust is, the need is always much bigger than the supply. The Shahani Trust never accepted any funds from outside, we were restricted by family resources. We had to say no to people because we just couldn’t cope, and I felt very bad about it. So then we started the Sage Foundation, which meant that we could accept funds from outside, being foreign and local funding. I’m not very good at raising funds, but whatever comes in has been very, very helpful.
Mike Handcock and Rock Your Life has played a very big role in the growth of the Sage Foundation, because ‘Sage’ would have remained where it was if it wasn’t for him.
When Mike walked into my life I did not know how dramatically it would change after that. Mike is an excellent mentor and coach and he pushed me as far as I could be pushed, insisting that I should go to Bali to the Rock Your Life Entrepreneur Business School. I said but I don’t like to travel alone, only ever with the family and I’m not ready to submit a business plan. Something was always holding me back.
But Mike said – ‘Don’t think, just take the plunge and Go!’.
It was only when I went to Bali, the first time to visit the XL Nation Business School event, that I connected with so many global people. I was previously just working in my own little realm in India before. But once I had the global exposure in Bali, I submitted my business plan at Rock Your Life’s Entrepreneur Business School and surprisingly we were one of the winning teams with Sage Foundation!
As I told you, for some reason I get catapulted into the limelight when I was just happy to be a wallflower; something happens and then suddenly I’m up there. So of course this was a very good thing, because many people became interested in giving funds for ‘Sage’.
Buy1Give1 started with funding us then and they still contribute to ‘Sage’ in a very big way, they are helping with all of our village and slum projects.
I also met Andy Steel who runs the PATT Foundation in Bali. So we’ve been planting a whole lot of trees too. I never thought of tree plantations before but getting in touch with Andy got me into that business and of course the environment is a big concern these days.
On another trip I was also introduced to Pece Gorgievski – C.E.O & Director-General of the Global Dialogue Foundation.
Here again, Mike said I must join Global Dialogue Foundation and I’m very happy that I met Pece and joined as he is doing extremely good work and now I’m into Unity in Diversity, working with the United Nations. This gave me the opportunity to interact and be on stage with global leaders such as Gordon Brown and others.
I am also part of the Clinton Global Initiative where again, Mike had a role to play! I didn’t want to go but he made me fill out the form and said: ‘You’ve got to Go!’
I went during that terror attack on Mumbai, that was a very brave thing to do during that time, but I’m glad I did it as The Sage Foundation is now a part of the Clinton Global Initiative.
“If a mentor comes into your life, it can transform your life completely. I am not the same person anymore, I was pretty much keeping to myself, quietly doing things behind the scenes, a little here and a little there. Then Mike arrived!”
“The more people you meet, and the more you give, the more you get. Giving gives so much joy, but then you get so much more in return.”
“If you throw positive energy out there, a whole lot more comes back. So it’s all very fulfilling, and I feel so blessed all the time.”
2. What are you doing at the moment?
[There are many social charity activities that Maya is involved in, which is all a part of her daily life in assisting others. These are all mentioned in the prelude to this interview.]
It all stems from the work that we do as The Shahani Group; it is like the roots of a tree, and from there the branches and the fruits and the seeds come out. It was started by my father-in-law in 1952, and the main objective of starting this group was to promote quality education. Since 1952 to date, we have had many people in the field of education, healthcare, housing, environment and eradication of poverty involved in this group.
“I believe that education is the biggest service that one can offer to humanity.”
Just as Mike and Dave are building transformational leaders globally with Rock Your Life’s Entrepreneur X-Factor Business School, the Circle of Excellence and all their other events, similarly here, with the Shahani Group we have set up colleges and centres for particularly Management Students and we have also set up a Media School and a School for Film Making, Digital Marketing and Photography, for the liberal arts.
And this brings in our bread and butter right now, we have not broken even yet, but we are almost there. It has to be a revenue generation model, so once we break even, the floodgates can open – when more students come the earnings will be used to create more and more institutes and of course to give back! A very exciting time in my life.
THE SHAHANI GROUP INITIATIVES
Image: www.shahanigroup.com – visit for a clearer view & access to websites.
So this is what I am doing at the moment!
(I said, WOW, that’s a LOT! So how do you do it all Maya, how do you find the time?)
Maya just laughed and said: ‘I’m busy all day, on my toes until late at night, I wish the day was longer. If you do something that you know is creating change and you are seeing the results, you don’t really get tired. If I don’t do anything, I start to feel miserable.’
3. What is your mission with this?
Education is the key to everything. It begins with spirituality of course, but the next fundamental is the right education. Once you give an education to a child, you empower that child for economic independence and employability.
“Our mission is that every child should be educated, empowered and be employed in the right niche.”
Once you have that economic independence, it is not only good for the individual, but if you see all the wars and upheavals that are taking place, it all hinges on economy. Where there is poverty, there is dissatisfaction. It is not a fight between religions, it is a fight between the ‘Have’s’ and the ‘Have Not’s’. Religion is just a factor that people with agendas have thrown in. So once the economy is stabilised in countries, it will be a world of peace and prosperity. If you provide the right education to everyone and they have economic independence, people should in general feel fulfilled and satisfied and why should there then be any more wars? And by right education I don’t just mean education that gives only financial gains, you educate the child as a holistic being, a good, spiritual human being.
Working with UNAOC on Unity in Diversity, by celebrating all cultures and reaching out to each other, we should be able to put an end to all conflict and war.
“So, my ultimate mission is to build one world, one people, a world filled with peace and prosperity. Single handedly we cannot do it, but if we work on this collaboratively, as more like minded people are coming together, we can do it.”
4. Tell me about a time when you were challenged to stay committed to a project
You know we all try to live by the saying to take every challenge as an opportunity, so that’s what I try to do. Challenges would be there for anyone. A challenge would not make me stop doing what I want to do; that would be like taking away my breath or telling my heart to stop beating.
“A challenge should not come in the way of doing what you really want to do. Challenges are just like road bumps – they make the journey more interesting and fulfilling.”
My biggest challenge has always been my work-life balance, like all women. I have my biological family which is very important to me, and then there is the family outside, which beckons all the time. Quite often my work clashes with the needs at home. I have a big family, there are 10 of us, so there is always someone somewhere who needs me! And we also have extended families, the Indians are very family orientated and we like to do things for one another.
Something that could be a challenge is the responsibility of allocating other people’s funds. If you use your own funds, there are no challenges, as you just give the funds away into the right hands. But when you give other people’s funds, you are accountable for those funds and have to ensure that it is used in the way it was intended to be used. So we have to check on how the money is spent and what is happening, and sometimes those charities don’t always give you the reports required, so you have to keep going after them, which can be a little stressful, but if you have open communication and the correct systems in place it really helps to make that process go a little more smoothly.
The other thing is my paranoia of traveling alone, that has always been a fear within me. But with Mike and Dave and their interesting and amazing Rock Your Life tours that I went on when I had more time on my hands, this has somehow mitigated that to an extent. If you travel alone, it gives you a sense of freedom and empowerment, for other women this must be a run of the mill activity, but I am still hesitant, as I was brought up in a very sheltered way, so this was a difficulty for me to overcome. I did it, enjoyed it and achieved great results, it was very satisfying.
“How you deal with challenges has a lot to do with your attitude.”
Sometimes things do get overwhelming and you might feel that you are overworked and can’t cope and you feel that you want to just pack up and leave – those thoughts do come at times.
I am however a Scorpio; so if I start something, I have to see it through until the end. Of course at times I’d rather go sit by the seaside and read books in my rocking chair and enjoy life. I then just tell myself that this is my mission and I have to finish what I started as I hate letting people down, if I made a promise I stick to it. And this is something that everyone goes through in life.
“At the end of the day we are all human, we all have negative thoughts at times, so we have to accept it – take our weaknesses in our stride and say ‘How do I overcome this?’ “
5. What is your greatest success story?
The Shahani Trust has existed since 1952 so there have been many success stories, which makes it difficult to pinpoint just one, as we have assisted thousands of families during this time.
If I have to think of a past success story, it is about Varalaxmi (Laxmi), the daughter of a housemaid, who was very keen on studying but of course she had no resources. We nurtured her, from a child up to college level and she did extremely well. Laxmi earned a scholarship to the University of Westminster! She is a a great inspiration and role model for other aspirants and this was covered in the media to a great extent.
Today Laxmi tells people her story and assists other children in how to stand on their own feet.
And now for our current success story.
We started the ‘Right to MBA’ because every child has the right to a MBA whether he or she is rich or poor. Money should never stand in their way to achieve this and that is why we created this scholarship scheme for the poorest of poor children. To make this possible, the Shahani Group has partnered with the Anglia Ruskin University via their distance learning academic partner, the London School of Marketing, for getting MBA degrees for our students here in India.
We have a young girl, Pooja Bhatt, who is a paanwallah’s daughter who wanted to do her MBA. A paanwallah sells ‘betel’ leaves on the side of the road and they are very poor. The London School of Marketing offered to provide the Anglia Ruskin Scholarship because of the great human interest in the story.
Olga Kutsenko of the London School of Marketing is flying to India to come and gift the Anglia Ruskin Scholarship to Pooja at a special ‘Right to MBA’ launch ceremony that will be attended by celebrities and high profile corporates. I wish that Mike, Dave and Landi of Rock Your Life were here for this ceremony, as they were the ones who got us started on this journey.
Mike always said that we should start business incubators, so we are actually starting an incubator on the new campus, a Centre for Media Studies with a special place of Entrepreneurs to set up there.
[ Here is a news paper article of the launch which has since taken place on 12 August 2016:
Maya’s feedback about the event:
‘The launch of our “Right to MBA” was very well received by Industry, Academia and the media. As requested, here is a press coverage which captures our vision. Pooja Bhatt, the student who was awarded the scholarship, is seated between Olga and me along with her mother. She had tears in her eyes when she received this scholarship as this was her fondest dream and she could not believe that it had actually come true. Olga Kutsenko, Relationship Manager of London School of Marketing had flown down from UK specially for this event. ‘]
Everyone has the right to an education. And this is the beginning of even more scholarships such as this one, and hopefully with more sponsorships from corporates and others, we are starting a global movement of ‘The Right to Education’, where education is everyone’s birth right. If this could happen for a paanwallah’ daughter, this could happen for children in Cambodia and all over the world, all those who are yearning for a quality education. The money is there, but people who would like to contribute do not know where to give the funds to. The Sage Foundation accepts funding for scholarships and it will be used for children from all over the world.
Olga will also be spending time in India to interact with the people, as immigration rules have changed and where before Indians used to go overseas to study there, the children of other nationalities can now come and study here. Sadly there is still much racism globally and many parents from other countries still do not want to send their children to study abroad because of this.
“This is one of the reasons why I am working with the UN on the Unity in Diversity program, so that people can realise that in the end we all have the same colour blood in our veins.”
6. What is your best advice to others about raising funds for sustainability projects?
Sustainability is crucial for the life of a charity organisation, because if you are not sustainable you can’t exist. You can’t go about with a begging board all your life, so you have to find ways to be and continue to be sustainable.
For long term sustainability you need a very high level of management and financial planning, you have to continually work towards building a very healthy Trust corpus.
If the Trust has a healthy corpus, you can survive on the interest amount on a continuous basis. If you spend all the money that you receive, you cannot sustain yourself in an emergency or a crisis situation and then you cannot help anyone.
So while you are distributing funds to your different causes, ensure that you have a buffer to maintain a healthy Trust corpus. You can request your donors to contribute to the corpus, which is what many charities do, and most donors understand this and like to contribute towards the sustainability of the Trust. All the administrative costs and other costs comes out of the interest amount of the corpus.
“A donor’s funds should go 100% toward the charity that they gifted it for.”
Crowdfunding and fund raising events are the standard methods that all charities use for fundraising. To attract funds though, you first have to build your credibility and your brand, because if you do not have a credible organisation, people will not contribute in a long-term, sustainable manner.
“Walk your talk, be congruent in what you say, be consistent in your delivery and share your results.”
If you have a compelling story, such as Laxmi or Pooja’s story, share it with the world as people enjoy funding a great human interest story – but make sure that you story is the truth and you have shown the world what you have done.
To be sustainable you also need to cut costs wherever you can, and one of the first ways to do this is to enlist the assistance of volunteers who enjoy helping charities.
Once you create a value, you can leverage on that and then it will grow exponentially as more and more people come in to assist.
It is also important to work together in a collaborative way, no one is higher or lower than the other. Reach out and communicate in a straight-forward, transparent and humble manner, people are bound to come and join hands with you.
“The foundation that your work should be built on is trust, ethics and transparency, as this is what builds your credibility.”
Aim towards continuous learning, developing and capacity building. You can’t stay static, learn new methods and stay up to date with trends and what others in your line of work are doing. Social and digital marketing is very helpful; also look towards technology to see how it can assist in improving your cause.
“The world is full of opportunities. If you have a clean heart and you are ready to receive, the universe just helps.”
7. What would you like to inspire people to do when they read about your work in this article?
I want to say that it is never too late. I’m 70, a grandmother, I’ve had quadruple bypass heart surgery and for me life has just begun. I’m really enjoying my life.
“Just dare to begin!”
Like Mike told me, just jump in and do it! So, if you jump, you loose the fear of the water and you jump out of your boat – just dare to begin because life can really be fun and exciting.
“It really is easy. All you have to do is bend down and lift others and that is the best exercise for the heart.”
– Maya Shahani –
- If you would like to contribute towards Maya’s social Charity work or fund a Scholarship for an underprivileged child, contact the Sage Foundation.
- If you or your child would like study at the award-winning Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management with accreditation from a top UK University or partake in their excellent Diploma Courses, have a look at their programs for Graduate Students, Under Graduate Students and Working Professionals and contact them here
Interviewed & written for Rock Your Life by Yolanda Brand of Illumineer Media + Design