About Us - Founders
Every Organization starts with an idea of an individual to do something unique for
the society. North South Foundation also had such a beginning. The following is interview with
Dr. Ratnam Chitturi which appropriately portrays every thing you need to know
why and how of this foundation.
Interview was done by Raj Ranade. Raj Ranade is entering high school as a freshman from
East Lyme, CT. He has participated in the national vocabulary competition twice,
obtaining the Best 12-Year Old award in his first year. He enjoys tennis and
plays in tournaments regularly. In his spare time he plays basketball, computer
games and listens to music.
Interview with Founder: Dr.Ratnam Chitturi
Raj Ranade: What
inspired you to start the North South Foundation? How did you start it?
Dr. Ratnam Chitturi
Ratnam: One day it dawned on me that I hadn't done much in my life that had any
redeeming value. I thought that I should do something to help the
underprivileged in India. First I felt I should set up a will that
would provide some of my savings to charitable causes upon my death. But
after I started talking to my friends, it became clear that it would be
better to create a foundation and give it some shape while I am still around so
that others can have a better idea of what I had in my mind and follow through.
Once I decided that I wanted to create a foundation, I knew it had to be a team
effort. You can do more things as a group, rather than a single
individual. Remember, we often hear that it is possible to achieve two
plus two equals five, because of synergy. For this reason, I had always
believed in a team effort.
In December 1988, my long-time friend, Dr. N. Bhaskara
Rao from New Delhi happened to be in Chicago on a trip. Following a long
conversation in our basement about some of my ideas, we decided to start one entity
in the US to raise funds and another in India to implement projects.
North South Foundation was started in the US and BREAD (Basic Research,
Education, and Development) in India, both in 1989.
Raj Ranade: How was the name "North South Foundation"
Ratnam: I was looking for a name that was not over used, like "East
West" It turns out that countries in the Northern hemisphere
are, generally, more wealthy, compared to those in the South. I felt that
a flow of funds from North to South would go a long way to help the less
fortunate in the underdeveloped countries like India.
Raj Ranade: What
were the foundation's activities during its early days?
Ratnam: The Foundation focused primarily on providing scholarships to encourage
"excellence among the poor." In 1989, we gave one
scholarship. Today, we provide more than 200 scholarships a year.
Raj Ranade What have been some memorable personal experiences for you
during your time as president of this foundation?
Believe it or not, just like adults, children have dreams
too. Especially among the poor, the children want to have a better
life, compared to their parents. They know what poverty is like and want
to get out of it. Many see that college education gives them an
opportunity for better life for themselves as well as their
parents. It was gratifying to see those dreams coming
true. I could see the gleam in their eyes. For example, one day
when I went to India, a father brought his son and showed me their hardened
hands with heavily darkened muscles resulting from hard labor being a
blacksmith. He didn't want his son to end up like him. Luckily, his
son received a BREAD scholarship to study engineering. He got
the taste of his father's hard labor as he was helping him from his childhood.
Because of his excellence in education, he was able to receive BREAD
Scholarship and look forward to a brighter future for himself and his parents.
Raj Ranade: How did
you get the foundation to spread worldwide, all the way from Illinois to
Ratnam: The trick is to keep talking to
everyone you meet, --- in parties, temples, functions, and so on. We
publish a newsletter once a year. We distribute it widely.
Sometimes, we put up a booth in conventions like TANA. This year, we are
setting up a booth at ATA in Dallas. A few years ago, we had a spelling
bee volunteer, Bharathi, in New York. Bharathi had a friend,
Shalini, in high school in France. After hearing about the North
South Foundation, Shalini was excited and started single-handedly a chapter in France.
Networking is very important in social work. Last year, Raghavendra
Paturi met Shri Moondraji from India in Connecticut. Now Moondraji became
a coordinator in Rajasthan. Every volunteer is an ambassador of the
Foundation to the outside world. We encourage every volunteer to take
ownership and lead.
Raj Ranade: What ideas do you have for the future of the foundation?
The mission of the Foundation is quite broad. We want volunteers to think
big and extend themselves. Let me give some examples to get a feel
for what I mean. In 1993, Dr. Murali Gavini recognized a need to
improve English language skills of the children in our community. He
took it upon himself to conduct spelling bee / vocabulary contests across the
country. Now the Foundation has 27 centers conducting these
contests. Similarly, Raghavendra took it upon himself to spread the
Foundation activities in New England states. As a result, the Foundation
has several walk-a-thons for raising funds in this region. I am thrilled to see that Venkat Gade
has taken the lead to initiate children-centric activities during the
walk-a-thons. Through these activities, children are not only
improving their general knowledge, but are also learning teamwork as well
as taking lead in civic activities. In short, our children
are learning to become better citizens of tomorrow. As you can see,
volunteers are coming up with new ideas on how to help children both here and
back in India. This is a win-win situation for all of us. We
encourage volunteers to come up with more new ideas to help people both here
and in India.
Raj Ranade: Where in
India are you originally from? When did you immigrate to the US?
I come from a village in the coastal
areas of Andhra Pradesh. When I
was growing up, there were no roads, running water, toilets, phone or
electricity. I came to the US in
1965, after I graduated in mechanical engineering from Andhra University in
Vizag.I have a MS in Industrial
Engineering from Kansas State University and Ph.D. in Operations Research from
New York University.
Raj Ranade: What do you do for a living?
Ratnam: I worked for many companies over the
years and moved around to a number of cities on the East Coast and
Midwest.During the last 20 years of my career, I gravitated into the Banking industry.
Currently I manage money for clients and do some consulting.
Raj Ranade: What are some hobbies/fun activities that you enjoy?
Ratnam: Visiting places and learning our roots
(India’s ancient heritage and history) have been my past-time activities.In my younger days, I was into chess,
skiing, flying, and tennis.Since 1989, my activities with the Foundation have been the most fun and fulfilling
for me.Since 1994, I have given up meat, alcohol, coffee, and tea.I read books about Vedic teachings, including those of Swami
Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Chinmayananda, and Adi Sankaracharya.Recently I have been reading articles
to better understand the Kashmir conflict, violence in Gujarat, and terrorism
around the world.
Raj Ranade: Can you tell me a little bit about your family?
Ratnam: : I come
from a large family.The familiesof my brothers and sisters are in India.I was the only one who migrated to the US.
My father is 84 years old and lives with my sister in
India.He was a farmer all his
life.We have two daughters.My elder daughter, Vijaya Lakshmi, is a
physician, as is her husband.They
live in Peoria, IL and have two sons, 8 and 3 years old.
We have a second daughter, Vena, who
has graduated in computer science from the University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign and is currently New University studying for her Masters in
Raj Ranade: What
message do you have for the children in the Indian Community in the US today?
Also, what message do you have for the volunteers in the NSF?
Our children have a great future in this country. Technology is making
the globe small, by shrinking time and space.Future will bring innumerable innovations, which will create
more opportunities for better life.I have lots of suggestions for children. 1) First, believe in
yourself.There is nothing you
cannot do in this world. 2) Think big.Set high goals.There are
no real limits to what you can do. 3) There are no shortcuts to success.Work hard.
Give your best in whatever you do.You need focus and single-pointed effort in achieving your
goals.Avoid diversions and
distractions.4) Know your own
capabilities and limitations.Each
child has a unique makeup with different sets of strengths and weaknesses.
Avoid the trap of getting into too many
things, but master of none.It is
better to do fewer things, but do them well. Don't worry too much about the outcome.
Focus on your efforts, not on the outcome.
Learn to accept whatever may be the
outcome.Take failures with the
same ease as you do with your successes.Don't complain or make excuses.Learn from failures and move on.
6) Be your self.Don't try
to be like somebody or be concerned what others think of you.
Do what you think is right.
Don't yield to peer pressure.
Avoid the temptation that you have to
do the “in thing.” 7) Our society
gives you too many choices in life.
Sometimes, this can be a challenge or trap. Don’t be indecisive.
Make a quick decision based on sound reasoning and move on. If it turns out to be wrong, correct it
promptly. 8) Help the less
fortunate in this world by raising money and contributing your time. Sharing and caring will give you a
wonderful feeling in your heart and make you a better person. 9) Take criticism positively. This is the best way to improve
your-self. If you really disagree
with the criticism, don’t be defensive, but engage in a discussion based on
reason, not emotions. If you don’t
succeed, deflect it and move on. A
sense of humor helps in such situations.
10) Be happy. Greet people
when you meet. Smile. Both happiness and smile are
contagious. This makes your day
more pleasant. 11) An agitated
mind is hazardous to your progress.
Act quickly to restore your peace of mind. Look at a glass as half-full, not as half-empty. This will make your day go a lot
faster. 12) Learn to be
self-reliant, rather than dependent on others. This applies to even chores like washing your clothes or
making a sandwich. 13) Be a team
player. Great things are achieved
through group efforts. Sports are
good example. Give and take is
critical in team building. 14)
Listen to your conscience. Know
right from wrong. Respect others
for what they are. Be truthful to
yourself as well as to others. 16)
Time is the most precious commodity.
Use it wisely. Have a good
discipline on how you spend your time.
17) Nature is rich. Learn
to enjoy nature, like sunrise, sunset, stars, bird watching, and greenery
around you. 18) Life is a journey
with a series of roads, intersections, and breaks. Effort is the drive.
Success or failure is an event, like the break in a journey. Enjoy the drive, as they say, “going
there is half the fun.” Many
times, the journey takes much longer than the event itself. 19) Focus on things you can control,
instead of things not in your control.
For example, effort is in your control, and outcome is not. Give your best on the former and ignore
worries on the latter. 20) Write a
diary. This will focus your mind
on your accomplishments and help you in reaching your goals.
volunteers - 1) Focus on the cause, which you feel deeply in your heart. For example, helping an underprivileged
child in India is a noble cause.
This will give you motivation, commitment, and self-satisfaction. 2) Take initiative to do things. In other words, take the bull by the
horn. Don’t wait for others to
call you. 3) If you are gainfully
employed, be generous and give until it hurts. Multiply this amount through your employer’s matching gift
program, if available. 4) Give
your time until it hurts for raising funds and other activities. Even small contributions can add
up. For example, in a walk-a-thon,
if you get 20 people to give $10 each, it will add up to $200, which will
support a child in college for a full year. You can get friends, neighbors, relatives, and office
workers to sponsor. Even teachers
in schools can be approached for a donation. Besides fundraising, there are a lot of other activities in
which the Foundation needs support.
5) Spread word by talking to others. Volunteerism is contagious. You will meet new people, and make new friends. Through networking, you can help both
the Foundation and yourself. 6)
Enjoy what you do. Give your best
and make a difference in someone’s life.
In India, we have the adage, “Seva to Man is Seva to God.” Leave a legacy behind.