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 in 2002.
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
What inspired you to start the North South Foundation? How did you start it?
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.
How was the name "North South Foundation" chosen?
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.
What were the foundation's activities during its early days?
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.
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.
How did you get the foundation to spread worldwide, all the way from Illinois to France?
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.
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.
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.
What do you do for a living?
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.
What are some hobbies/fun activities that you enjoy?
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.
Can you tell me a little bit about your family?
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 Interactive Media.
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:
- First, believe in yourself.There is nothing you cannot do in this world.
- Think big.Set high goals.There are no real limits to what you can do.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be happy. Greet people when you meet. Smile. Both happiness and smile are contagious. This makes your day more pleasant.
- 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.
- Learn to be self-reliant, rather than dependent on others. This applies to even chores like washing your clothes or making a sandwich.
- Be a team player. Great things are achieved through group efforts. Sports are good example. Give and take is critical in team building.
- Listen to your conscience. Know right from wrong. Respect others for what they are. Be truthful to yourself as well as to others.
- Time is the most precious commodity. Use it wisely. Have a good discipline on how you spend your time.
- Nature is rich. Learn to enjoy nature, like sunrise, sunset, stars, bird watching, and greenery around you.
- 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.
- 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.
- Write a diary. This will focus your mind on your accomplishments and help you in reaching your goals.
- 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.
- Take initiative to do things. In other words, take the bull by the horn. Don’t wait for others to call you.
- If you are gainfully employed, be generous and give until it hurts. Multiply this amount through your employer’s matching gift program, if available.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.