About Friends of Seva Mandir
Friends of Seva Mandir is a small but mighty organization that cultivates support in the United States for Seva Mandir by shining a light on the amazing work being accomplished in rural Rajasthan and facilitating financial contributions from American individuals, businesses and foundations to fund continuing programs in India. The membership of Friends of Seva Mandir's support community numbers over 1,000 participants with over 100 of these making substantial regular monetary donations totaling on average $100,000 annually. Friends of Seva Mandir retains full discretion and control over the distribution of funds received in support of its grants to Seva Mandir. The organization also receives many in-kind contributions and countless hours of assistance from volunteers who hope to help grow the community and its fundraising capacity through communications, events and networking.
The Executive Board of Friends of Seva Mandir is committed to acting in accordance with the Gandhian principles of truthfulness, modesty and respect for others. Our efforts are undertaken with absolute transparency, accountability and gratitude to our diverse community of supporters. We strive to ensure that every available penny of funds raised goes directly to Seva Mandir and we pledge to keep our donors informed about project developments in Rajasthan. Support for Friends of Seva Mandir comes in many different forms—each and every kind of participation is welcomed and deeply valued.
To learn more about our grants to Seva Mandir please click here.
Uday Singh Mehta (Board Chair) is a professor of political philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has been focused on issues of democratic governance and development, especially in southern Rajasthan, for the past 25 years. He holds a BA from Swarthmore College with a PhD from Princeton University and has taught at several universities, including Princeton, Cornell, MIT, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Hull and Amherst College.
Sanjiv Khanna (Treasurer) is the Co-founder and CEO of Iris Software, Inc., an IT consulting organization based in New Jersey. He is a Chartered Accountant by education and has spent the early years of his professional career with Tata Unisys Ltd (now a part of TCS). Above and beyond his personal support of Seva Mandir and Board participation, Mr. Khanna sponsors an employee giving effort at his company and Friends of Seva Mandir is operationally based out of its New Jersey headquarters.
Poonam Abbi (Executive Director) is a trained social worker and has been associated with the development sector in India for over 15 years, six of which were spent working directly with Seva Mandir. In addition to serving as the Chief Executive of Friends of Seva Mandir, she is also a Co-Founder of Sustainable Threads, a Fair Trade wholesale company based in New Jersey.
Bridget Starr Taylor (Member) is a children’s book illustrator and event designer with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design who made a commitment to support Seva Mandir after a visit to Rajasthan in 2009. She has worked to expand and strengthen the support community for Friends of Seva Mandir through enhanced communication and strategic fundraising efforts.
Bonnie Berman Stockwell (Member) is a social worker whose involvement with Friends of Seva Mandir began nearly a decade ago in her role as an event planner and has expanded to include work on writing and fundraising. She holds an MSW from Fordham University, a MIA from Columbia University and a BA from Princeton University.
History of Friends of Seva Mandir
Friends of Seva Mandir was conceived in the hearts and minds of a few impassioned Indian Americans whose lives had been profoundly impacted by Seva Mandir in Rajasthan.
Uday Mehta grew up under the tutelage of a grandfather who could not have known in 1968 that, by honoring his sense of social responsibility and undertaking to teach several Udaipur villagers to read, he would launch what has become today the leading development NGO in Rajasthan that is Seva Mandir. Educated and settled in America, Professor Mehta began planting seeds of support for Seva Mandir in the US in the late 1990s. He was joined in 2002 by Poonam Abbi, who had served as a social worker at Seva Mandir for nearly a decade, and came to her new home in New Jersey with a firm commitment to help build a community of supporters for Seva Mandir. Vandini Mehta, an architect who had worked with community-based development at Seva Mandir, also helped in the early years to cultivate American support.
Over time, the group’s exploration of fundraising opportunities succeeded in securing substantial contributions, both from private donors and among corporations, such as Target International. A significant leap forward came in 2007 with the participation of Sanjiv Khanna, founder and CEO of Iris Software, who provided space to house Friends of Seva Mandir, agreed to serve as Financial Advisor on the organization's newly-formed Board and initiated an employee giving program at his company to benefit Seva Mandir, with a matching fund component that would serve as a model for future corporate contributors.
Also in 2007 Friends of Seva Mandir hosted its first event with Fareed Zakaria as keynote speaker in New York City and the leadership of Seva Mandir, Ajay Mehta and Neelima Khetan, used the occasion to make the long journey from Udaipur to become better acquainted with the growing community of American supporters. That summer, they and Poonam travelled together across the country, making connections with well-wishers and encouraging more and more members to join Friends of Seva Mandir.
As a result, outstanding contributions followed from new supporters such as Vishwanath Tirupattur, then Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, Seema Cheetal, a Merrill Lynch executive, who hosted several fundraising events in her home and from Vijay Kedia, founder and CEO of Flextrade, who initiated a matched employee giving effort that continues to this day. Relationships in academia grew also to become a strong pillar of support for Seva Mandir—at Yale, Columbia, MIT, and other institutions. Special mention must be made of Professors Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee, Sanjay Reddy, and Barry Nalebuff who not only hosted events at their homes, but also became valued advisors to the organization.
In 2009 Nancy Marx, an American attorney who had visited Seva Mandir, volunteered to oversee the incorporation process and, thanks to her painstaking efforts, Friends of Seva Mandir officially became a 501C3 charity with full tax exempt status under US law.
Additionally the Friends of Seva Mandir UK was set up in 1989 as a registered charity under the patronage of the late Countess Mountbatten with its sole mission to raise funds to support the work of Seva Mandir. To learn more about Friends of Seva Mandir UK, please visit sevamandirfriends.org