Buckminster Fuller once described his life as “an experiment to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity,”1 a vision Asia Initiatives has evoked as an unspoken guiding principle from its tiny organizational beginnings in Tokyo in the late nineties.
The group’s outreach began on an informal, ad-hoc basis driven largely by personal donations from generous friends, board members, and founders Geeta and Krishen Mehta, all wanting to do something to alleviate extreme poverty in South Asia. The Mehtas were living in Tokyo at the time and had met, and been inspired by, Professor M. S. Swaminathan, a scientist-scholar widely acknowledged as the father of the Green Revolution in Asia, whose foundation, the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), based in Chennai, India, was doing ground-breaking work in rural communities in South India: applying rigorous scientific methods to agricultural and rural development; using technology to improve lives and livelihoods.
The group crystallized in 2000 when a small membership of the group from Tokyo visited India with the Mehtas and saw firsthand the foundation’s transformative work in villages—the establishment of knowledge centers and self-help groups that promoted literacy, technology, and agriculture, as well as a microcredit loan program open to qualified female entrepreneurs.
The foundation needed funding, and the Tokyo group proved eager and able to help. Professor Swaminathan’s philosophy of pro-women, pro-poor, and pro-environment resonated strongly with the group and was adopted as the mission for the newly formed Friends of MSSRF Tokyo.
In five short years the programs the group supported were many and varied, the impact far-reaching, as seen in the image below:
Since those early years in Tokyo, the organization has found a new home in New York City. We will capture this journey from East to West in next week’s post. To see where we are today, join us for our 15th anniversary gala on Monday, October 12, in New York. It will be an evening of inspiration, purpose, and fun. For tickets, please visit http://www.asiainitiativesgala.org
-Anne Papantonio is a Board Member at Asia Initiatives
1 Quoted by Phil Patton, “A 3-Wheel Dream That Died at Takeoff,” The New York Times, June 15, 2008.