Anil Bansal hit the headlines last year when he donated a big sum of $2.5 Million from the Anil and Kumud Bansal Foundation to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, his alma mater, to support the Gangwal School of Medical Sciences and Technology. The school will be completed in two phases and plans to host a 450-bed super-specialty hospital.
The South Asian Times spoke to him about his philanthropic endeavors and what drives him.
Now you have your foundation to formally do your philanthropic work under.
Anil Bansal: Yes, I’ve had the Kumud and Anil Bansal Foundation from 2016, which being a private foundation can only give to other 501(c)(3)s. I cannot and do not take money from anybody; I can only give donations to other charities. Before the foundation was set up, we were still always giving. My wife is probably more generous than I am. She is always saying yes, do this, do that.
How did the crematorium project come up?
Anil Bansal: I was approached by Alok Kumar, ex-president of FIA and BJANA, at the peak of the Covid wave in India in 2021. “Did you hear about newspaper articles on dead bodies floating in the Ganges?” he said. Indeed, people were just throwing the bodies in the river because they didn’t have time to line up at funeral places. So, he suggested a gas/electric crematorium was the answer to be built in Darbhanga district of Bihar. I said get it done quickly as it was the need of the hour. He talked to the District Magistrate who promised to provide all the logistics to make it happen quickly. So, we wired the money to the company in Delhi which was going to make it, and within 30 days it was operational. I donated the entire money it cost: $35,000.
During Covid we rendered other help where needed. Sometimes we supplied food to hospitals, for the police personnel as well as ambulance workers. It was routed through FIA, but I would pay for it. I gave money to other organizations as well who too were rendering such service.
Anka’s passing changed the direction of your life.
Anil Bansal: Yes, I’m a completely different person and I do so much good work because you sort of shake up. Strange but true. My focus has shifted from where can I be making more money to now where can I give the money to have the most impact.
You also started a 5K run in Anka’s name.
Anil Bansal: After Anka passed away in 2002, we started supporting the local Rotary Club in Wayne, NJ for their walk. And then we started doing it as a group. About 100 of us do the 5K walk in the memory of our daughter every year for almost 20 years.
I am Rotarian, my chapter is called Wayne A.M. Rotary Club (they meet every Thursday in the mornings, so the AM). Every year we donate to this Rotary and then they donate to other charities including one which I do together with them which is called the Diwali Soup Kitchen, which runs for about a month. We run it at three or four locations. The idea is that I wanted to create a positive image of India and Indians amongst the poorest here, who are in Paterson-Passaic County of New Jersey.
TSAT: To which charities or institutions have you given big donations?
Anil Bansal: We have given to the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, which has beautiful temples in New Jersey. We always support them. We have also given to Pratham, to Akshaya Patra, which are huge projects back home. In India, we got 12 bathrooms built in a girl’s high school in my mother-in-law’s name in Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh. In another school we passed by, we saw kids playing on the terrace where the parapet was only a foot high. This was dangerous – the kids could fall off. So, we gave money to make the walls 3 ft high. You just pick up those things and we have been able to.
I am in favor of donating to temples and gurdwaras, and my reasoning is a bit different. Imagine you are a new IT person hired here. You moved from India with your wife and three-year-old child. How do you make friends? How do you keep your sanity? How do you feel you belong here? Guess what? If they go to their temple, gurdwara, or church, they would meet people who are kind, in a welcoming place. They will mingle, become part of the local community, and will have fewer emotional issues, or psychological issues. They will be happier people. So that’s why I don’t agree with those people who say we don’t need 500 temples, we just need three big temples. And I say the other way around, we should have a temple in every community. Because the temple is not necessarily a place to go and worship. That’s a place to feel like being part of the community.
And it is not just the fresh-off-the-boat people who are helped that way. The same thing can be said for our older people also. Suppose you lose somebody, you become a widow or a widower, and your life changes, your finances and support system may collapse. But at least there is one institution which is your temple, where you’re not judged, where you are free to go and be part of. In a different scenario, your kids may move away, your spouse may go away, but the temple still provides you with that glue of living in the society which you now may miss.