MOHAN WANCHOO: TSAT Person of the Year 2021

By Parveen Chopra

Josh! Passion! Jumping for joy to see something accomplished you had worked hard for!

People who have attended Ekal galas arranged by him over the last few years were struck by his actions on stage. You can see pictures of him hanging in midair while holding an outsized check with many zeros along with other luminaries who too were agog. Or his outstretched arm punching the air as he shouts, “We did it!”

That is Mohan Wanchoo for you in essence. His vision of philanthropy is broader and higher than just donating to a charity X, Y, or Z. With his business acumen, he vets the organizations he would support, discerning the impact they can make. No passive donor, he throws himself body and soul into the charity. With his example and inspiration, he persuades other high net worth individual individuals, firms, and foundations to join in to support a good cause, creating a multiplier effect.  In turn, the charities get invaluable guidance and expertise from him, enabling them to make the best use of limited resources at their disposal.

The more you come to know about Mohan Wanchoo by talking to him or by hearing others who know him closely, you discover how a multi-faceted man he is. Of course, the multi-millions he has raised at galas for Ekal Vidyalaya has brought him into the limelight, but not many would have heard of the big tech companies, EC Infosystems, and Jasmine Universe he founded and runs from New York, which are pioneering solutions for the energy industry. And not many would easily discern that behind his smiling visage and affable demeanor is a man passionate about his charity work, his business, his home country, and the exiled Kashmiri Pandit community, the hurt of which had hit closer home. How he dexterously and facilely manages to balance so many intense involvements and his personal life makes him a role model for the Indian community, the country, and the world.

He has created a model for other well-meaning and resourceful people in the community to follow. The least each one of us can do, he says, is do things to help at least one person not as fortunate for us. That can change the entire world, he professes.

Excerpts from an interview with Mohan Wanchoo, The South Asian Times – Person of the Year 2021 held in his EC Infosystems office in Uniondale, NY. Sanjay Sura shot the photographs in Wanchoo’s office and home in Old Westbury, both in Long Island.

The South Asian Times: At what point did you start taking part in philanthropic activities?

Mohan Wanchoo: My father, Prof V.N. Wanchoo fought to root out corruption in India in the education sector. When he passed away here in New York in 1991 (victim of a road accident), I thought about what I can do to keep his legacy alive. Then, I heard about Ekal Vidyalaya around 2007. They ask you to sponsor a school for a dollar a day in India. I got curious how they managed to do that. The reason they can run a whole school at that low cost is that they do not have any buildings. They teach under a tree with one teacher in rural areas. I realized that it was a great model. We do not need a building to teach kids; we need knowledge. This was a perfect model to keep my father’s legacy alive, who not only fought corruption in the education sector but also strived continuously to raise the standard of education in India.

How to help children to become good citizens of the world was a favorite topic of my father and I thought Ekal Vidyalaya was a perfect answer. Through Ekal, we could take his dream to much larger sections of society and reach out to hundreds of thousands of children. Ekal is a story of social dreamers who believed that change is possible and education can be the medium to bring the change in the life of the last person in the last row in the remotest parts of India.

How did your involvement with Ekal Galas start? 

Mohan Wanchoo: Ekal people told me that they were not able to hold a gala event in the US since they established here ten years prior. So, I took the responsibility for holding the gala event for them. I spoke to Chirag Patel, Co-Chairman of Amneal Pharmaceuticals, who graciously agreed to share the responsibility with me to hold the gala event of 2016.

The first gala event, a gift from our side, was held in Cipriani, NY. Around $2 million were raised at this glittering gala through generous contributions from many individuals, companies, and foundations. It was mainly the CEOs of these companies, who put their trust in our dream and the Ekal Model.

I have personally contributed around a million so far and will continue to give to Ekal in the future.

In 2017 we raised $2.1 million for Ekal through the gala event. In 2018, we mustered $3 million at the gala at Gotham Hall in NYC. But we could not organize the gala in 2019 due to Covid. So we took the event online and raised a whopping $6 million through a virtual event. In 2021, we raised $4.2 million for Ekal through another virtual gala event. I was either Chair or Co-chair for all the Gala events.

Which other charities are you involved in?

Mohan Wanchoo: My mother, Gauri Wanchoo, use to say that we should always do things for people which bring happiness into their lives. I got involved in Sankara Eye Foundation in 2010 and their work is also very close to my heart.

Sankara Eye Foundation (SEF) is a not-for-profit organization in the US committed to providing quality eye care services to the poor and marginalized sections of society in India. Its roots go back to a small primary health care center started in the year 1977 by Dr. R.V. Ramani in Coimbatore.

Sankara Eye Foundation brings light into people’s lives as Ekal brings light into the life of the people through knowledge and education. Not having a vision is unfortunate and sight is the noblest of gifts someone can give to the person deprived of it. On the other hand, education gives them empowerment and the ability to fulfill their dreams.

I work with Murali Krishnamurthy who founded Sankara Eye Foundation, USA ( in 1998 to raise funds for free eye surgeries for the needy in India.  Each time they do a fundraising banquet in New York, I am the co-chair of the event. We were supposed to have a fundraiser on December 17, 2021 but canceled due to Covid.

Any other charity that is close to your heart? 

Mohan Wanchoo: Yes, I also support another organization named Vatsalya Gram run by “Didi Maa” Sadhvi Ritambhara Devi. She is among India’s most respected spiritual leaders and distinctive humanitarians. From her vision has emerged a unique model of a societal system that no saint or reformer has ever envisaged in the past. Param Shakti Peeth, the parent body of Vatsalya Gram, has been tirelessly working since its inception in 1992 to mainstream the marginalized members of the society (prioritizing children and women) and mitigate other socio-economic inequalities prevailing in India that are detrimental to inclusive development and also impede the growth of the nation as a whole.

How does Vatsalya Gram do it?

Mohan Wanchoo: They have a unique model to rebuild the lives of people shattered by unfortunate incidents or circumstances.  Didi Maa puts these people together in order to rebuild their hopes by placing them in a conducive environment.

What they do is, they put a minor orphan with a widow and an elderly woman. So, they give the mother a child, and a child a mother and grandmother, and a grandmother a daughter and grandchildren. Didi Maa comes every year to the US to raise funds. Three years ago, we had the first fundraising event for her in Long Island.

Any position you hold in any of these organizations?

Mohan Wanchoo: I have been offered positions, but I’ve declined. I like to do things where I can make contributions and make a difference. I would rather be involved in activities where I create an impact and output that can achieve the goal of the organization rather than holding a position.

After the departure of the CEO of Ekal Abhiyan, Bajrang Bagra, Ramesh Shah has recently been unanimously appointed as its new CEO. Ekal Abhiyan is the umbrella organization for all the Ekal bodies.  Mr. Ramesh Shah is the former president and chairman of Ekal-USA and he has now practically moved to India as it is not possible to run such a mammoth organization from the US.

VHP seems to be a common thread among the three main charities you support…

Mohan Wanchoo: Not really.  Ekal teaches children of all faiths without differentiating between them.  Sankara performs free eye surgeries for all patients without ever asking them what religion they follow. Vatsalya Gram put orphans and widows together regardless of their religion.

I actually found these organizations to be good and so supported them wholeheartedly. Our Sanatan Dharma believes in the “Live and let live” philosophy, not only for human beings but also for every living creature on this planet – animals, birds, and insects. Sanatan Dharma requires us to have consideration for all living beings and I truly believe that it is the way we should be. Those who get involved in violence do not benefit anyone but bring misery and bad fortune to everyone.

We should live a life that brings happiness to everyone. The basic teaching we have from Bhagavad Gita is that we should have compassion for every living being. That is what I am trying to follow through these organizations.

Your other philanthropic activities that are lesser-known…

Mohan Wanchoo: Another organization I am supporting is in Delhi — Guru Vishram Vridh Ashram managed by SHEOWS (Saint Hardyal Educational and Orphan Welfare Society). They provide the destitute elderly who suffer from Alzheimer’s and Dementia and are abandoned by their children and deserted on the streets of NCR with a place in their old age home. For the last 18 years, they have been working to save the elderly who are dying on the roadside, footpaths, etc. as presently there are not many old age homes for paralytic, the disabled, and bedridden elderly which provide comprehensive support to them under one roof.

I am involved with many other organizations but I do not usually highlight my association with those as I am not giving too much time to them. I have instituted many scholarships in the name of my father in my high school, college, and other institutions in India which are associated with his memories. I donate regularly to organizations in India that support children and women suffering from no fault of their own. I also support Handicapped Children & Women’s Aid that provides medical treatment to marginalized children and women.  Another charity I support is SOS Children’s Villages which provides a home and education for children that have been abandoned or are trapped in child trafficking.

The reason I focus on India is that there is so much poverty there. Here in the US, the state takes care of the poor but not in India. If we can take care of the people who have been forgotten otherwise, it will be a tremendous help and support for these people. That is why my focus is on these organizations in India which help the people who would otherwise die or suffer immensely.

What is so special about Ekal that appeals to you?

Mohan Wanchoo: My conviction is that education brings light into the life of human beings as they get empowered. They can do a job, set up their own business or industry with that knowledge. They can work to make their dreams come true with education. Education also broadens the mental horizon and enables human beings to accomplish their goals.

Ekal, in fact, is not just an educational organization, they have many different projects such as Gramotthan – rural development, Digital Ekal for the education of information technology, Sanskar Shiksha – moral education aimed at building character and Ekal Aarogya – a telemedicine project aimed at providing health care to villagers in remote areas among others.

In the Gramotthan Project, they teach farmers scientific techniques to increase production, its quality and improve soil health. They empower women with tailoring centers where they learn to stitch clothes and sell them for a profit. Ekal Aarogya is a telemedicine project in which village gram sevika, a woman volunteer, enters basic information of an ailing person on a phone or a tablet which is sent to the nearby doctor to prescribe treatment. The villager then can arrange to pick his medicine from the nearby designated pharmacy by himself or through someone else.

Under the Digital Ekal project, we provide tablets to kids for computer education. Then, there is Ekal on Wheels, a bus fitted with 12 computers, which goes to two villages every day to give computer education to children.

The Sanskar Shiksha project is aimed at the moral well-being of the targeted villages. Drinking is a menace in many villages in India. The Kathakars (folk storytellers) use their skills of storytelling and anecdotes to encourage people to leave drinking and adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Thus, Ekal does many things besides education and it’s a well-rounded organization, which perhaps has a mini solution for most problems ailing rural India. They have covered over one lakh villages in India and run 6,000 schools in Nepal.

How do you ensure that the charity you support whole-heartedly is worthwhile or making an impact?

Mohan Wanchoo: At Ekal, we have now engaged a firm in India to conduct impact analysis. Because many of the foundations we go to for support also like to see such analysis. Sometime this year, we should be able to get a report on the impact of the Ekal Foundation.

How do you see yourself in the future?

Mohan Wanchoo: I plan to do more philanthropic activities. Right now, I do not know what exactly but at some point, I would know. There is a tremendous sense of fulfillment when we do something for people who are not fortunate enough like us. If we all start doing things for at least one not-so-well to-do person, we can change the entire world. There are many successful people who can afford to help at least one person.

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