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January 14, 2000
Rekhi's Payback Time Comes With $ 5 Million Donation
Kamla Bhat in Santa Clara
"It is payback time," is Kanwal Rekhi's favorite phrase and he has opened his purse strings wide and donating money to different organizations.
Rekhi, a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, has been liberal in sharing his wealth. He has given $ 1 million to his alma mater, IIT, Mumbai. And he also helped fund part of the expenses of mounting a Sikh heritage exhibition which ended its engagement at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco this week.
Now, he has committed $ 5 million for the Foundation For Excellence, an educational organization, started by a Silicon Valley Indian couple. Rekhi has been involved with the organization for several months and had pledged about six months ago to help it, but the extent of his support was not discussed then.
FFE is a Santa Clara-based non-profit organization that supports talented, but poor students in India to complete their high school and college. So far, the organization has been funded by the endowment made by Prabhu Goel and his wife Poonam. That money in the past four years has helped about 800 students continue their education. They have received at least $ 200,000 from FEE. Many students that FFE has helped are in medical and engineering schools in India.
"As a businessman, I wanted to do something that had leverage. These students who complete degrees in medicine or engineering will have a bigger impact on the environment from which they came than if they only completed high school," said Prabhu Goel, a well-known private venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.
In mid-December 1999, Rekhi attended a volunteer meeting of Santa Clara-based FFE where the focus was about starting an office in India. During the break, Rekhi quietly took Venk Shukla, president, FFE, aside and told him he was donating $ 1 million in stock (Exodus Communications) to FFE. Rekhi has pledged to donated $ 1 million per year for the next four years.
Rekhi, whose family migrated to Kanpur from Pakistan during Partition, is a firm believer in providing good basic education to students. The difference with Rekhi's contribution is that he wants female students's educational needs to be taken care of since he rightly observes that when you educate a girl you educate the whole family.
Shukla is thrilled with the donation and is gearing up to scale the organization's activities.
"The sheer magnitude of this donation enables the Foundation to think differently about the scope of its activities," he says. "So far we had been content to let the number of scholarships awarded grow by 200 per cent to 300 per cent every year. We considered ourselves successful in our mission as we scaled up to grant more than a thousand scholarships last year to deserving students in India."
Rekhi's donation has changed the dynamics of the organization. Shukla notes that, "Rekhi has challenged us to think about making a much greater impact. We welcome this challenge."
And thanks to the performance of the "red hot economy" the stock that Rekhi donated to FFE has "already appreciated 25 per cent in three weeks," he adds.
Unlike other non-profit organizations that are actively involved in India, FEE's model is different. The organization does not support academic projects, institutions or organizations, instead it believes in helping the students directly. The scholarship is awarded to students on a need basis.
"The FFE system works through a personal network where all the people involved know the student who is being funded," Shukla says.
For information about FFE, visit www.ffe.org
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