How Niranjan Shah of Chicago and The LIFT Foundation are Giving Back
The LIFT Foundation has been dedicated to changing the future of India by investing in the care and education of its youth. Based in Tamil Nadu, India, Leading India’s Future Today (LIFT) has become a symbol of hope for children who would otherwise be denied an education.
The leadership for the foundation care deeply about the future of these children, and some came from Tamil Nadu themselves. Remembering the support of their community and how it contributed to their successes, both founder Father Jamel James and Board Member Niranjan Shah decided to create a similar place for future generations.
Here’s what you need to know about the LIFT foundation and the leadership behind it.
The History the LIFT Foundation
The LIFT Foundation was founded in 2004 by Fr. Jamel along with four other Indian priests. The priests, while working in their community, began to realize that the only way to make a real difference was through education. Fr. James happened to travel to Chicago to continue his education, where he met Father Jack Wall and shared his experiences and belief in school as a means to improve communities. Fr. Jack and other volunteers were inspired by his vision and began to support Fr. James.
In the past 15 years, LIFT has grown to help more than 25 students graduate from University, and they continue to help students receive a complete education. Some of these students have even gone on to receive their master’s degree. Many of these graduates have gone back to support current students in the LIFT 2.0 through mentorship and donations.
The three tenets of the foundation are to educate children, provide leadership training, and transform communities.
About 70 students are selected each year to attend their school. They range from primary to graduate school and are chosen based on their potential and need. Most of the children come from families that are far below the poverty line. Some of the children are orphans.
However, all of the children are allowed to receive a high-quality education and find fulfilling careers. The students at the primary and high school level attend local schools and reside in the boy or girls’ dormitory. LIFT also provides transportation, meals, and study hours to enable each student the ability to concentrate on their studies.
At the college level, LIFT provides students hostels to stay at and includes living expenses, tuition, and books.
LIFT understands that students cannot reach their full potential if they are worried about meeting their basic necessities. They provide gifts to students so that, in turn, they can become a gift to their family, community, country, and world.
LIFT’s goals, however, expand beyond providing an education. They help the students develop leadership skills to help them in school and the future. Each student participated in leadership development activity camps and seminars. Teamwork, problem-solving, and conflict resolution are all critical skills that students can develop through their training.
Students that come from difficult backgrounds are exposed to situations that many of their teachers and leaders don’t understand. The best encouragement for students is to see what those who are further along in the program and have experienced much of the same life as them.
Mentorship is another critical skill that student learns to develop through the LIFT program. As the students progress through their program, they mentor younger students. The mentors are evaluated based on the success of the younger students. The mentorship program works twofold: they encourage younger students and help the older students practice their leadership skills.
The organization works with the students to make sure that their program continues to meet student needs and provide a happy place for all of the students. That is why the Student Council exists. The Council works with the staff and leadership to help plan the various programs at LIFT, from meals to extracurricular activities.
Although LIFT works to uplift students, their influence extends far beyond that. Their students support both fellow children and villages throughout South India. The student support children who are living with HIV/AIDs. They spend time to play and visit with the children who are often shunned by their community. They also raise money to support the orphanage where the children live.
In addition to supporting these children, they also use folk art to raise awareness of local issues. They use story, dance, and drama to help build leadership skills and expand their opportunities. In the last year alone, they performed for over 13,000 people. Their cultural programs highlight environmental, public health, and human rights issues.
Through their various programs, LIFT strives to help improve the community through raising leaders that might otherwise be denied the education they required because of limited access. These students have gone on to transform their communities and society through their leadership to combat poverty, unemployment, and disease.
Leaders for the LIFT Foundation
The leaders for the LIFT foundation include some of the top professionals in their respective fields. From successful law firms to capital management to financial firms, the board members at LIFT are individuals that know what it takes to be a successful leader.
Niranjan Shah is a leader heavily involved. LIFT is close to his heart because he knows how much support can make a difference to students. Born in South India, Shah grew up without electricity and running water. However, he was surrounded by a supportive family and members of the community that gave him the chance to become educated and sharpen his leadership skills.
After attending University in India, he received a full scholarship to earn his master’s in America. From there, he went on to complete the Executive Management Program from Harvard Business School.
Shah went on to found a consulting firm, Globetrotters Engineering Corporation. His firm has spent over 40 years overseeing some of the largest projects both in the United States and around the world. Globetrotters received some of the most prestigious awards in Civil Engineering due to their exceptional work.
Not only was he a leader in engineering, but he became a distinguished leader. He helped to strengthen ties between India, and the U.S. Shah provided counsel to presidents and leaders when it came to the issues to his home country.
However, Niranjan Shah never forgot that his success was dependent on the support that he received from his small village growing up. He also came from a family that taught him that education was essential for opening doors. As a result, he was eager to help the cause at LIFT.
By working as a philanthropist and serving on the Board of Directors at LIFT, Shah has helped contribute to the well-being of the students there. He draws on his own childhood to help ensure that the students receive the support they need to go on and be as successful as him.
Supporting Students for the Future of India
Through the tireless work of the leadership and staff at LIFT, students are receiving the support and education they need to be an asset to their communities. Many of these students have gone on to be invaluable and pursued careers in science, education, engineering, health, and business.