‘Are you someone else’s budget?’
By BHARAT AVALANI
Having worked in the corporate world for over two decades, I have come to realise that at the end of the day, it is not the numbers but the human factors that you will be remembered for.
T Thomas (also known as TT), former chairman of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL, then Hindustan Lever Ltd) passed away on March 2 at the age of 90.
I joined Unilever around the same time TT retired from Unilever.
Although I have not had the privilege of meeting him in person, I have heard many stories about him from my (former) colleagues.
TT was also the first non-European to join the Global Unilever Board and Malaysia was under his watch as well.
‘You are my budget!’
TT is best remembered as Mother Teresa’s budget. TT first met Mother Teresa in December 1974.
At that time, Mother Teresa was well known in India, but not as widely known outside India.
As a businessman, he thought he could extend some financial help and asked her, “Mother, do you have any kind of budget for all these projects you are carrying out?”
She said to him:
“You are my budget – I ask people like you who come to see me for help and that’s how we receive things.”
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Putting words into action
This first meeting subsequently led to the establishment by HUL in 1976–1977 of Asha Daan, at Byculla in Mumbai, a home for the sick and abandoned.
TT consulted Indian ad filmmaker Alyque Padamsee, the then chief of Lintas (the acronym for Lever International Advertising Services), who had always shown an interest in good causes.
Alyque produced a long list of Sanskrit and Hindi-based names which meant love, hope, faith, charity, and so on.
After discussion, Mother Teresa and TT chose “Asha” (Hope) and “Daan” (Gift) — and so the name Asha Daan, or “The Gift of Hope”, was born.
Gifts of hope
HUL transformed its warehouse on Sankli Street into a home.
It took them six months to repair the roof and floors, to connect the water drains and the water supply, install toilets and kitchens with gas stoves, partitions and obtain beds and linen and all the other things necessary for a home.
It was declared open on Jan 8, 1977 by Mother Teresa. It is a home that serves differently-abled, unwell and destitute people of all races.
The objective of HUL in supporting Asha Daan was and continues to be to share the organisation’s prosperity in supporting the Mother’s mission of serving the “poorest of the poor”.
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Paying it forward
Asha Daan has been set up on a 72,500-square feet plot belonging to HUL, in the heart of Mumbai city.
While the sisters manage the Home, HUL bears the capital and revenue expenses for maintenance, upkeep and security of the premises.
The spouses of some of the Unilever managers help look after the children and pack medicines.
The destitute and the HIV-positive are provided with food, shelter and medication for the last few days of their lives.
The needs of the abandoned and challenged children are also met through special sessions of basic skills, physiotherapy and, whenever possible, corrective surgery.
At any point of time, it takes care of over 300 infants, destitute men and women, and HIV-positive patients.
This was a significant high point in TT’s lifetime and is an inspiring story of doing well by doing good is good business.
God bless TT’s work and legacy!
What about you? How are you doing good through your business?
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Bharat is a faculty of Leaderonomics who specialises in creating brand experiences through storytelling. He is a veteran FMCG marketer and a memory collector too. He helps executive teams put stories to work by helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, influence and inspire people.