Manna Dabholkar, CEO of Gift Global Initiative, and Commissioner on The Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections.
By Jules Lavallee
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/7//19 – Manna Dabholkar has spent her life, speaking up against injustice and giving a voice to the vulnerable children, women & men and sharing their stories of perseverance and success. She is the CEO of Gift Global Initiative, a non-profit advocating and serving the needs of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families with a special focus on children, some for the poorest areas on the planet.
You have over a decade of leadership experience in the profit and non-profit sectors. Share your journey.
Manna Dabholkar: My journey, a conscious decision of committing my life to public service started well before I landed in the United States as an immigrant 12 years ago. I was born and raised by parents who were lifelong public servants – Papa was in politics, a lawmaker advocating for the poorest neighborhoods and slums in India and Mom was a homemaker supporting his aspirations and crazy ideas to create a better world. While other kids were out playing and making friends, we were accompanying my Papa on his election rallies, holding his hand and walking through some of the most dangerous slums of India. The people who lived in these slums had no food on their tables, no running water, no sanitation or electricity but they welcomed us with open arms. I would see him sit on dirt floors and eat with these families. Children in shabby old clothes with snot running down their noses, greasy dirty fingers and they would hug him. As a child I cringed that he didn’t mind the unhygienic conditions around him, often spending hours in these places.
Years later I found myself standing in a small, cold, congested dirty brothel, as it poured outside, trying to rescue those babies to safety from their traffickers. I couldn’t turn my back on so many others who are still living in environments that make them easy targets of the darker underbelly of our society. My journey is a lifelong commitment to speaking up against injustice and giving a voice to the vulnerable children, women & men and sharing their stories of perseverance and success. In many ways, my life has come full circle. Today I find myself following in my Papa’s footsteps, loving every minute of this journey.
What encourages you to keep fighting for those in need?
Manna Dabholkar: The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. I learned that early on from my father who has always advocated for people who were marginalized by systematic oppression or stuck in a generational cycle of poverty.
Humanitarian work can be very exhausting. It is easy to lose sight when there are so many who need help. Knowing and understanding your end goal(s) can help you avoid getting sucked into the sinkhole of depression. You need to know what you’re fighting for so you remain focused and driven to keep pushing without getting overwhelmed by the demands. Clarity of the end goal is the biggest motivating factor because a clear vision will help you go beyond the realm of fuzzy.
Let me explain. I work with families who have no food on their table for days and most of them use water from a nearby gutter. They don’t have toilets, electricity, cable, internet and all the simple pleasures of life. I work with children who are abandoned by their families because they are HIV positive or have cancer or such other medical condition that the family either doesn’t understand or does not have the funds to treat or both. I serve children who are at risk of being sex trafficked at the tender age of 4 and 5.
What is my end goal? What keeps me going is the clarity of my vision for these families and their children. We are not in this just to provide transitional aid. I am fighting for Uplifting these people, I am fighting to improve their financial condition, not to keep them poor.
I am fighting to bring them a Hand up in Life and Not a Handout. I am fighting to educate the world about mindful sustainable giving. I am encouraged to keep fighting by the success stories I get to share with you all.
Share a recent experience that changed your point of view.
Manna Dabholkar: My advisory work on boards and commissions that oversee prison reform in countries across the globe has been an eye- opener and game-changer in many ways for me. When Joseph (name changed for privacy), walked out of a maximum-security prison in his country last March, he had spent the last 5 years in solitary confinement. Prison officials sent him to segregation when he was 27 for allegedly threatening to kill another inmate. For roughly 60 months, he was locked in a 75-square-foot cold concrete cell for 24 hours a day with absolutely no human contact, except a plate of food that would slide in through a gap in the door. He didn’t see sunlight all those months with his only companion being an occasional insect that crawled into that narrow space. On the day he was released, prison guards removed his shackles, handed him his clothes, a check, opened the prison gates and let him go. Just like that, a man who had not seen a human face in 5 years, who had not felt the sunlight in 5 years was wandering the streets of a bustling city. Like many released straight from solitary confinement, he would soon be back after being unable to reintegrate into the civil society. Longer and harsher prison sentences mean that prisoners’ personalities will be changed in ways that make their reintegration difficult. It is our failure as a society that we cannot comprehend that what happens to these men, women, and children behind those prison gates, will eventually affect us in the outside world.
At some point, another Joseph will walk the streets without receiving the right help, without going through a rehabilitation process, without being given the tools to stay out of trouble, without being given the mental help that they need to not harm themselves and others. Long-term imprisonment changes people. For the sake of our children’s safety and the safety of our young men and women, we must do better at helping people like Joseph reintegrate successfully. We must also do better at improving the condition of our prisons, jails, lock-ups, rehabilitation facilities, and juvenile detention facilities.
Tell us about Gift Global Initiative.
Manna Dabholkar: GIFT Global Initiative is a global humanitarian organization that serves children and families from some of the poorest places on our planet in Asia, Africa, South, Central, and North America. GIFT was founded on a simple philosophy ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’
In my 15 years of working in underserved areas, poverty-stricken, drug-infested, controlled by the cartels, affected by violence, abuse and exploitation, I recognized the stark absence of efforts geared towards prevention. It became clear I must make it a priority to educate governments, individuals and corporations about mindful sustainable charity, bringing a hand up, not a handout. GIFT was founded to protect families and their children by preventing situations that lead to the exploitation of these people. Prevent is a big word for us at GIFT. I never understood why anyone must go through a traumatic episode to get the help they deserve. We must be proactive with humanitarian aid and mindful of the nature of aid we provide to people in need. Transitional aid such as free food, free blankets, free shelter, free medical, etc. is great but only for so long. That’s not what GIFT is about. Our goal is to uplift these children, strengthen their family unit so it can provide and protect their own and do not have to rely on outside entities for simple necessities in life. Our goal is to bring them a hand up in life, not a handout. We do so by 1) identifying areas that require support 2) implementing programs that are preventive in nature and scope such as Education for All, Renewable Energy, Clean Water Initiative, Medical Fund, Mobile Clinics, Pop Up Schools, and more.
We recently launched a Holiday Challenge that invites individuals and corporations to help us bring solar power, clean water, and food on Christmas day to about 1000 families in Africa, Asia, and Mexico. For as little as a $15/- donation a child will receive a Solar Top that provides light for 2 years. My immediate goal for the next few months is to make sure we engage more supporters and deliver light, water, and food to these kids who will otherwise spend Christmas in the dark without proper water or food.
Tell us more about your Holiday Challenge.
Manna Dabholkar: We are starting early so we can make sure the hundreds of children that we are working within the slums in Africa, Asia, and South America won’t have to stay without food, water, and lights on Christmas Day. Instead of toys, this holiday season we are requesting donations for food and solar-powered lights for these children. Your donation will be used in the following way –
1 –>Donate a Solar Powered Light to each one of the 600 families
2 –>Donate Food on Christmas Day to the children in this slum
3 –>Donate Water Purification Solution to the slum so the kids can drink clean water.
4 –>Buy Educational Supplies for the Day Care facility in the Slum that cares for 71 toddlers from some of the poorest homes in the sum
5 –>Buy Grooming supplies such as Sanitary Pads, Body wash, face wash, shampoo, diapers size 4-5-6, and other baby products.
Monetary donations can be made on the website. https://www.giftglobalinitiative.org/donate/holiday-challenge
Monetary donations can be sent by check to GIFT Global Initiative and mail the checks to P O Box 5444, Sherman Oaks, California 91413, United States.
In-Kind donations may be sent to 13200 Moorpark Street, Suite 104, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
You have just been appointed as a Commissioner on The Sybil Commission for Institutional Inspections. What motivated you to pursue it?
Manna Dabholkar: I am so thrilled and quite frankly honored to be able to serve beautiful Los Angeles that welcomed me with open arms when I first moved to the United States a decade ago. As an immigrant, I have a deep sense of acknowledgement of the debt of gratitude which I owe to this country and I am sure this is just the beginning. My work on prison reform, expertise in international human rights law and understanding the importance of the Sybil Brand Commission in the larger scheme of things motivated me to accept the appointed.
With 2.3 million people in its jails and prisons, the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation. At 716 per 100 000 people, the US per capita incarceration rate is more than 7 times the average in European Union countries. With only 5% of the world’s population, the United States now accounts for one quarter of its prisoners. The United States not only incarcerates the most people, but also exposes more of its citizens to solitary confinement than any other nation. The best available data suggest that about 84 000 individuals endure extreme conditions of isolation, sensory deprivation, and idleness in US correctional facilities. From 2008 through 2013, the number of people in solitary confinement in federal prisons grew by 17%—from 10 659 to 12 460 prisoners––almost triple the 6% rise in the total prison population for that same period.
As I said before, what happens behind those prison doors will ultimately affect each one of us. We must do better for the safety of our communities. We must make sure that our prisons, jails and juvenile detention facilities aren’t creating more criminals. I am hoping my role on this commission will be enlightening for me in many ways. I hope to educate myself and others about what could possibly be done better to improve our prisons. I would like to push for better rehabilitation and reintegration process than what exists today.
Can you share with us about what a Commissioner does in this role?
Manna Dabholkar: The Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections was founded in 1959 by Sybil Brand who saw the necessity to improve the overcrowded conditions of incarcerated juveniles, men, and in particular women. The Sybil Brand Commissioner inspects and oversees Human Rights Concerns at the jails, lockups, probation and correctional facilities. They will conduct inspections of jails, lockups, probation and correctional facilities involving a complete evaluation of the condition of each facility’s effective and economical administration, cleanliness, discipline and comfort of its inmates and Juveniles at Probation camps. Additionally, the Commission may call for and inspect the permit and registration of such jail and lockup, whether the institution is located within and without the corporate limits of any incorporated city. The commission also inspects group home facilities to ascertain it condition.
What is next for you?
Manna Dabholkar: Oh my goodness, so many incredible people, events and partnerships are lined up that will allow us to expand our reach and serve more families in 2020. I am so grateful for this journey. Keith Kirkwood, our Chairman and I are going on a keynote speaking tour. First stop is Qatar where we will present at the Pan African Humanitarian Summit. Keith is accepting a humanitarian award from Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Prime Minister of the State of Qatar. After Qatar, we will be keynote speakers at the World Africa Health Summit in Kenya educating Government officials and leaders from the Private Sector about innovative healthcare delivery system and what has worked for GIFT. Then we leave for India to check on our School Partnership making education accessible for street children in several cities in India. And then I am speaking at the World Humanitarian Forum in London, an exclusive closed event for 400 powerhouse humanitarian delegates such as Malala Yosefzei, David Simas CEO of the Obama Foundation, and more. We also have an incredibly innovative and exciting project coming up with Amazon, details of which shall be disclosed in the next few weeks.
Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/manna-dabholkar-265296a5 (Manna personal )