Indian philanthropist and businesswoman Rajashree Birla has announced a new gift of US$1 million to Rotary to help eradicate polio. The gift brings her total contributions to the Rotary effort to more than $7.2 million.
What’s more, this gift will be matched two-for-one by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, resulting in $3 million in new funding for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Rotary is a leading partner in the GPEI, especially in advocating government and donor support, fundraising, and building public awareness. Through the End Polio Now: Make History Today fundraising campaign, the Gates Foundation is matching two-for-one every new dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication, up to $35 million per year, from 2013 through 2018.
“Mrs. Birla’s generous gift is deeply appreciated and could not have come at a more opportune time in our fight to end polio once and for all,” says Ashok Mahajan, a former Rotary Foundation trustee and close friend of the Birla family. “Her generosity no doubt will inspire other private donors to step up and help Rotary take full advantage of our innovative partnership with the Gates Foundation.”
Birla’s gift underscores India’s commitment to remain polio free. India — which some experts believed would be the last nation to beat polio — hasn’t recorded a case of the disease since January 2011. Only Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan remain on the list of countries where the wild poliovirus has never been stopped. India’s nearly 3,200 Rotary clubs have been instrumental in supporting National Immunization Days, massive initiatives that reach nearly 175 million children under age 5 with the oral polio vaccine.
“Thanks to the efforts of Rotary and its partners — including India’s Health Ministry, WHO [World Health Organization], UNICEF, CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the Gates Foundation, and other organizations — India continues to be free of polio,” says Birla, whose son, Kumar Mangalam Birla, has transformed the Aditya Birla Group into a Fortune 500 global conglomerate. “Now we owe it to humanity to see that Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan also become polio free in the near future.”