With ChildFund, Neelam Makhijani aims to create a better tomorrow for children
As CEO and Director of ChildFund India, Neelam Makhijani is working to give excluded and vulnerable children the capacity to improve their lives and become adults who bring positive change in their communities.
As a journalist in New York, Neelam Makhijani worked for a leading Asian weekly, where she wrote and commented on South Asian political issues. Her job connected her to many humanitarian initiatives and she decided to take her job on-ground and “be the change she wished to see”.
Neelam moved back to Delhi and joined HelpAge India to manage their international fundraising and communications. Fundraising for Neelam was like being a fish in water and she was soon promoted to Director and transferred to Help the Aged in UK. She stayed in UK for 15 years and occupied leadership roles with various global organisations.
She pursued an MBA from London University, and an Excellence in Leadership course from Harvard University. She pursued various other leadership courses while she was in UK.
“I pondered over the need of leadership talent or rather the lack of it in the development sector, and also had this desire to move back home and look after my ailing mother. I joined ChildFund India as Country Director and CEO four years ago,” she says.
Change for maximum impact
With a passion for development and inspiring change for maximum impact, Neelam revitalsed ChildFund India’s core operations by strengthening the organisation’s ability to fulfill its mandate towards children throughout India. She has also spearheaded its collaborations with some of the most notable academia, corporates, and development agencies, extending ChildFund’s reach and strengthening its foundations for its long-term future development.
“ChildFund India has been working with underprivileged children, youth, and families from the most remote, extremely backward and hard-to-reach areas, with a vision of ‘an India where children lead a dignified life and achieve their full potential’. It annually reaches over 2.5 million children, youth, and their families across 16 states through its long-term programmes,” she says.
“We believe every child has the right to receive care, support, and protection to grow up healthy, educated, and safe because the well being of all children leads to the well being of the world. ChildFund’s unique programmes provide comprehensive support to children from their conception until they reach 24 years of age by integrating health, nutrition, sanitation, gender equality, disability, education, skill training, livelihoods, child protection, and humanitarian relief work,” Neelam adds.
Connecting through art
Khilta Bachpan is an initiative from ChildFund India that uses “art” as a catalyst to change the lives of millions of children and youth.
Neelam explains: “This is a unique initiative because it will provide an opportunity to promote art education nation-wide by bringing diverse forces together, harness as well as restore the wealth of traditional and folk art and culture, facilitate cross-cultural exchange and knowledge sharing for children on art and create opportunities and platforms for children to showcase their talents by engaging renowned artistes. Through this initiative ChildFund hopes to reach millions of young people over two-three years across 16 states in India by training them in music, dance, theatre, and painting.”
In spite of many steps taken by the government to protect children from violence in India, crimes against children have increased significantly during last few years. Neelam believes forced labour constitutes India’s largest trafficking problem; men, women, and children in debt bondage —sometimes inherited from previous generations — are forced to work in brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories.
Making an impact
Neelam narrates a story to showcase ChildFund’s commitment to impact the lives of children.
“Sudharathna was born with spastic cerebral palsy and had a tough childhood with mobility issues and speech problems. Until she was enrolled in ChildFund’s programme at the age of 12, she was mostly bedridden. She received therapy on a regular basis, such as speech and physiotherapy, regular family and individual counseling, and equipment such as a wheelchair and orthotics knee shoes that helped her function independently. The programme also helped develop Sudharathna’s innate talent in painting. With training, she is now an expert in a variety of mediums, including watercolour, oil, pencil shading, canvas painting, modern art, fabric painting, glass painting and more. Sudharathna has painted more than a thousand paintings and has hosted many exhibitions. Now 42 years old, she earns money by holding exhibitions and selling her paintings – work for which she earns Rs 50,000 to 75,000 a year.”
According to Neelam, they are heading into the future with the same mission. “ChildFund India’s vision is to work for an India where children lead a dignified life and achieve their full potential. It has recently developed its Country Strategy 2020, that illustrates guidelines for an accountable, sustainable and result-oriented ‘for the children’ development organisation. It will also address issues of child protection, and make inroads into new locations, including urban slums that need special attention, while consolidating its existing spread,” Neelam ends.