Industrialist Ness Wadia, scion of India’s most illustrious business company, the Wadia Group, has never been one to court fame or celebrity, but somehow, headlines chase him relentlessly, turning him into India’s most recognized and “selfied-with” face in the corporate world. But behind the suit and corporate armor, is a man with a zealous philanthropic drive. Not one to talk about it though, Ness is an active force in the Wadia Group’s charitable ventures, one of them being the Little Hearts Marathon that took place on Sunday. “What a glorious way to wake up on a beautiful Sunday morning, with the pure and unparalleled energy of 12,000 kids running the marathon!” exclaims Wadia as he flags off the marathon with the Health Minister of Maharashtra, Dr Deepak Sawant, Dr Minnie Bodhanwala, CEO, Wadia Hospitals and Aditya Thackeray of the Yuva Sena.
Rubina A Khan in conversation with industrialist Ness Wadia for DNA:
How did the idea of the Little Hearts Marathon come about?
The concept was that we wanted to help kids with cardiac ailments and to promote awareness on that front as a lot of kids suffer from cardiac problems. We found out that a lot of hospitals were not looking into children’s cardiac care so the Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children (BJWHC) tied up with the Siddhivinayak Ganpati Temple Trust and formed a Cardiac Unit to help kids with cardiac afflictions. Last year, Salman Khan flagged off the first edition of the Little Hearts Marathon, with 10,000 kids participating and this year, our second marathon, we had 12,000 kids! We are planning to take it across India and other parts of Maharashtra as well to raise funds for setting up a cardiac center at BJWHC to reduce the costs and waiting time for cardiac surgeries in our community.
Lots of marching bands, cadet corps, quite a spectacular show first thing in the morning… how do you involve these schools and their kids?
This is all voluntary work on behalf of the schools and the children, as this is a charitable organization and everything is pro bono – it’s children helping other children. Isn’t that amazing? All the staff working here are all from the Wadia Hospital, Lions Club, Rotary Club, Schools. It’s all Corporate Social Responsibility. We treat thousands of kids a year and last year was special as we treated a set of conjoined twins Riddhi and Siddhi Pawar who are now well and doing so well. This is one of the most important joys in my life. I was here most part of Diwali last year and spent it with all the kids. Spending time with them brings you to reality and makes you realise what life is about and makes you appreciate what you have and more importantly, what we, as a whole, need to give to help develop our society.
From my perspective, the Wadia hospitals have been around for 86 years and we are looking to renovate and take on various expansions. We don’t publicise the Wadia Hospitals, we never have, now we are beginning to. Apart from anything, it helps with CSR and but I simply love doing it and I want to spread the awareness. Our goal is to have possibly, charitable hospitals across India, as opposed to hospitals that earn money; we have enough businesses that earn money. We do change lives here. My plea to anyone who reads this and anyone who hears about this, even if it is one rupee, please, just donate. There are lot of people are more interested in the glamour and the sensational lifestyle aspect or what one’s doing in their lives, but the work which one does in the Wadia Group has always been very low key, the family has always been low key, we are not here to blow our own trumpet and tell people what we have done and how we’ve done it and how much money we have. We are simple people. The perception is not, unfortunately. We have been involved in the building of India and we will continue to be involved in the building of India. And honestly, I am not here to push myself, but the causes I have.
Do these children feel like yours at some point given you spend time, follow their progress charts and are so involved in their lives?
I don’t know if they feel like mine, but they inspire me more to do more. It keeps me going. There’s so much to do. We have the hospital website – http://wadiahospitals.org where you can donate and help. In fact we had an argument about the amount as I firmly believe you cannot put a minimum on a donation! A man wants to put one rupee into a box, let him put it. Let him choose.
Are you looking forward to the eighth season of the IPL this year?
Sure! We (Kings XI Punjab) want to win this year. We have a great bunch of players and it feels like a good season.
This feature first appeared in DNA on 08 February, 2015