Our story began in 1999, when a group of friends in Tokyo began to meet at the home of Geeta and Krishen Mehta to strategize ways that they could help the severely underprivileged people in South Asia, and particularly India. Then came a chance to meet with Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the world renowned agricultural scientist and humanist, which ultimately changed everything. He suggested ways that a group of people living abroad can engage with issues back home. Several members of the group then went to India to visit the transformative work that M.S. Swaminathan Foundation (MSSRF) was doing in villages of Tamil Nadu, and Friends of MSSRF was born. While the initial work of the foundation was to support the scientific and transparent development work on MSSRF, it soon grew to help other small or emerging NGOs, also connecting them to MSSRF methodologies where possible. However, when Japan started the law to register non-profit organizations, naming a group after one individual’s name was not allowed. At the advice of Prof. Swaminathan, Asia Initiatives was chosen as the new name.
Our first project was about empowering people through technology by supporting MSSRF’s Village Knowledge Center (VKC) program. We donated over 3500 used computers, mostly from large investment banks in Tokyo, to VKCs, schools and other projects in India and the Philippines. After the Indian government imposed a ban on the import of used computers, we shifted our focus to the development of a micro credit program and provided seed funding for micro credit banks supported by MSSRF. Each bank was named after the donor of $1500 or more, and the activity of each bank was posted on the websites of AI and MSSRF. We also funded Community Grain Banks in tribal areas that were prone to hunger during drought years. Another project we supported with MSSRF was “The Virtual Academy of Rural Prosperity” to train bare-foot leaders. We similarly funded education, healthcare, technology and neighborhood development initiatives with other NGOs in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines.
As the mission of Asia Initiatives of “Pro-poor, Pro-Women and Pro-Environment” resonated with people, AI opened chapters in Singapore and Australia. The Australia chapter, named Friends of Swaminathan in Australia (FOSA), was founded by a former AI co-chair in Tokyo, Vicki Corbett. FOSA supported the Community Hunger Fighter Project with MSSRF.
Asia Initiatives Headquarters was moved to New York in 2009 and it received its 501(c)(3) status in 2010. Here, President and Co-founder, Dr. Geeta Mehta developed the methodology of Social Capital Credits (SoCCs), a community currency for social good. Today, we leverage the power of this transformative concept, making communities stakeholders in their own success.
Dr. Geeta Mehta’s reinterpretation of the Chinese proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” embodies our work. We advocate that it is not enough to teach a man—or woman—how to fish. You must also teach him/her how to maintain an unpolluted pond, cook or preserve the fish, with the responsibility of sharing their learnt knowledge with their communities, too.