Friday, November 13, 2009
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Stories of men and women who have made good in their professional lives are many but it is quite rare, especially in this day and age, to come across people who while building personal success also gave generously of their time, energy and selfless hard work for building successful institutions that have stood to benefit the larger community – and are poised to grow and move with the times.
For an immigrant who came to a far more mono-cultural New Zealand as a young man all the way from Kenya in 1969, Kanu Patel has not only done well for himself but over the past nearly quarter of a century served as a deft helmsman of the country’s leading Indian community institution – the Auckland Indian Association.
“About 23 years ago a friend told me that the old guard at the Auckland Indian Association was not making progress and asked me to get involved in the organisation. Before that I had no involvement other than occasionally attending Gita class run by the association on Sunday evenings. Shortly alter joining I was appointed Treasurer,” the chairman of the Auckland Indian Association told Indian Weekender when asked how his long unbroken stint with the association and the Mahatma Gandhi Centre began.
An accountant by profession, Kanu has built a hugely successful accountancy firm, Patel Pike and Associates, from scratch, coming a long way from his humble beginnings as a store clerk at New World 40 years ago. His talent for managing finances as also working closely with community leaders and common people came in handy for the Auckland Indian Association through its days of struggle.
The success of the association is a fine and rare combination of dedication, drive and spunk. “The association bought the present site from Findlays Bakery in August 1990 for $1.8 million. It was a bold decision by the then president Ramanbhai Ganda to purchase the property as we only had $72,315 in our bank account and the Victoria Street property was valued at around $500,000,” says Mr Patel.
“From the day we bought the land, Mahatma Gandhi Centre has been a hive of activities with volunteers working on the complex, fund raising team working hard to seek firstly the donation pledges and than collecting the donations,” he says. “The work never finishes – just last month we completed the dinning area renovation at a cost of $60,000 and are considering buying the sound system for $80,000.”
Like for most institutions, the early days were tough going for the association and the Mahatma Gandhi Centre. But Mr Patel credits the complete selfless dedication of the association members, its leaders and some very practical and intelligent financial management for the success of the institution, which today, despite its large financial outlay over the years is completely debt free with cash to spare.
“It was never easy making quarterly payments of $1.2milion over twelve months or securing an ANZ loan of $600,000. There was a lot of blood sweat and tears,” says Mr Patel reminiscing. “Setting annual financial and development goals and achieving them was always a priority for us.”
All through its various development phases, Mr Patel, as the main money manager at the association, never lost sight of his dream of making the institution debt free as quickly as possible. “That dream has been achieved and we are very happy and proud about it,” he says.
Mr Patel especially acknowledges the contributions of key people like Ramanbhai Ganda QSM, Ramanbhai Patel JP and Chhotubhai Sima QSM. But no mention of the centre should go without acknowledging the work, generosity and sacrifice of common members, he insists.
The community has enjoyed the Mahatma Gandhi Centre for the past twenty years. It has held the immensely popular Navratri festival and Dandiya nights, Yagnas, Diwali Concerts, musicals, all religious functions, community meetings, run the Gujarati school classes and opened the Tagore Library this year. “The Mahatma Gandhi Centre has brought joy, fun and happiness in the lives of everyone from the youngest child to the senior citizen,” says Mr Patel.
But with the rapid growth of the Indian community especially in Auckland, the demands on the Centre are ever increasing. “Amongst the executive committee it is well known that the centre has a maximum life span of 10 years. After that it will be uneconomic to maintain the property and parking will become a major issue,” says Mr Patel. “It is an undisputed fact that the Mahatma Gandhi Centre has been the best investment we have made for the community.”
We Indians are completely community oriented and our lives revolve around our families, communities and institutions – whether religious or cultural, observes Mr Patel. “We tend to use the centre more frequently than say the Aotea Centre, the Auckland Town Hall or even the beaches. With that in mind and the size of fast growing Indian community it is imperative that we build a modem cultural centre and remain a centre of activities for the community.”
Acknowledging the dream of the founding fathers, Mr Patel says, “Some who shared the dream of building the Mahatma Gandhi Centre are no longer with us, but we share their vision of the future which is to collectively create a centre that we can all be proud of and give us a sense of belonging here in Auckland.”
Asked about the recent media controversy relating to the building of the new centre that would be a replica of the Taj Mahal, Mr Patel says that it was an unfortunate case of miscommunication. “Any thinking person can tell it is impossible to build a replica of the fabulous Taj Mahal on a one hectare site with a budget of $20 million. What we meant to communicate was that we were planning a build a cultural icon in Auckland in a manner that the Taj Mahal is in India. That story was picked up by other media and there was some needless reaction to it.”
Mr Patel sees the biggest obstacles coming from negative thinking, personality clashes, ego, lack of unity of purpose, questions like where the money will come from. It is not that these attitudes have not been seen in the past – but that’s a part and parcel of life, he shrugs.
Just as nothing has deterred him and his team from achieving the dreams of the centre’s founders down the years, he is confident that the present set of leaders and members who share the dedication and fervour of the founders will achieve the goal of a proud new functional centre catering to every modern need of the Indian community.