Saturday, 25th March 2017
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR ASHWIN SONI
I qualified in Chemical Engineering from Bath University and went to work for a large multinational company (initially Bowater-Scott, then Scott Ltd and finally Kimberly-Clark). My career spanned 35 years in the same company, starting as a Graduate Trainee to Senior Engineer working at three sites in the UK and many locations in Europe, US and Asia.
I got involved with Gurjar Hindu Union (GHU) (www.crawleyhindu.com) in 1998. I helped GHU to formalise and improve their systems and procedures and management structure. I got involved in a small project to improve the old Temple facilities and then transitioned to manage the £4 million project for a purpose built Sanatan Mandir (Temple) and Community Centre.
The vision we developed was to create a Centre of Excellence to maintain and enhance Indian culture and religion through Education, Culture and Integration.
2. You appear to be using your exceptional professional skills to manage what is a voluntary charity. How do you adapt to this new environment?
I have been involved in GHU for past 13 years. The organisation itself has been in existence in Crawley since 1968. So it has a long 43 years of history and so many people have been involved in making it a very successful organisation over the years. I count myself lucky that in 1998 my wife Ela persuaded me to get involved in charity work and help support GHU as best as I could.
I started devoting a few hours a month and as I got to know the people and GHU’s challenges more and more so I started to spend more time helping and supporting the people and organisation to grow bigger and better.
I used my inter-personal, managerial and engineering skills to help GHU. Working for a large multinational where funding and resources were widely available and then switching in the spare time to supporting a charity gave me a lot of challenges and difficulties. However with team work, perseverance, good will of people, support of my family and most importantly by grace of God – GHU managed to achieve the impossible in some people’s eyes!
3. What can this charitable work give you, which your business experience did not?
The work ethic and management style I grew up with and adopted were “to be an excellent citizen with high level of integrity, professionalism and fairness” in anything and everything I do.
For me GHU also needed the same and so it was very easy for me to work and support the organisation.
However whereas at work I could hire and fire as a manager – this was not quite possible in a charitable organisation run entirely with the help and support from volunteers from all walks of life with diverse experience and capability level.
Charity work taught me to be more patient, tolerant and accommodating. Volunteers promise to attend a meeting or carry out some work – but don’t be disheartened or disappointed if the meeting does not happen or work does not get done!
Charity work also taught me that supporting infrastructures may not be as effective and efficient compared to what one would find in a hardnosed competitive business environment. Here I am referring to Government, local and county Councils, organisation for ethnic minorities, Hindu or Indian organisations. Some of these bodies were set up to help and support the charities however I found a very number of them to be ineffective, inefficient and sadly getting away with doing nothing or bare minimum. A large pot of money and resources are getting wasted – something that would not be tolerated and would be quickly identified and sorted in industry focused on competitiveness and efficiencies!
4. What is your message to professionals considering getting involved in charitable work when they retire?
I joined GHU 12 years before I retired. As a large organisation wishing to advance and develop the charity (GHU) needed professionals to earnestly guide and support them. Whilst holding a senior managerial role in my company – I felt from inside me that I should help and support GHU to become a successful Hindu organisation in Crawley. I was fortunate that my family was supportive and so I was able to spend a good number of hours to do GHU work in the evenings and weekends.
Message to others is give “one hour a month” to do charity work! I guarantee that your involvement will be like planting a seed – it will not only give you a lot of personal satisfaction and enjoyment and in return you will see the fruits of effort flourishing and bringing benefits to a large number of people!
5. How do others perceive your contribution to the community?
Some people will praise you big time and give you lots of encouragement and support. Some people will criticise you so much that you would feel like downing the tools and going home! The latter is a major reason why people do not get involved or do the charity work.
6. What is your future vision for the Centre, especially in terms of pluralism, integration and diversity?
Our vision of being a Centre of Excellence through Education, Culture and Integration says it all and is not a mean task. GHU, its Board of Governors and Community come from diverse ethnic mix with different beliefs and principles under the umbrella of Sanatan (all encompassing) Dharma (religion). We believe and practice the Big Society principle, we want to show and share with wider Society all the good things we do, we want them to get involved and contribute to becoming good citizens in a community where there is utmost peace, harmony and bliss!
Article added on 27th October 2011 at 3:28pm
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