Maya Ajmera: Philanthropic Entrepreneur

Maya AjmeraAn epiphany on a railway platform in India led Sanford alumnus Maya Ajmera to her life’s work. Amidst the dust, noise and chaos of the train station, a circle of children sat around a teacher using flash cards to teach them to read. Ajmera learned that it cost about $400 a year to fund the school, which also fed and clothed the children.

Ajmera calls it her “moment of obligation,” when she realized the enormous impact small amounts of money could have at the grassroots level. Instead of going to medical school, Ajmera earned a master’s of public policy degree at the Sanford Institute and used that training to create the nonprofit Global Fund for Children.

On Oct. 30, Ajmera will give the inaugural talk in the Sanford Alumni Speaker Series, entitled “A Social Entrepreneur's Journey.” The speaker series will highlight the work of Institute graduates by bringing distinguished alumni to campus to meet with current students and faculty and deliver a lecture. Ajmera will talk about how she created her organization and its combination of philanthropy, entrepreneurship and the arts. The talk begins at 5:30 p.m. in Sanford Room 04.

With an initial focus on literacy, Ajmera wrote a children’s book as her first project, Children from Australia to Zimbabwe, illustrated with photographs. She wanted to spotlight the beauty and resilience of children in developing countries and show the commonality of children in the “global village.” Money from the book sales funded the program’s first grants, including one to the teacher of that train station school.

Today, GFC continues this twofold approach: making small grants to community-based organizations working with vulnerable children and youth and running a media program of books, documentary film and photography about children. Since 1997, GFC has awarded $10.7 million to more than 300 organizations around the world to help children through education, health care and social services.

Global Babies, GFC Media’s most recent book, was selected for Oprah’s Reading Lists for Kids. One of its film projects, War Child, a documentary of rap artist Emmanuel Jal, who was a child solider during Sudan’s civil war, will be shown at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals.

To support its mission, GFC also has created partnerships with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, such the Tea Collection clothing line for children and Youth Philanthropy Worldwide.

To learn more about GFC, listen to an interview of Maya Ajmera on NPR’s Tell Me More program.