THE BIG GIVE
Bespoke auction lots, star turns, and crores in one evening... Meet SAMANTHA NAYAR, SUPERNA MOTWANE, and BIJAL MESWANI who have turned the Magic Bus fundraising dinner into the country’s A-list charity. By Gayatri R Shah
IN JUST THREE YEARS, Samantha Nayar, Superna Motwane and Bijal Meswani have turned the annual Magic Bus fundraising dinner into the most anticipated event on Mumbai’s social calendar. Putting together an evening of fine dining, entertainment, and a live auction to aid and spread awareness about Magic Bus’s mission to empower kids from underprivileged communities, the trio pulls in A-listers from Mumbai for the by-invitation, formal seated dinner.
This year, for instance, while Mandira Bedi was the celebrity host who got the auction rolling, it was Abhishek Bachchan who exhorted diners to be more generous in their bids. Among the bespoke auction, ‘money can’t buy’ lots were a private coaching session with Sachin Tendulkar, a celebrity football match with Ranbir Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan, trips to France courtesy Dior and Moët & Chandon, a trip to Milan courtesy Gucci, holidays at Chiva-Som in Thailand, a private dinner cooked by Indigo’s Rahul Akerkar, a BMW car, and luxury watches. All lots were sold. The auction was followed up with a live performance by Farhan Akhtar singing a number from Rock On!!
An enviable mix of Mumbai’s most sought-after social mavens, financiers, tycoons, and beautiful people lent their support, including Jeh and Celina Wadia, Natasha and Adar Poonawalla, Arvind Dubash, Haseena Jethmalani, Roohi Jaikishan, Farah Oomerbhoy, Ashok and Reena Wadhwa, Tanaaz and Chirag Doshi, and Gayatri and Atul Ruia. Last year’s gala raised R 4 crore, arguably one of the most successful fundraising efforts in a single evening in India.
Founded in 1999 and run by Englishman Matthew Spacie, who, while working in India as COO of Cox & Kings, noticed that poor children in Mumbai had no place to play, Magic Bus uses sport as a tool of empowerment in underprivileged communities. For every R 60,000 raised, Magic Bus provides a programme for 50 marginalised children, also providing a full set of playing equipment. Volunteers are trained and a Magic Bus employee monitors the programme over the year. Today, the Magic Bus programme is run in 10 states, reaching 2,50,000 children. Their aim is to reach a million by 2015.
Samantha Nayar, a senior advertising executive who worked in New York, Sydney, and London, became involved with Magic Bus soon after she moved to Mumbai in 2002 (she’s been a board member for a decade). Nayar points out while there had been a Magic Bus annual fundraising gala in London for years (last year the London gala, attended by 350 people, raised £200,000) the nonprofit organisation wasn’t sure India was ready for something comparable. (Although it may seem that charity dinners are now a staple on the urban social circuit, think back to a few years ago, when the idea of giving in a public fashion was far from accepted in India.)
Bijal Meswani and Superna Motwane, who were introduced to Magic Bus three years ago, were immediately committed. “Samantha invited me to coffee with Matthew, and I was blown away by their project,” recalls Motwane, editor of the by-invitationonly Noblesse magazine. “I ended up feeling so overwhelmed I said to them, ‘Thank you so much for helping these children’.”
Meswani, a lawyer by training and a well-known Mumbai philanthropist from the Ambani family, said what appealed to her was the idea of kids playing sports and pursuing their education as the means to a better life. “Magic Bus is innovative and ideally suited for implementation in India. It’s achievable because of the simplicity, scalability, and sustainability of its strategy.”
Nayar said that she believed in Magic Bus’s long-term intervention with a child, which lasts typically for eight years. “This leads to long-term change, and that by targeting communities, not just individuals, Magic Bus is able to have a bigger impact on peoples’ lives,” says Nayar. “Due to community activity, girls who were not allowed to leave home to play, never mind go to school, have not only been the first in their family to finish school, but are now at universities.”
Samantha Nayar and Bijal Meswani