CharityFocus founder wins role model award
Nipun Mehta, who established CharityFocus, a volunteer driven nonprofit organization that urges IT professionals to provide web-based technological solutions to nonprofit organizations worldwide for free, was chosen to receive the 2004 "Viswa Jyoti" Role Model Award of the North South Foundation.
Mehta established the organization in 1999 at the age of 23. Five years later, and with nearly 5,000 volunteers who donated their time, CharityFocus has served more than 1,110 nonprofit organizations, both US-based and international, with no overhead, according to NSF, an Illinois-based non-profit group.
The Viswa Jyothi award stems from the foundation's vision to identify young Americans of Indian origin across North America who can be role models to peers in the community. A key criterion for the award is an individual's innovative approach to solving persistent social ills with hard work, determination, and commitment, NSF said.
'Nipun Mehta's leadership and passion to make the internet and web world available to millions who couldn't afford uniquely qualifies him for the Viswa Jyothi award for 2004,' it said.
Mehta will receive the award September 4 at the foundation's 12th Annual National Spelling Bee Championship Finals at Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arixona.
This is the second year of the award. Last year's winner was Rajiv Vinnakota, founder of the Seed Foundation, which helps inner-city students, schools, and communities.
Mehta, who joined Sun Microsystems at the Silicon Valley of California after graduating from the Univerity of California, Berkeley, was bothered that advances in the Internet and telecommunications benefited only those who could afford them.
'It's almost as if the traditional haves and have-nots are redefined as those with access to the Internet to those without,' according to NSF. CharityFocus (www.charityfocus.org) was Mehta's way of bridging this wide gap.
'What started as a team of four volunteers helping a non-profit organization gain web presences has evoled into providing millions of dollars worth of web site services to various nonprofit organizations globally, for practically no cost,' according to the Foundation.
'Nipun continues to inspire and support thousands of people to commit a significant part of their lives to selfless service. This has profound implications not only for the welfare of the poor and unverprivileged, but also for the rich and privileged and everyone in between,' according to Ragunath Padmanabhan, a CharityFocus volunteer.
'Nipun saw an opportunity to rekindle the fire of service where many didn't think to look, right in the heart of the Silicon Valley,' said Viral Mehta, Nipun's brother and CharityFocus volunteer.
Viral said that while recruiting volunteers his brother underwent a transformation. He then came to the conclusion that what was required was selfless service. Soon the IT pro quit his well-paying job at Sun Micro. Now he works about three months a year, and spends his nights in a sleeping bag.
In April, CharityFOcus launched a site to put random banners on the web. Google and many other companies joined in as partners.
In January, CharityFocus started a 'smile' epidemic. The idea was to tag people with anonymous acts of kindness, using 'smile' cards. In six months, 100,000 cards were printed. Some reached the Dalai Lama and the Pope.
Last June, CharityFocus's cShops made its first sale of crafts made by rural artisans at the Gandhi ashram in India. All the money went to non-profit agencies.
In keeping with its mission with helping others help others, CharityFocus acquired PledgePage.com, a struggling corporation that created ways for donors to raise money for their non-profit causes, in April 2002.
Seeing CharityFocus's model at work, Jayesh Parekh, co-founder of Sony Enterntainment Television, decided it could best handle the operations of Propoor.org -- a South Asian portal for more than 14,000 NGOs, thousands of newsletters subscribers, several offices, and a well-established brand.
CharityFocus runs on a shoestring budget, typically $5,000 per year in administrative expenses.
Mehta sits on the boards of directors of Seva Foundation, Airline Ambassadors and Volunteer Center of Silicon Valley and on the advisory boards of the Dalai Lama Foundation and AHIMSA.
He is also a recipient of the Jefferson Award for community service.