Hall of Fame Interview

Hall of Fame is dedicated to celebrating inspirational Asian women. There is no better week to launch this section of the House of Chatterjis, then International Women’s week.

Our first Hall of Fame interview is with Bala Thakrar. Bala has spent her career in the voluntary sector and founded Asian Foundation for Philanthropy in 2005 to provide a channel for the South Asian Diaspora in the UK, predominantly Indians, to better engage with development initiatives in India. To find out more about the charity please visit http://www.affp.org.uk

We were delighted to speak to Bala and find out a little more about the woman behind this inspiring charity.


What’s your favourite food? I’m a foodie but a vegetarian foodie.  I love cassava – fried, boiled, roasted…..

How do you like to spend your weekends? Catching up with house chores – I actually enjoy cleaning. I find it very therapeutic.  But I also make sure that I spend quality with friends and family. I particularly enjoy going for long walks, followed by a grand cappuccino and cake.

What made you set up a charity? Long story but since my backpacking travel round India more than 20 years ago.  I was so moved by the vibrancy, diversity and warmth of people, particularly those who had very little but were willing to share generously. However the abject poverty moved me tremendously and I promised myself at some point in my life I would try and do social change work in India.  Hence – my current work.

Have you had any challenges being an Asian female in your sector? I would not say because I’m an Asian woman, but generally working in this sector is a challenge. Firstly there is lack of funding, then for people to accept you as a professional – there are lot of assumptions about people working in this sector. This is not a mere hobby but one is dealing with serious social issues and as a society how to take responsibility for these and try to develop a more equitable, fairer, kinder world.

Where would you like to travel to that you haven’t already been? Botswana! An African country that is successful economically, socially and with good governance and yet we never hear about this country.

What’s the most recent film you have seen and did you enjoy it? Dhobi Ghat – it was a beautiful film.

What has been your greatest achievement? It would have to be establishing the first Housing Association for Asian people with Disabilities in London.  I met some wonderful people there, who became my mentors. It was a challenge to convince mainstream housing providers and our community that Asian disabled people are capable of independent living and leading a full, active, meaningful life.

What advice would you give to young women who want to do charity work? You need to be passionate, resourceful, bags of common sense and above all be able to multi task, especially if you are going to work for a small charity. Never be afraid to challenge and deal with difficult social issues. When I think about over the last 15/20 years the initiatives that were started for the Asian community – they were all taboo issues (disability, domestic violence, sexuality, HIV/AIDs) but the social activists had the courage and passion to do something about it.

What was the last book your read? A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Excellent book – true and disturbing picture of India in the 1970s.

What helps you to relax when you feel most tense? It has to be yoga and walking.

What mantra do you live by? Live each day as if it’s your last day (well try to)

Who would be present at your fantasy dinner party? (5 guests plus you) Has to be Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Rosa Parks and AP J Abdul Kalam

Quote of the day… Enjoy being who you are and the world will seem like a nicer place to be in.

3 Comments to “Hall of Fame Interview”

  1. Hi Bala,

    Great interview! I’d love to be at your dinner party, interesting guest choice. My sister is reading the same book as you just now and thinks it’s great too, I’ll pinch it from her after she finishes.


  2. A Fine Balance is an excellent book but I wish someone had warned me about the ending …. if you normally read books with pastel front covers, then this is not the book for you!

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