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In Conversation With Shefali Sunderlal

Nirmala Garimella

Shefali Sunderlal, President of CRY America has been with the organization since it was founded in November 2002. Prior to this, she was Director, Development Support with CRY in India from 1990 to 2001. She moved to the US to head CRY America and since then has been spearheading efforts towards volunteer and resource mobilization, strengthening community outreach and establishing CRY America. I met her in her home at Brookline where she shared her mission, vision and work for the organization. Her constant refrain and her belief that “In CRY America we believe that anyone and every one can make a difference” resonated with her passion for the cause of child rights.

Stories of hope abound everywhere and CRY America ( Child Relief and You America Inc.) through its newsletter promotes and strengthens this hope. (http://www.america.cry.org/emailers/amcryconnect3/amCryConnect3.htm). According to Shefali Sunderlal, “At CRY America, we recognize the importance of events as opportunities to reinforce credibility, enhance image, increase awareness levels, create media excitement and raise resources”.

Q. Give us some history of CRY in America and its mission?

 CRY as a leading NGO for child rights in India has been there for more than 27 years and we felt with more than 2 million Indian Americans in this country and the amount of goodwill that they have for India and its issues, it was time to bring CRY to America. Thousands of people in the USA are willing to help and support the cause of the underprivileged child in India and we provide them the opportunity to do so. We believe that anyone and everyone can make a difference and the concept of collective action and responsibility drives the mission of CRY America. Today CRY America partners 14 grassroots-level NGOs in India and the USA. With the active support of over 500 volunteers and 2300 donors,  we have been able to ensure 1000 children go to school every day instead of work and 35322 children get the inputs they require to grow and realize their full potential

 Q. What sets CRY America, apart from other not-for-profit organizations in America?

 We partner with CRY, an Indian NGO that has been working in the area of child rights for over 27 years. CRY has impeccable standards of accountability and transparency, and has developed highly effective planning, monitoring and evaluation systems that are applied to each of the projects that we fund in India. We base our strategy on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child . The four basic rights in the charter are the right to survival - to life, health, nutrition, name and nationality, the right to development - to education, care, leisure, recreation, the right to protection - from exploitation, abuse, neglect and the right to participation - to expression, information, thought and religion. We are independent and the only agenda we have is to work for the cause of child rights. Along with our NGO partners we’ve learnt that the only way to make a lasting change is to address the root causes that violate the rights of children and we don’t believe in just charity.

Q. Who are your partners and how do they share the CRY vision?

 We support groups and NGO’s that work for these rights for children and help in building their capacity in different areas. We work with a ‘child rights approach’ and empower our partners to address the root causes of illiteracy, poverty, discrimination and exploitation. With our partner NGO’s we play a participatory role in program planning, monitoring and evaluation. At this time we are supporting 14 projects in India and the US such as:

Q.What are your daily tasks as President of CRY America?

 It is a full time responsibility and commitment. I find the work challenging and stimulating. I think the cause of child rights is the highest priority and CRY America is a platform to become a part of a bigger movement. We do have a wonderful volunteer and donor base from all over the US that are our ongoing support. We have over 500 volunteers around the country and they work for CRY America out of sheer passion for the cause. For instance, Siddharth Pandit, one of our volunteers from Boston is here most weekends working to build the Products (greeting cards) function for CRY America.  Besides emails and phone calls, I take care of the direction and planning for the organization, legal and accounting matters, grant making, coordinate teams and oversee operations from the ground up. The process of establishing and developing CRY America as a brand has been an exciting journey. This is an important year for CRY America. We hope to reach our one million dollar revenue mark and expand our supporter base many fold this year.  This will allow us to move to the next level of strengthening the organization and reach out to many more children and communities in need of our support.

Q. What makes  a successful non profit?

 I think the most important thing for an organization is to focus on and demonstrate impact in the following areas:

  • Ensure relevant and sustainable impact in the area of child rights or whatever its mission is. Efforts need to be focused on long term solutions to social problems and not just short term treatments.
  • Be an accountable and transparent organization which uses its resources efficiently and effectively
  • Have a clear mission which is inclusive and enables many different individuals and organizations to contribute in whatever way they can towards a larger cause and commitment to collective action.

I believe that the model that CRYAmerica has adopted embodies the above and gives everybody an opportunity to be part of a larger movement for child rights with meaningful impact. .  .


To know more about CRY America go  to http://www.america.cry.org/




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Photo courtesy - CRY America

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