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Indra Banga on being one of Hong Kong’s foremost philanthropists

Indra Banga on being one of Hong Kong’s foremost philanthropists

Since the mid 80s, Indra Banga has taken over many different roles such as the Director of the Caravel Foundation, as a light of the Banga’s home and as an Indian woman in Hong Kong.

What made you decide to move to Hong Kong?
My husband and I were working in London in 1984, the year the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed. The company my husband worked for saw a lot of opportunities as likely to emerge in China and, as a result, he was asked to move to Hong Kong. We originally planned to stay for three years but, 38 years later, we’re still here. And this is very much our home now.

What has stayed with you from your childhood back in India?
My childhood was very structured and disciplined, because my parents were in the army. We were taught to always be diligent and honest and that’s something I have tried to pass on to my own children. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun; I had no responsibilities back then after all. By contrast, now I am responsible for a huge number of people through the many charities I am involved in.

How has the Indian community reacted to the decision of some to exit Hong Kong over recent years?
The majority of the Indian people identify as Hong Kongers. We feel that, unless there’s ever some kind of a move to push us out of the city, then we are here to stay. When people ask what my plan B is, I always say “Plan B is Hong Kong, Plan C is Hong Kong…”

What was it like being a new arrival in Hong Kong back then?
I first came to Hong Kong in 1985 and didn’t speak the language. It was a very open society, though, and I didn’t find things too difficult. I never really felt that I needed to be western or Chinese. I felt I could just be myself.

That all changed a bit in 2003, however, the year of the SARS outbreak. While a lot of foreigners sent their wives and children back home, many Indians stayed put. That was when the locals started to see us as one of them, largely because we didn’t abandon them.

Now, in the case of my children, I don’t see them as Punjabi, or Chinese, but rather as global children and global citizens who can easily fit in wherever they are. At the end of the day, I think it’s important for everyone to be themselves without any fear of judgement, discrimination or intimidation.

What are your favourite places in Hong Kong?
Aside from the famous seafood restaurants and country parks, my new favourite place is my daughter Dana’s house, simply because my grandchildren are there.

“I don’t see my children as Punjabi, or Chinese, but rather as global citizens who can fit in anywhere. It’s important for everyone to live without the fear of judgemement and intimidation.”

Do you consider yourself and your husband as a power couple?
While I don’t think we’re a power couple, I do think we are a great team. In fact, behind every successful person, there is a team as I don’t think anybody can succeed on their own. Making it as an entrepreneur requires three things – hard work, knowledge and luck. If you have the other two, but don’t have luck, you won’t get anywhere. If you have a lot of support, though, luck becomes less of a factor, perhaps because having the backing of the right people may be all the luck you need.

You’ve billed one of your recent projects – the revival of the Gurudwara Khalsa Diwan Sikh temple – as a gift to Hong Kong’s Indian community. What inspired this particular initiative?
The Sikh community in Hong Kong is very small but very vibrant. The present Gurudwara dates back to 1901 and, in 2013, we started to see cracks in the building. At the time, we felt that in order to maintain our identity and honour our heritage, we had to build a new Gurudwara. Given there are only 15,000 Sikhs in Hong Kong, it was difficult to raise the money required. As a result, our focus is now on ensuring our current temple is still standing in a 100 years’ time.

Is your charitable work exclusively focused on the Indian community?
While there is a lot of need within the Indian community, we don’t restrict our activities to benefiting specific ethnic minorities. We have, for instance, established endowments at the three US universities our children attended – Princeton, Dartmouth and Duke. These are open to any gifted student who lacks the financial resources to study at one of these institutions, whether they are from India, Hong Kong or China. We do not make distinctions and we are looking to support young people from all walks of life.

In addition to your other commitments, you’ve also found time to be the President of the Hong Kong Indian Women’s Club (HKIWC) for some 10 years now. How has that particular institution evolved?
From the day it was founded in 1957, the HKIWC has always been dedicated to helping the underprivileged and the marginalised, a sign that many Indian women in Hong Kong have long prioritised charitable initiatives.

As the years have gone by, it has become a much more open and vocal body, while its focus has broadened beyond helping the Indian community and into meeting the needs of the local population in general. Throughout the last three years, for instance, we partnered with various organisations to help provide Covid relief by preparing 300 meals a day for those in need. While it’s never been a stay-at-home organisation, its members are now out and about more than ever as they take a lead across a wide range of philanthropic endeavours.

“Finding success requires hard work, knowledge and luck. Without luck, you won’t get anywhere. If you have a lot of support, luck becomes less of a factor.”

You’re particularly well known for your work with the Caravel Foundation. What do you see as its primary focus?
The Caravel Foundation was set up to help the underprivileged get better access to education and healthcare. Our hope is that, over time, those who benefit from our scholarship programme will form a distinct group, a kind of alumni association. We would welcome such individuals to intern or work with us and believe they would also be able to support one another in a variety of different ways.

Another one of our core activities sees us working very closely with Integrated Brilliant Education. Our backing helps them provide Cantonese classes to underprivileged Non-Chinese Speaking children throughout Hong Kong. At present, we are working with about 300 students, many of whom we have provided with a laptop or an iPad to help build up their technological skills. Next year we are planning to open a kindergarten, which will provide an immersive Cantonese experience for children as young as three.

You recently received an honorary fellowship from the City University of Hong Kong. How did that come about?
Well, we’ve long admired the way they operate. Beyond educating students, they also use innovative technology to introduce new concepts and ideas to the general public. This led to us working with them to launch the Indra and Harry Banga Gallery, a space dedicated to harnessing the power of technology to showcase art. To date, our biggest exhibition focused on the works of Leonardo da Vinci, with interactive technology.

Amid all the changes you have witnessed, what have been the constants in your life?
My friends and family. I value friendship beyond anything and I can proudly say that I still have many of the same friends I had 40 years ago. While I have also made a lot of new friends, my old friends have always been there. It’s the same with my family. Together, they have been my ever-present support system, unwaveringly constant and enduringly strong.

Thank you.


(Interview by: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Art Direction and Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma
Videographer: Jackie Chan Hair and Make Up: Heti Tsang)

2022-11-04T16:09:02+00:00 November 04, 2022|Interview, People, Video|