Arunbhai (c) speaking at the 2009 Share & Care Annual Fundraising Gala
Arun Kirtilal Bhansali, a pioneer of diamond business in the US and founder President of Share and Care Foundation of US, passed away on August 21, 2018 in New Jersey, USA. He was 76.
Arunbhai was a pioneer and visionary, a highly respected member of both the business community and the community at large. Whether in promoting the diamond business or through his philanthropic work, Arunbhai actively worked for the greater good.
Born on December 20, 1941 in Kolkata, India, Arunbhai moved to Palanpur at the age of five to live with his mother’s family after he lost both his parents. He studied at Shishushala (Vidyamandir) until the age of 10, and then moved to Mumbai with his family, completing his schooling there. He attended Jai Hind College in 1958, studying science.
Arunbhai entered business in 1961, moving first to London, before finally settling in New York in 1967. As one of the first Indian diamond merchants to establish himself in the US, he succeeded in breaking into a closed network and helping build awareness and trust in Indian manufacturing. Over the next 50 years, he would go on to build a successful business, help establish other Indians arriving in NY, and promote the diamond industry, becoming a founding member of the Indian Diamond & Colorstone Association.
His love, affection, and commitment to India always remained. With a deep impression of someone holding his hand and helping him while growing up as a child through challenging times, Arunbhai always carried a burning desire to help others when it was his turn. This was his inspiration to co-found The Share & Care Foundation in 1982. Coming from humble beginnings, his goal was to help impoverished and vulnerable children and women to have a chance to build a life with dignity.
In an interview to the media in 2014, Arunbhai had said, “When we started Share and Care Foundation (SCF) in 1982, the ecosystem was much friendlier and community was in need of such platform. If I look back, I think the key reflection point was “what we do for our motherland”- when all of us were successful in our career, got reasonably well established and all our needs were well satisfied. Most of us were very conscious that our success was instrumental to somebody’s charity so we could get excellent education almost at no cost. In those days, it was almost unheard of that many of us could travel to USA for further studies or work as family income could not support such venture. So we thought it is the time for us to “Give back” to our motherland who gave us solid grounding and education.”
Over the next 35 years, with Arunbhai at its helm, Share & Care would help over two million people and raise $75 million funding to support projects in the areas of Education, Healthcare, Women’s empowerment, and Natural disaster relief efforts.
Arunbhai was also the secretary of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and a member of the Gujarati Literary Academy of North America with which he remained associated till his death. He was a published author of two books, including one on poetry in Gujarati and another on the history of the Paramus, New Jersey-based Share and Care Foundation. He had started working on his third book early this year.
In the last few years, Arunbhai focused on mentoring the next generation to take leadership positions in philanthropy, most recently helping to start a US chapter of Mumbai based ‘The Breakfast Revolution’ focused on reducing malnutrition in school age children. His compassion, selfless service, and seva in helping to liberate families from the cycle of poverty will be missed, yet continues to inspire.
Family, friends and colleagues remember him with much affection, as a loving husband and father; a man of humour and gentle kindness who could never say no to his family; a man of integrity, who never forgot where he came from and the many who helped him in his own journey.
Arunbhai is survived by his wife Sudha, sons Manan and Maulik, and grandchildren Kaia and Aran.
An entry in his diary on his early days says, “Every summer, we would look forward to go to Palanpur for summer vacation. My heart would start dancing when I hear the name of “Palanpur”, a town where I spent my childhood. Each grain of the sand has been etched to my memory. Today, I am a part of a large family that is closely connected community of over 100,000. Though I could not visit Palanpur as often as I would like, its attachment and memories are still as vivid and permanently etched in my heart.”
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