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Newsday
October 4, 1998

Not Just a Social Club / Indian group's mission: educate and empower
By Bryan Virasami

Like other immigrant organizations, the Network of Indian Professionals-New York sponsors the usual social events: workshops, social gatherings, an annual ball.

But the members of this diverse mix of medical, legal, computer and business entrepreneurs do not want to be known as just another Indian-American organization with a social agenda.

Recently, the 700 active members of the Manhattan-based chapter of the network (the national organization has the same name) announced plans to put its strength into shaping issues that affect the Indian community, as well as mainstream America.

In a promotional brochure, the group announced that it intends to increase public awareness about the "tremendous intellectual and social contributions being made by Indian-Americans today."

The group's larger plan is to be assertive and to reach out to traditional American organizations. In addition, the group also hopes to affect the wider community through charitable efforts.

With such an agenda, the network hopes to solidify its reputation in the Indian community as being a group that has avoided the social club label. The group's members have engaged in traditional activities such as sponsoring professional development workshops and seminars, co-sponsoring events with charitable organizations, and sponsoring networking and social activities.

Suresh Kumar, 32, of Kew Gardens, who was recently elected president of the New York chapter, said the group, through its past philanthropic and scholastic efforts, has gained the respect of South Asians.

"We have the right mix of social and professional activities," said Kumar, a financial specialist. "We have earned the trust of the South Asian community."

One of the group's activities is a mentoring program with Graham Windham in Manhattan, a nonprofit organization that provides educational and recreational services to needy children.

Last month about two dozen members visited the organization's children's facility in Hastings-on-Hudson to assist with a one-day Olympics which included food, games and a program that exposed the children to a "bit of culture from South Asia," said Kumar.

The members bring a "lot of good values in terms of education and value systems" to the children, who are often poor and need direction, he said. The interaction with the kids represents just one example of how the members are altering their focus. And since most members come from diverse professions such as medicine, law, engineering, art and computers, they see a lot of possibilities.

"We want to get involved," Kumar said. "We want to make an impact on mainstream America. We are doing well and we want to do something good for the community here." He said the recent nuclear testing by India was one instance in which the group could have brought understanding to a volatile situation.

"Both sides really didn't understand each other," Kumar said about the United States and India. He said the network can educate Americans who are outraged by the tests about the "historical reasons" behind them, without taking sides.

Other activities are geared to help the grassroots Indian community. Each year during its annual ball, the network awards 10 scholarships worth $1,000 each to students of South Asian origin on the basis of merit and financial need. They are planning to increase the awards by soliciting corporate and private support. Other past activities include "Out of India," an exhibit of arts and crafts from India that was held at the Queens Museum of Art, as well as South Asian bone marrow drives organized by the Rego Park-based South Asian Marrow Association of Recruiters.

There are also events that the Network of Indian Professionals sponsors to benefit its members and the general public. Its vast network of young, energetic members has made the group a respected force both professionally and socially.

"They have a fascinating combination of intense professional subjects they tackle along with other fun events where you get to meet other South Asians," said Sree Sreenivasan of the South Asian Journalists Association, which has sponsored events with the Network of Indian Professionals. Sreenivasan, of Manhattan, is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He said the group managed to put itself on the map after just a few years. "If they have an event, it's always a packed house. It's amazing," he said.

The network's local group is part of the larger national organization with 25 chapters across the country, including one in Canada. The membership in the national group is 4,000. Vikram Parekh, 25, an officer in the organization, said he joined a few years ago upon a recommendation by a friend. He said meeting people and interacting with other professionals has helped him professionally.

"You can't distinguish between your professional and social life all the time," said Parekh, who works in the computer field and is responsible for the local Network of Indian Professionals' Internet site at http://www.netip.org. "It gives you many opportunities to meet people and share ideas."

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