A Life of Giving Back
A Moment with Jaswant Gill
Jaswant: I grew up back in northern India as one of the nine siblings in a family with moderate means. I received my high school diploma and then found a job. I went to a town where education was very valued. The University was next door and the motivation to go for an education was great. I could see left and right kids going to that college every day, so I after a year and a half when I the saw opportunity and the chance for a financial aid scholarship I went to school in 1964 and then finished my Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Punjab University by 1969. I worked for a couple years and I found out making good money, but found out that money wasn't everything. So I said, what can I do to make my life better and more challenging. I coincidentally went to the US embassy, applied and within my credentials they gave me a visa to come here permanently and I was here in March 1972. So I come here during the time there was a little
recession going on so did some odd jobs for a year until I settled into my field- Pharmacy and then I went down to work in the laboratory he's more into cosmetics research and development back in New Jersey. For six years I worked in Johnson & Johnson, had a degree in personal products I went on and did research on personal care products, skincare, antiperspirants, then moved down to another company American Cyanamid in the division called Schulten- makers of Old Spice and Breck shampoo and then moved for an opportunity into California in 1978 August here at Shaklee worked there for seven years in a group leader capacity in the lab developing their personal care skincare products which some of them are still selling very well then opportunity came to go into a small company learning doing what I was doing plus the ropes of running a business was in Marin County that got me the exposure of how to do purchasing, manufacturing, quality control, warehousing and paying the bills because I would help them do all this was another owner not myself but I was working for them however in the meantime from Shaklee to that move I had to take a cut in my pay so they let me supplement my income through consulting helping, other entrepreneurs developed cosmetic products which was we call a great lead for me. So I started doing this back in 1985/86 and then I will develop products and the people will would ask me what I do with this formula where do I go so we had to send him to somebody else to make it for them in the meantime my son was in junior in high school and he said dad why don't we start our own and we could make it for them so happens she here incorporate in California under his younger brothers name and within about two two-and-a-half years we started setting up I think by 1988 our own little place and we will make some of the products ourselves, so we do develop and then start making it became like a we call a private label manufacturing service slowly slowly grew up as kids went to college and II left my job from the small company devoted my time full-time and a kid luckily worked during the college time continued to work with me on weekends whenever they had a free time so we continued on and slowly grew it and my wife had a full-time job to give us a job security to pay the mortgage and put the food on the table so there was a little less risk that way and the kids had put enough money aside to pay their tuition and room and board and for the college.
Question: Your son at the age of fourteen was recommending dad let's go do the company and I love that because it was a natural fit into your life plan. Now there was something that happened in the early 2000's that you had always intended to do but created a catalyst to implementing earlier and what was that?
Jaswant: Luckily my kids got the education, the kind we needed to continue the business we had started and the reason why they went into that is because that was their future path. So they came after college never worked outside mostly working in the business manufacturing shampoos creams and lotions with me even when they were in college on the weekends and then continuing on once they finished college came in it was the business started by them so they wanted to eventually learn the ropes while I was in charge running for them so they continued learning which was very good but always the goal was how do I eventually turn them over to them. It so happened back in in 2005 my family is blessed with heart disease so I had my share, I was 61 so I went into the hospital with some heart problem and there was a risk I may not be around so the kids who are already actually in the business with me running it, the younger one part-time the older one was a full-time so I told him I said listen this opportunity for you to learn and take over probably has come, it is the time now you take over if I come back which I was hoping I come back, I'll come back I'll be here you can ask me questions and if you don't need me, I'll still be around in the meantime I had already started by mid 80's started building another side business, we call it other than cosmetics manufacturing, which was adding slowly some real estate and I was managing that, but my eventual was that a somehow I've had my kids now have the business they are making good money I have my real estate I'm doing good what else I can do with my life that was my goal so by 2005 we were thinking about making it trust focusing on what when can we do of course along with us building real estate and we call a surety for our life and retirement what we can do so we were trying to plan on what we can do in terms of giving back that's about when we had planned and my wife and I decided okay we will make a trust, put other stuff in a add more to it and then what we can do out of that give back by about four or five years later we had decided we will start a scholarship plan because I told you when I went to pharmacy school back in India, bachelor's/master's I was given a scholarship which basically helped me get free-education if that wasn't there probability is I wouldn't have gone to school and gotten to the place where I am today.
Question: What drove you in life to say I always wanted to be the philanthropist?
Jaswant: As I told you or somebody helped me whether it was scholarship from the government or other people, it made me get in here somewhere in my life so I felt like it's time to be back. We always as my wife and I still work on paychecks we would support organizations like Ocean Conservancy, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Public Broadcasting Service which gives you nature and Nova and those kind of programs also the like the soup kitchens, food banks, a World Wildlife Fund, environmental cause, I'm not sure if you heard of Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama who is trying to help those poor people who are victims of hate crime things... we always did that. On top of that my first love was how to do help in education because education is what made my life. So in 2013 we started a program back at the college where I graduated from and by 2015 we had set up an endowment fund which will have enough income to give about 20 to 25 scholarships to the students who will graduate from there so the scholarship be for four students each year and continue for the four years or be total 16, plus there will be a fellowship for Ph.D. students doing research in pharmaceutical sciences if and when they needed money because in between the grants sometimes their funds dry up so we set that up it's in it's third year, been working very well, I had a opportunity to go to India in early April in 2018 and help hand over the scholarships to 23 different students and three fellowships which was very nice up to see. Along with that we always had this dream that a what can we do here locally in us here within the Bay Area there are a lot of areas where people need help. I looked for and selected one school Tennison High School in Hayward which is reasonably in a modest means area people start their lives there so we started a scholarship fund for kids who graduate from Tennyson high. Started with the help of the school board and then now last year was the second year we handed over five scholarships and I started even telling my other friends about it and I was impressed that one of my friend who I do hiking with her deep sing design he added a scholarship last year. So I realized that a we need to advertise a little bit, let people know small business who don't have that much time and can also want to do good for help somebody, they could probably contribute so my next goal would be to set up an Education Foundation or education program where people can contribute and we won't spend any of the management money in it- all the money go towards education promoting education for poor people. We also did start with a scholarship program over at Contra Costa College in the Richmond area which I has about fifty five hundred student population in the two-year county college community college and we've been giving five scholarships, this is our second year, we go there and help people who will need education help whether it's in arts science math technology and we added ours because a lot of the kids who didn't have high GPA but they wanted to go into arts and could make life better we added the arts most normally a lot of the time people focus and we were focusing on STEM program but we made it from stem to steam adding arts in two cents math science and technology which the school board really appreciated that we can help the education for those kids who want to go into arts just through two years of Community College to make their life better.
Question: What advice do you have for a person that would like to get into philanthropy?
Jaswant: I see a lot of letters in the mail solicitations- some of which come from what we call professional fundraisers, who give maybe three to five dollars or a hundred dollars to the real cause and the rest is spent in their fundraising. I and my wife always look for the charities at the end of the year or whenever we can, we will write then check directly to the charity so I will ask people, please look online. The American Heart Association, Special Olympics Cancer Society Monterey Bay Aquarium Ocean Conservancy World Wildlife Fund all those if you want to give to the conservation we give to them directly and don't as much respond to the letter coming in your mailbox which eighty-ninety percent of the dollars don't go to the use of charity, that's what we focused on especially when we get involved directly giving to the needful people, needy people that makes the biggest impact on the person that by is the best value for your given dollar I am all open if once we are the place set up if people want to participate we my goal is we do volunteer work anybody want to help with us we will do volunteer work and give all the dollars back to the real cause whether it's a scholarship and education which is my first goal rest of the other charities we do all the time does one continue I also like to promote peace harmony human values and of course I told you in Sikhism last time we talked about briefly little bit we promote humanity
Question: We were touching upon the foundation of your life that is your seek and there is a philosophy about the importance of humanity. Can you expand that for the listeners of how people around you should be treated and taken care of.
Jaswant: The region of India where I grew up, the Sikh faith was born back in the 1469 era in northwestern India. This Faith has been basically teaching people, not to be too greedy, to do good deeds and share with others and live a clean life. I've been trying to live within those we call rules and I feel I've been very fortunate very successful at it and I promote that a if we all follow those rules work hard share with others and keep your nose clean, you will succeed. If you work hard you are bound to succeed, that is one thing which I learned. When I came here the Sikh society was relatively very sparse back in the Dublin, San Ramon area and '78 there were maybe a dozen families I knew, now there may be hundreds possibly maybe thousands. So what we have done is we would I try to help them develop locally here Sikh religious places where community can get together and there was one originally in place when I came in El Sobrante then there was one started by people of our faith and Fremont there is one in San Jose now there is one in Hayward Milpitas, I'm not trying to promote places but what I mean is as the community grew, our places of worship grew. I've been involved with in Fremont, Hayward and now we are just starting a new one in the past five years in Dublin, Livermore, Tri Valley area and I was a president of it for five years until December of this year. My family and I donated heavily, as much we could, into Hayward, Fremont and the Dublin Sikh places that is part of the religion. What we try to promote is a good clean life, hard work and I feel proud that a lot of the people who come from there work hard some if they don't have that much education or opportunity they just learn how to drive a truck or by a 7 Eleven store or a gas station and they make a good life. I have to say, very seldom I have seen a person of the Sikh faith out there on the street begging and I feel very proud of that community that way because if they need they anything, will go to our religious place and get help there. There are people over there that serve free food every day 24/7 so nobody needs to stay hungry and needs to beg. A community kitchen is one of the customs in the Sikh religion. Communal kitchen, plus eating and sharing meal together, what that brings is closeness, evenness, no hierarchy, you're not higher than me we all sit together at one place and in one line hunger and then we eat together- so much so back home when the Kings came to our original religious place, Golden Temple, they said we will fund this free kitchen and the communities had no this will run on the people's donations and I can tell you Alan, today at Golden Temple, Amritsar this is about 100,000 - 250,000 meals that are served. Everyone that come to visit there will go in line and have free food. Even the Mr. Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada went there, he went in the kitchen to help cook a little bit and sat down and ate there. Whenever there is a need for food in the case of disasters such as, the earthquake in Kashmir, floods in Pakistan, the earthquake in Napal, they were left food and give it to people. The help to the poor has been kind of a route for Sikhism in a way the underdog is kind of at the root for Sikhism. Yes we promote hard work and we promote that if somebody is in need, you help, and it's been very helpful within our own community and outside that's what also helps motivate me, how can I help people who are not as fortunate as I am and that's why I started this education scholarships programs. I feel there this is one way I can give back.