Pursuit of Happiness

Random acts of kindness

Ameeta Chatterjee, former director at KPMG, on why she left her corporate job to work for an NGO

Soumik Kar

It is quite easy to spot Ameeta Chatterjee at her Worli office: her sunny demeanour brightens up the otherwise gloomy weather characteristic of Mumbai monsoons. Chatterjee wraps her saree around herself as she sits down to explain why she decided to start working with child health NGO Ekam Foundation after quitting her high-profile job as a director with KPMG in London. It was when she took a self-enforced sabbatical in 2011 to be with her kids that parent foundation GiveIndia approached her to run the Mumbai chapter of Ekam. “When I gave up my job, I remember telling myself that I wouldn’t plan anything. We spend so much of our time and energy planning every little detail of our lives. I told myself that I would take whatever comes my way, as long as it wasn’t a typical 9-to-5 job. Ekam has been one of those things,” she says.

While Chatterjee still works as an independent consultant, she remains devoted to Ekam. Her experience in the health and education sector in the UK introduced her to many public-private partnership models that had an observable impact. The move from the corporate sector, then, helped her figure out how things work on both sides of the fence. “A lot of the work I did was about helping the public health infrastructure through private intervention. The issue was to be able to use the efficiency, productivity or capital available in the private sector to improve public healthcare outcomes. At Ekam, the idea is to channelise private money to a public space by maintaining all of that along with value for money and affordability, though we are yet to perfect a sustainable model,” she explains. 

Getting word out is, hence, extremely important. Towards this end, in 2013, Chatterjee published a book of poems called A Journey in Love, proceeds from which were used in support of the foundation. Her husband, Goldman Sachs chairman Sonjoy Chatterjee, has been very supportive of her work with the foundation and offers a helping hand sometimes. For her children, Chatterjee’s work with the foundation is an opportunity to see a very different side of their mother, while learning about the value of money. “They are interested in knowing what we do. I was browsing for watches in London some time back and my daughter reminded me that I already have a watch. That was a touching moment. They have started making changes to their lifestyle in terms of cost-cutting because they know that the extra money can help underprivileged kids their age.”

In future, Chatterjee wants to focus on the treatment of learning disabilities in India. Now that Ekam has expanded operations to Chhattisgarh with aid from Unicef, she, along with the foundation, is trying her best to incorporate the existing system to benefit the children she works for. It’s not smooth sailing at all but Chatterjee is taking it with a smile on her face. “Every time I have a bad day, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter because my work has benefited 350 kids so far and their lives are better off than before. That is a very satisfying thought,” she says, her smile never wavering.