So what led Sheilu Srinivasan, a champion in both sports and academics during her school days, to venture down the non-profit path? Seems to be a combination of her upbringing as well as her exposure to the plight of the elderly. Sheilu was raised in an environment of selfless service and giving to others – thanks to her parents, both of whom are known for their dedication to social work. From an early age, she used to volunteer at orphanages as often as she could.
Much later, during her 10-year career with Macmillan India publishing house, as corporate manager in charge of policy, she felt handicapped by the excessive emphasis on money and commercial interest. So, in 1987, she joined Tata Institute of Social Sciences as the head of the publications department. The position enabled her to combine publishing with social work.
As she built her career in publishing, Sheilu nursed her mother-in-law through cancer. She also observed the differences between the way her father and father-in-law dealt with aging. While her own father remained active and enterprising, her father-in-law led an isolated life, inactive and depressed. Intrigued by this observation, she educated herself on Gerontology (understanding the processes of aging) and Geriatry ( the medical component of understanding aging) and saw that old age could be promising and beautiful. She was motivated to share these learnings with other old people – to help them get over their depression and lead their last years more fruitfully. So, with her experience in publishing as well as her own (and husband’s) savings, she started Dignity Dialogue magazine to share these positive stories on aging. Within five months, they had 1,000 subscribers!
Then came the next stage of inspiration where through letters written to the editor, she learnt how vast a problem loneliness among senior citizens truly is. After personally visiting some of these old people’s houses to get a better glimpse of the problem, she decided to tackle the problem better. She reached out for volunteers through her magazine and 128 of the 3,000-4,000 subscribers, who themselves were 50+, volunteered to get training in social counselling and spend time with the lonely elderly in the city. This is how the first Dignity service, Dignity Companionship, was launched in 1995.
Since then there has been no stopping her progress as she continues to strive–and succeed–in making the world a better place for senior citizens. Slowly venturing into tackling elderly abuse, helping get jobs for the elderly, offering legal and financial counselling – tackling the different problems of the elderly as she learnt about the same. It was no longer a magazine but a full-blown organisation offering varied services to the elderly of Mumbai.