x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Award humbles 'quiet philanthropist'

JR Gangaramani may have brought revolutionary technology to the country but among the Indian expatriate community he is best known as the "quiet philanthropist".

JR Gangaramani, the founder of the Al Fara'a Group, was given the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award for his contributions to society in the UAE, his home for more than 30 years.
JR Gangaramani, the founder of the Al Fara'a Group, was given the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award for his contributions to society in the UAE, his home for more than 30 years.

CHENNAI // One of the UAE's most prominent entrepreneurs, JR Gangaramani, may have brought revolutionary technology to the country but among the Indian expatriate community he is best known as the "quiet philanthropist". Mr Gangaramani, 59, may like to keep his efforts private but his humanitarian work was given public recognition yesterday when he received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award from the Indian government. The award is given to Indians living overseas who have made an extraordinary contribution to their communities, or have enhanced the relationship between their countries of residence and India.

The founder of the Al Fara'a Group, with business interests in construction and property, received his gold medal and a certificate from Pratibha Devsingh Patil, the president of India. He was one of 13 people to be given the honour, together with Ramdien Sardjoe, the vice president of Surinam, and Angidi Veeriah Chettiar, the vice president of Mauritius. An engineer by profession, Mr Gangaramani was told of his award a few days ago by the Indian Embassy.

"I am very humbled. I also feel very encouraged and feel more responsibility has been put forward to me. This award brings the focus on you, but it also gives you more strength," he said. Mr Gangaramani supports orphanages, blood donation drives and has championed the cause of labourers; his company, which employs 18,000 people, was one of the first to deposit monthly salaries into the bank accounts of its workers. All the construction workers are paid by bankers who then submit the bank statements to the Ministry of Labour.

He said: "I was opposed to the idea of the labourers using ATM machines to withdraw their money because most are illiterate. It would take them days to figure these things out so instead I made some other suggestions to the Ministry and they agreed." He also runs workshops for all the labourers where they receive training to advance their careers in the construction industry. "I have project managers now who have worked for me for 30 years, but who went through the training workshops because I believe it is our responsibility towards who we employ, to ensure they have something to look forward to, so they have a smile on their face," he said.

Mr Gangaramani arrived in Dubai from Mumbai more than 30 years ago to work on the World Trade Centre, at that time the tallest building being built in the city. He later moved to Al Ain. He started Al Fara'a Construction in 1980, with small projects in Al Ain, but his business expanded to take on larger projects, including palaces. Two of his daughters - Shalini and Natasha - graduated with degrees in engineering and work with their father. The youngest, Heera, is completing a degree in architecture.

Traditionally, in Indian families, a son is expected to follow his father's footsteps. But Mr Gangaramani said: "Since they were born, my girls have continued to make me proud." Natasha said it was an easy career choice. "We grew up watching our dad sit down with his drawings with us and show us how things worked: bridges, buildings, all of that." Occasionally Mr Gangaramani indulges his other passion - cricket. He is currently hoping to create a team, hiring semi-professional and professional players. "There is an Al Fara'a team in the making," he said.

Mrs Patil said "the story of the overseas Indian community" was one of "trials and tribulations and eventual triumph". "Overseas Indians are a large and well-educated community," she said. "We are proud of the role they play in contributing to the growth of the countries of their adoption." sbhattacharya@thenational.ae