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Citibank's Distinguished Alumni Awardees of 2014: Elaine & Her Friends

It came as a surprise that Elaine was posthumously honored by Citibank as a Distinguished Alumni for Community Involvement. In her words, she would have been 'chuffed'. In her career as a banker, Citibank played a pride of place. She worked in the bank from 1974 to 1980, starting as a Credit Analyst and then was the Liaison Officer with the Reserve Bank of India. She would have been even more thrilled to share the platform for 2014 with her friends and contemporaries: Aditya Puri and Jerry Rao.

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In 2013 Citibank instituted the Citibank Distinguished Alumni Awards. These awards are given for three categories to alumni in each country. For India the awardees were: 2013 - Victor Menezes for Leadership. In 2014 - Aditya Puri for Leadership, Jerry Rao for Network Development and Elaine Ghosh for Community Involvement. In nominating Elaine the recommendation reads, 'One of our most inspirational alumni was Elaine Marie Ghosh, a charismatic, dynamic individual who devoted herself to make the lives of the poor in India's slums, a little better. It is a privilege to honor her by nominating her the 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award in the Community Involvement category.'

The award is for her work in setting up Parinaam Foundation to provide critical support to urban poor in areas of Financial Literacy which trains poor women in 18 states across India; children's education through the Academic Adoption Program and scholarships for higher education; healthcare through critical illness intervention programs & conducting health camps in slums; and Elaine's unique creation of a completely holistic support for the urban ultra-poor in Bangalore, which won Parinaam sthe Citi-Financial Times Ingenuity Award for Asia in 2013.

'Elaine's legacy will live on through Parinaam and the women whose lives she changed, for years to come.'

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The award was handed over to her mother Doris at their home in Mumbai on July 14th, 2015.

Elaine, Jerry and Aditya were colleagues and friends and joined Citibank within a year of each other in the mid Seventies. Their bond of friendship which went through usual trials of time lasted close to four decades. In 2012 one of the legendary Citibankers from the time we joined the bank in the Seventies, Ajit Grewal (Shorty) passed away. There was a flurry of emails of remembrances and praise for the departed. Elaine who had always been outspoken & irrepressible, was upset that we only say all the good things about a person when he or she has passed away. So she decided to send an email to all the Citibankers she had worked with and admired. This is what she had to say about Jerry and Aditya:

' Jerry – I will forgive all the vapor cracks for the rest of our lives, because of the affection you have always shown us and because of two incidents: when we came back to India in 1985 stuck in a hotel for 6 months with 3 tiny kids, you had negotiated the first available flat in Khursheedabad would be given to us. As it happened it was Venky who was moving out and somehow Sujit was assigned the flat. Samit was travelling and you got to know about it, you kicked up such a ruckus with David and made sure that not only did we get the flat, but that it was fixed to my satisfaction! The second time was when Nihal took ill in Dubai and we thought we were losing him, I rushed him down to Bombay, and you kept a car 24x7 at my disposal and forced that nice doctor to run a battery of tests on him on a Sunday, that night he had to leave for a conference in Washington! And I wasn't even talking to you at the time! I have known you the longest (1973? ESSO?) and with you I need no façade, no facelift, I can be myself and know that I am still cared for – as you care for all your friends irrespective of any shortcomings. You are our link to the wider world that we seem to have left behind. So you see I am not ready to lose you.' Elaine

Jerry is entitled to win the awards in all three categories. He is the pioneer of retail/consumer banking in India which he started in 1985 and I had the privilege to be part of the team. It started the financial revolution which brought real financial inclusion to the Indian middle class and transformed their lives. It was instrumental in kick starting the economy from the doldrums of the 'Hindu Rate of Growth'. Jerry after leaving Citibank has been an outstanding serial entrepreneur in multiple areas but notably in Information Technology. Jerry has a huge network of friends and well-wishers. But his networking does not stop with social interaction but supports a very large number of this network in every way possible. His generosity knows no bounds. Jerry was at Elaine's bedside every day when she was in the hospital before she passed away. He made sure that the doctors prioritized & took good care of her.

'Aditya – the last few years have not been a good time for us. But I have many happy memories of the old times. I told Samit just a few months ago, if I am really honest, I would say that 3 men had a huge effect on my early years: my dad, Father Eustace D' Lima, a Jesuit priest, I knew in college and Aditya Puri! You didn't just guide us on our work; you taught us lessons for life – what to do and what not to do (by example). How to spill a glass of martini in a 5 star restaurant with panache; how to manage difficult clients and bosses (AC?); how to be really efficient (delegate) and leave the office on time; how to put family first. You always pushed us to our uttermost limits, but in such a way that often we didn't realize we were being made to work beyond our capabilities. The best thing you ever did for me, though I cried and cried when you did it – was make me the Citibank liaison for the RBI – that assignment really put steel in my backbone and taught me that I could handle anything. And in some twisted way after all these years, I need to thank you for getting us to come back to India in 1996. Today, after much travail, we are stronger, both of us are doing something we love and we have found our calling.' Elaine

Aditya had an outstanding career in Citibank. He then went on to found & manage the most successful and admired bank in India – HDFC Bank. I worked in setting up the retail banking in the initial years of the bank. Aditya's achievements are very well known and I do not need to extoll them here. As a leader what struck me is his ability to hone into the core & cut out all the fluff. He is definitely one of the best bankers I have worked with. Smiley and Aditya were close friends of Elaine. Like all relationships in life it went through the stress of times, but at the end they were united and both of them were joined to condole Elaine's untimely death.

These photographs were taken in 1976, very early years of their career in Citibank. Elaine & Aditya's photographs were taken in the swanking new office on the 19th Floor of Air India Building in Mumbai. Jerry's photograph was taken at the wedding of a staff in Kolkata. He also soon after relocated to the same office in Mumbai. It was the only time all three worked out from the same office during their career.

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Elaine concluded her email of May 31st, 2012: 'I am thankful to each of you for being in my life, taking the muddled up pieces of the jigsaw that was the young Elaine Marie Pereira and making me whole. I am thankful and grateful that Samit is in my life – he is my life. Jerry, would you say I am ready? Much love, Elaine.'

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Samit Ghosh
July 26, 2015.

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