When one thinks of philanthropy, it’s often associated with wealthy donors cutting big cheques for charity.
However, some of Ottawa’s top business leaders have a different perspective.
“That’s not what I think philanthropy is about,” says community builder Cuckoo Kochar, president, CEO and founder of DCR/Phoenix Group of Companies, in an interview at his head office in Nepean. “I don’t think you have to be a rich person to be a philanthropist.
“I think it’s about sharing your good fortune. If God has given you the good fortune of having a good life, having good things, having good food on the table, I think it’s incumbent on all of us to to be able to share it with our brothers and our sisters, and our community.
“That is something that I was taught since I was born.”
Mr. Kochar is being recognized for his lifetime of charitable giving at the 23rd annual AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Philanthropy Awards Gala, taking place Nov. 14 at the Shaw Centre. He has been named 2017 Outstanding Individual Philanthropist. He and his fellow award recipients were selected by an independent panel of judges.
The prestigious award recognizes Mr. Kochar’s extensive contributions, including the donation of $1.2 million to create the Kochar Family Scholarships at Carleton University, in honour of his mother and grandmother.
Mr. Kochar established the scholarships in 2013 – the same year that Phoenix Homes celebrated its 25th anniversary – because of Carleton’s reputation as a centre of engineering excellence.
The fund brings over exemplary students from India who, without financial help, are unable to pursue their dreams of an education. At Carleton, they can earn themselves graduate degrees in the fields of civil engineering, architecture or urban planning.
“It’s been very gratifying for me,” said Mr. Kochar, who makes a point of getting to know the scholarship recipients and of hosting them for dinner during Diwali, an annual Hindu festival.
Jennifer Conley, chief advancement officer at Carleton University, describes Mr. Kochar’s contributions as “extraordinary.”
“He wants to promote education as one of the greatest assets human beings can have to raise themselves above the ordinary and also contribute to the growth of society,” she says.
“What we’re also thrilled about is that, with Cuckoo’s support, it helps with the internationalization and globalization of education. It’s important for our students to have this incredible diversity, because the students from India are bringing different perspectives and different ideas and different cultures that make us a richer place.”
Access to education
Mr. Kochar, a native of New Delhi, India came to Canada in the ‘70s to pursue his Master of Engineering. The Kochar family places high value on education, which is why Mr. Kochar believes he’d never have got to where he is today without his master’s degree.
“People have to educate themselves, not just because they can earn a better living but because they can live a better life,” Mr. Kochar explained.
His mother married in India at age 17 without completing her schooling, as would have been typical in her day. She believed strongly, however, that all people should have access to education. “She felt this especially for women, because she felt it would empower them to become independent and self-supporting,” said Mr. Kochar, whose four sisters became professionals. His daughter is a lawyer. His son has his MBA.
Mr. Kochar grew up with a physician father who frequently assisted people free of charge. His mother also helped out those who were less fortunate. She passed away at age 66, the same age that Mr. Kochar is now.
Ms. O’Reilly Runte, who was president of Carleton University until this past summer, nominated him for his award, although he wasn’t aware until he got a call informing him that he’d been chosen.
“(Philanthropy) is not something you do to be recognized,” Mr. Kochar said. “You know in your own heart, and that’s all that’s important.
“I do think recognition is important in the sense that other people are perhaps encouraged to share their good fortune, their good life with other people.”
Over the years, DCR/Phoenix and the Kochar family have donated to several organizations, including Bruyère, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the YMCA.
The dinner typically draws more than 350 people from the professional fundraising sector, along with the business sponsors, the nominators, and the award recipients, with their supportive network of friends, family and peers
The evening is a special way to honour and celebrate individuals and businesses who give of themselves, whether it’s through their time, their talent and/or their money, says Margot Lefebvre, chair of the AFP Ottawa Philanthropy Awards and senior development officer of philanthropy with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation.
“We consider Ottawa a very generous and a very engaged community,” said Lefebvre. “I think we’re so fortunate that way. It’s like a big city with a small-town feel.”
The awards evening will also launch the inaugural edition of Ottawa’s Giving Guide. Created by OBJ and AFP Ottawa, the magazine highlights corporate giving opportunities in the region and provides valuable resources on best practices and corporate social responsibility.