The Art of Bringing Smiles - Sangeeta Sobti

“If I can inspire more people to serve their communities, I will consider my life a success”, says Sangeeta Sobti, the president of Janak Services, who believes in helping those in need. “My work in service of others brings purpose, meaning, and joy to my life. Causes that focus on education and women’s empowerment are near and dear to my heart,” she further adds. Sangeeta grew up in India and has been in the United States since 1986. She lives in New York with her husband Sanjiv, their three beautiful children and many indoor plants. Besides community work, she loves travelling, playing Bridge, doing yoga, and spending time outdoors with family. Talking to You & I, she shares her journey of spreading joy and bringing smiles.

You were a Special-Education teacher before; what drew you towards it?
It was always interesting to me to think about how children in the same classroom have to learn at the same pace. When I got my teaching degree, I realised quickly that this wasn’t the case; everyone has their own pace. I have always enjoyed working with children and found working with special needs children to be particularly rewarding. Children are the future of this world, and they all have the right to an opportunity to learn. There were many challenges along the way. These children sometimes have different emotional needs that they look to their teacher. Through advocating for all children, I’ve found fulfilment in ensuring I leave a mark on my students’ lives.

How has the journey with Pratham (one of the country’s largest non-governmental organisations) been so far?
My husband Sanjiv and I were invited to a Pratham event around 20 years ago. We were inspired by the grassroots education work Pratham did in the rural villages around India and decided to support the cause. We slowly got more involved, and I started volunteering my time. In the summer of 2005, my family and I had the opportunity to visit a school where Pratham operates outside of Delhi, and we saw firsthand the incredible impact that Pratham has on children’s lives. It keeps millions of children in school every year, including girls who often don’t have the same access to education as their counterparts. Before I knew it, Pratham had asked me to join the board of the NYC chapter, and I began organising their annual fundraising gala, Pratham’s single largest fundraising night of the year.

Can you tell us what goes into a fundraising process?
I started my event management business, Janak Services, in 2013, to leverage my skills in organising bespoke events. Each client engagement starts with a brainstorm session, where I learn what their goals are, and what their vision of the evening is. From there, I design a concept that will meet the client’s goal and propose special moments and activities that will differentiate their cause from others. Then, we move onto the execution phase, which means building relationships and signing contracts with vendors like hotels, museums, florists, caterers, audio-visual providers, and entertainers.

Great entertainment is always a key in making a fundraiser successful; people want to have fun and feel good while they’re giving. My events have included high-profile personalities such as Anil Kapoor, A.R. Rahman, Hasan Minhaj, Kamala Harris, Chelsea Clinton, and Fareed Zakaria. Though I started with charity clients, I’ve also created and managed weddings at exclusive hotels and event spaces in India and Europe. I’ll continue doing a selected number of weddings each year, but my focus remains supporting charities.

Did pandemic affect your work?
The pandemic has made it impossible for us to host in-person events, so we’ve had to adapt to the virtual format. Like many others, we had never done anything like this before, and all of a sudden, we had to assemble our team to brainstorm a new format. The team at Janak Services worked quickly to assimilate the new formats into our way of connecting people virtually.

From being associated with Pratham, launching your own event planning company to being a mother; how do you balance all of it and yet take out time for yourself?
Juggling motherhood and a profession, which often takes me away from home on the weekends, has certainly been a challenge. I love what I do, so I don’t mind working long hours. And I’m also selective about the projects I take on; there has to be meaning for me at the end of all the work. Through my work and my travels, I’ve met extraordinary people, many of whom have become close friends, and I’ve grown tremendously as a result. So often the work doesn’t feel like “work” because I’m having fun. To bring balance, once a year, I treat myself to a retreat in the mountains where there’s no phone reception, and I spend time meditating, hiking and enjoying nature.

In all these years of volunteer work, did you come across any moment that touched your heart?
The most inspiring moments for me are when I have the chance to meet the beneficiaries of the foundations and organisations I support; especially, the stories of women and children who have benefited tremendously by the organisations’ efforts in them and their future.               -- as told to Srivalli