The Bhati Family – a philanthropic legacy

12 December 2017

From a small historic city in Rajasthan to the vibrant cobbled streets of Cartagena, the Bhati family’s philanthropic legacy has spanned generations and traversed the globe.

U.N. Bhati, 81, is the patriarch of a Canberra based family with strong links to ANU. Born in Rajasthan, he first arrived at ANU in 1967 as a PhD student in Economics. Back then, he could hardly have imagined that his daughter, Rina Bhati, and two of his grandchildren would also end up graduating from ANU.

The Bhati family not only possess academic credentials; their philanthropic initiative can be traced back at least as far as U.N.’s grandfather, Govind Singh Bhati. As the only literate person in his community, U.N.’s grandfather was much sought after for advice and guidance, and his strong sense of social justice was imprinted on U.N. from an early age.

“I can remember how, with just one intent look, he could convey a world of meaning when he thought I had behaved inappropriately,” recalls U.N.

Since 2010, U.N. and his family have been generous supporters of ANU students through the Bhati Family India Travel Grant, which supports ANU students from any discipline who need to undertake research in India.

“Our motivation was based on our immense indebtedness to both India and Australia as both countries have given us a lot. In recognition of it we wanted to give something back,” says U.N.

The 2017 recipient of the Bhati family travel grant, Athira Rao, is an Indian student who came to ANU in early 2017. She considers her experiences at ANU to have been life-changing:

“Being from a completely different cultural and academic setting I found adjusting to ANU very challenging. The challenges taught me valuable lessons and looking back at each of those moments now I smile.”

In 2018, with the help of the Bhati Family travel grant, Athira will be pursuing her PhD fieldwork, looking at the impact of interconnected waterways on the social life of Kuttanad, Kerala.

“The grant has been a great financial help. My first year of PhD was not fully funded and to pay the international tuition fee I had taken a bank loan. The financial liabilities have always bothered me and this grant has helped me forget about it at least temporarily during my fieldwork.”

The thread of philanthropy that U.N. traces back to his grandfather has also carried through to his granddaughter, Vanessa Brettell. Rina recalls that Vanessa showed a strong sense of social justice from a very early age:

“When Vanessa was still a toddler, if I gave her a biscuit she would immediately break it into three and share it with her brothers.”

In 2014, Vanessa was the only student to graduate with a Bachelor of Latin American Studies at ANU. As part of her studies, she had spent one semester studying in Colombia at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota. Her time in Colombia left her with a strong urge to help redress the social inequality she encountered. Today, Vanessa has set up a not-for-profit social enterprise, Café Stepping Stone in Cartagena, Colombia.

“When travelling in Cambodia, I visited the Friends café in Phnom Penh which trains socio-economically disadvantaged locals in restaurant work. I thought that this would be a great thing to set up in Colombia,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa is convinced that social enterprise is one of the best ways to provide lasting, tangible benefits to the poor and unemployed youth in the community.

“Our Café Stepping Stone provides hospitality training and English lessons to disadvantaged Colombian youth through employment and practical experience,” says Vanessa.

And while U.N. may have been initially worried about his granddaughter’s safety when she first travelled to Colombia, he is now very proud of her carrying forward the family’s tradition of creating a better world.

“I give her ten out of ten for having her heart in the right place and wanting to make a difference to society,” says U.N. A statement that is equally true for the rest of this remarkable philanthropic family.

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Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team