Aruna M Katara: Instilling Hope in Students for Brighter Future
Aruna M Katara
Aruna M Katara

“Dreams, determination, and dedication are the stepping stones to success. So, dare to dream and have the courage to pursue that dream relentlessly.”

– Aruna M Katara

Have you ever wondered whether people’s dreams give them hope or vice versa?

Well, HOPE and DREAM are interconnected since one’s dreams give them HOPE to work hard to fulfil their dreams; however, sometimes, the HOPE of being a successful individual motivates people dream.

However, merely imagining a successful life is not enough; for that, one must dedicate oneself to pursuing that dream fiercely. There could be obstacles that one must overcome on this road to success, and nobody is really prepared for every challenge that one may face; but what’s important is one’s ability to be committed, determined and have a never-give-up attitude. India, today, has the unique advantage of having the youngest population in the world and our youth are talented, skilled and have the inherent quality to think out-of-the-box. All they need are quality education and opportunities.

The Hope Foundation and Research Centre (HFRC), Pune founded by Late Shri Pralhad P Chhabria (Founder Chairman of Finolex Group) offers opportunities to students through its two engineering colleges – Finolex Academy of Management and Technology (FAMT) in Ratnagiri and International Institute of Information Technology (I2IT) in Pune. And heading HFRC as its President is Mrs Aruna M Katara, daughter of Late Shri Pralhad P Chhabria who has taken on the mantel of leading the Foundation so as to make her father’s dream come true and work towards nation building.

Aruna has dedicated her life to ensuring that bright and talented students are provided with the chance to get quality education and opportunities to excel in their chosen career. Just like her father, Aruna ensures that the colleges in both – Ratnagiri and Pune, while adhering to all regulatory norms, provides special consideration for underprivileged students. She believes that no child should be deprived of his/her right to quality education and opportunity for lack of financial resources – an ethos that is followed at FAMT and I2IT.

Going a step further, under the aegis of HFRC, Aruna also established the Pralhad P Chhabria Research Center (PPCRC) – a tribute to her father who believed that research and innovation are the keys to India’s rise as a global power. A focused and dynamic team of researchers at PPCRC are working on various national and international projects in diverse fields of engineering and technology including energy, environment, telecommunication, spatial data infrastructure, and computation.

What’s interesting is the journey behind the Hope Foundation and Research Centre and Aruna M. Katara.

An Inspiring Tale

The year was 1977; Sonali Chhabria (Aruna’s younger sister) was diagnosed with Cancer. Despite their best efforts, the Chhabria family could not find a suitable cancer treatment centre in Pune or for that matter, in India. They then decided to take their daughter to Milwaukee in US. But the lack of medical facilities in our country disturbed Mr Chhabria; especially considering that not all could afford to travel abroad. And that is what inspired him to established Hope Foundation and Research Centre in 1979, a trust that provides medical assistance and quality education to the youth of our country. After all, at the core of every developed society are good medical facilities and comprehensive education.

Aruna joined the Foundation as a trainee and interned under her father for years; understanding the operations before she was officially invited to take over the reins of HFRC. Her biggest asset she says is ‘being mentored by her father’ who groomed her over the years. Though she misses his presence direly, she is proud that his legacy will continue for years to come through the two colleges and research institute.

Aruna has over 25 years of hands-on experience in management, administration, and the family-owned business; after facilitating the expansion of the family business, she stepped into dedicating her efforts towards furthering the reach of the foundation. As the person at the helm of affairs, she believes that her prime focus is to lead the Hope Foundation and make it one of the prime social contributors in nation-building.

While stating her inspiration, Aruna asserts, “It gives me a sense of fulfilment that I have been in a way instrumental in providing higher education and industry opportunities to hundreds of students in India to equip themselves with skillsets and knowledge through knowledge assimilation at Pune and other educational hubs in the U.S., Russia, and France through I²IT’s various academic and research collaborations with many foreign universities, an international exchange of knowledge was also facilitated where foreign university students were being provided with a chance to grasp I.T. skills which India is so well known for, through various courses offered at the institutes.”

An Overview of Hope Foundation and Research Centre

In India, there are over 4,000 engineering schools that cater to 15 lakh students per year. Hope Foundation and Research Centre have the unique advantage of being ‘THE FIRST’ in many domains. The first to establish an engineering college in rural Ratnagiri; which eventually has significantly changed the social and economic landscape of the region. The first to launch engineering-driven niche programs in 2001. Among the firsts to have international programs and dual programs in India. The first to introduce technology-focused management programs. Together, the two colleges in Ratnagiri and Pune, the trust can cater to approx. 800 students intake per year; but unlike some institutes, the primary objective here is to connect, mentor and nurture students and this can be achieved only when there is faculty-student personal association. The fruition of this is the vast network of alumni and families who credit the colleges, the HFRC and Aruna for the opportunities and facilities given to them.

Speaking about her personal relationship with past students, Aruna says, “Meeting our students personally in countries like Japan, Australia, England, USA and Thailand is truly overwhelming. Hearing of their success stories and their fond memories of their college and hostel days is so fulfilling. As a foundation we may not be catering to lakhs of students a year; but the thousands we take under our wings are making significant strides in their careers and personal lives. I say this on behalf of papa and me that we couldn’t be prouder of our HFRC family.”

Overcoming Challenges

Challenges are part and parcel of life – personal or professional. While Mr Pralhad P Chhabria invested a great deal of his personal wealth in the Foundation, the key is self-sustenance and steady endowments. As the President of HFRC, Aruna Katara’s primary focus lies in generating funds which can then be used for infrastructural developments, benefits for students and teams on both campuses. Because of this distinct architecture and infrastructure, I2IT which is located in Hinjawadi (an IT Hub) Pune attracts many IT Conglomerates to host their events on campus. The multi advantage of these events is that; while it brings in funds to the Foundation, it also helps in strengthening the brand and also gives the students opportunities to interact with professionals’ first-hand.

Spearheading the fund-raising campaigns, Aruna reaches out to her wide network of professional and personal contacts as well as alumni, encouraging them to help further the Foundation and its vision. It’s tough to raise money in today’s climate; but her unpretentious and sincere personality helps Aruna connect with her benefactors and well-wishers who more often than not are always ready to help the Foundation in any way they can.

While it is a norm in the academic community that during annual admissions, colleges charge very high fees for management quota seats; Hope Foundation and Research Centre ensures that its management seats at FAMT and I2IT are allocated to deserving candidates with preference to girls and direct dependents of defence personnel and farmers. Aruna insists, “Come whatever challenges our way, we have never charged a single penny beyond the stipulated fees. Our management quota seats are allocated to deserving students at the same fees as any other student who joins through the CAP rounds. Our focus has been and will always be attracting talented students.”

“Leaders Often Seek Help”

When asked about how she manages in the complex world of academia, Aruna asserts, “I would like to quote President Barack Obama here – he said, don’t be afraid to ask questions, or ask for help when you need it. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something and are open to learning something new – I am not an expert in all fields and I have my limitations. But after being mentored by my father for years, I have learnt that success depends on the team and I am fortunate to have an excellent team on both campuses. I often reach out to my team members for help and that is the advice that I often give my students. I tell them to seek out faculty members with domain expertise and pester them with questions, and develop an eagerness to learn. I am sure that the team members are good individuals who appreciate the enormous responsibility in shaping the future generation and would be more than happy to mentor and guide students.”

There is an unwritten rule among faculty members and staff working in Ratnagiri and Pune campuses – ‘Students First’. Instilled during their orientation, every team member knows that their priority will always be students and their well-being. This quintessential ethos is reflected in the fact that younger siblings and relatives of students and alumni choose FAMT & I2IT over other colleges.

Words of Wisdom

Unlike many seasoned professionals, Aruna isn’t eager to hand over advices to the youth; especially career and professional advices. She believes that the present and forthcoming generations are way smarter than more capable than those born in the last century. According to Aruna, they know what they want, and they are determined. However, she does offer her perspectives about life. Here are Aruna’s 5 thoughts on life.

  • Be flexible; accept change and its ok to go with the flow until you can find your waves to ride.
  • There’s always Plan B and Plan C….. Until Plan Z. Don’t be despondent if plan A doesn’t work. It’s nice to have a dream; but it’s equally ok to change that dream. The only thing that matter is having the courage to continue and never give up.
  • Be compassionate, understanding and inclusive with others. Winning or succeeding is always a team effort.
  • Be open to learning something new in life – be it a skill, an art form, a sport or travelling.
  • Don’t give up because something did not work out today. Come back tomorrow with a fresh mind and more determination.

Foundation of a Legacy

What began as a personal quest by Mr Chhabria, to help the community with medical assistance and education has grown into a strong Foundation with Aruna Katara’s dedication and commitment. This legacy is now poised to raise to greater heights as her daughter Amrita Katara takes over the responsibility as Managing Trustee of the Hope Foundation and Research Centre. Overseeing the operations of HFRC, Amrita is focused on strengthening the brand and widening its network by bringing on board like-minded and enthusiastic individuals. One could say, “The legacy will live on.”

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