Gul PanagGul Panag is the sole leading lady of Bollywood who can be credited with breaking the beauty queen stereotype - after winning the Miss India title fair and square in 1999, she carved a niche for herself in Bollywood essaying roles of the strong woman protagonist and the insecure thirty-something urban female with equal panache. She professes her love for adventure, nature, biking and sports and endorses healthy living via her chosen platform, Twitter, to communicate with her fans and the world. Twitterverse's most loved Indian celebrity, Gul also actively engages with her scores of fans and followers on and off it.
Anyone who follows her on Twitter can see her passion for two things - youth and community. Lending her voice to causes that make a difference is nothing new to this outspoken actress, activist and humanitarian. She's now on a one-of-a-kind crusade in bringing together all these elements together to give back to society and mobilise people young and old to bringing this world together with volunteer work and community service and enable overall social health. Gul is the proud spokesperson for SOAP: Social Outreach Accreditation Program.
In her own words:
"Looking back at my school years, two definitive non-academic programs stand out- The Duke of Edinburgh's Award at The Lawrence School Lovedale and the mandatory 200 hours of community service I did during my A levels at the International School of Lusaka , Zambia. Both were clearly laid out, transparent and instilled a sense of duty to give back to society at a very young age. Most importantly, they were recognised the world over. And since I was an early convert to the idea of community service, it is something I have tried to promote over the years. Social engagement, however is easy to preach, but tough to implement in India- a country that probably needs it the most. The reason is lack of a volunteering culture and lack of credible, transparent framework. Unlike in the West, where to get into graduate programs in top colleges, one has to have community service experience, here sadly our IIMs don't put forth any such prerequisite. Of course there is the state-backed NSS, but like every thing state-backed, it lacks passion and zeal.
We are promoting, creating and eventually suffering from a 'me-first culture' that sows the seeds of apathy and indifference towards the functioning of society and those less privileged than us. We are becoming a nation that is so busy in the pursuit of life and achieving staggering feats like adding more dollar millionaires a year than any other nation, that we don't give a thought to the millions who are struggling to exist. Social and economic inequality in India is growing at an alarming rate. And no government policy or initiative is likely to fix it. The only ones that can probably address this problem are the people themselves. Privileged people like you and I who can do little things in our spheres of influence to ameliorate the lives of people around us. And it's not hard. But for us to want to be able to help someone, we need to know how they are and why they need our help. It is unrealistic to expect someone who goes to work in a car, works in an air-conditioned office and has a home to live in, to understand the plight of someone who is living in a slum. One cannot blame some one who by accident of birth is born privileged , but we can create an environment that allows the two to meet and grow symbiotically.
So how do we bridge this empathy gap? The answer is by encouraging social engagement activities like volunteering. There needs to be a platform that can bring together people who want to contribute to society (not necessarily through funding) , organisations that are working towards bridging gaps and companies who are happy to incentivise social responsibility . The only way a company can incentivise and reward the same is if acts of volunteering are in some way measurable. At SOAP, we have tried to address all these issues and more.
SOAP - Social Outreach Accreditation Program is a free portal that brings together all the stakeholders involved in social engagement. It is my attempt at trying to create an environment that will throw up solutions to our problems. All of us can make our attempts. If a million causes have a million supporters, the world will definitely be a better place to live in. Go ahead , pick a cause. Do your bit."
Gul is also working on a campaign that is sure to appeal to music lovers in India - 'U 2 can bring U2 to India'. To know more about this and to get an idea on how you can give back to society, in any measure that you can, visit SOAP.