Mingling cultures, crisscrossing lives
Sharada Prahladrao profiles Sheela Murthy, a successful immigration lawyer and committed philanthropist
At an informal get together I heard Sheela Murthy talk about the non-profit organisation that she runs — The Murthy Foundation, which helps those who are most vulnerable and disenfranchised in India, the United States, and other parts of the world. The Foundation carefully selects causes in which to invest for a better world. Sheela is a rare and brilliant combination of a very successful immigration lawyer and a committed philanthropist.
Sheela moved to the United States from India in the 80s, and after working for a few years she encountered the infamous glass ceiling. So, she began her own law firm in 1994. Located on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland with a liaison office in Chennai, India, the Murthy Law Firm is considered one of the world’s best US immigration law firms.
Always an achiever
Her academic and professional achievements are laudable. Sheela has an LLM from Harvard Law School and is listed as one of the top US immigration lawyers in the world. She received the Bravo! Award from SmartCEO Magazine in 2008, and in June 2009, she received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Maryland. She and her law firm were among those honoured in 2008 with the Maryland International Global Award for contribution to international issues. Her name is listed among the top 100 women in Maryland for 2009.
Best of both worlds
The Murthy Law Firm is run by professionals who keep improving upon what has already been achieved — be it the American dedication to work and results, or the innate Indian ability to triumph over difficulties. While cherishing her roots, which have taught her to make the most rewarding use of every opportunity that comes her way, Sheela is also deeply attached to her adopted country, which respects perseverance over inheritance.
She has been recognised and honoured for her philanthropy in the United States and in India, and was named 2009 Philanthropist of the Year by United Way of Central Maryland at their annual Tocqueville Society Awards for her $1 million pledge announced in 2008.
Yet when a woman shyly donated Rs 100 to the foundation in Hubli, Sheela said she was humbled by the gesture. “I’m sure that 100 rupee note meant a lot more personal sacrifice for the woman than $1 million meant for me,” she says. Money, for Sheela, is meant to be used for the greater common good.
Time for philanthropy
“Globalisation has enabled India to emerge as a leader in the software and technology sector, but progress in critical areas like healthcare and education is still painfully slow. India has plenty of young people who pursue higher education, but the brain drain is still a reality because qualified youngsters go abroad to seek work and wealth,” she explains.
Sheela believes that India has the required potential, the DNA for excellence. “Indians need to overcome the weaknesses inherent in modern society through laws and an overhaul of attitudes at many levels,” she adds. Sheela and her film maker husband, Vasant Nayak, are involved with the Agastya International Foundation which takes a creative, revolutionary and result producing approach to education. “The peer-to-peer method of learning helps in building self confidence. We need to tap the energy, brilliance and creativity of every child. We need to make them feel valued and empowered,” she says.