BOSTON— After holding executive positions for a number of companies (MetLife, Fidelity Investments, and John Hancock Financial), Veena Handa ultimately retired as an Assistant Vice President of Shared Services Operations. “None of the jobs were based on my education but I enjoyed my work and was always willing to learn new skills. It was not an easy decision for me to retire as I enjoyed my work, but it was time to try something different,” says Ms. Handa.
Shortly after her retirement, Ms. Handa decided to do some community service so she applied at a few places for voluntary work. Her initial intent for volunteer work was to keep busy but once she started, it became a passion for her to help in whichever way she could and give her time and experience back to the community.
She started volunteering at Lexington Nursing Home and Lexington Community Center. Later she got introduced to Vision-Aid when she was invited to attend their Annual Event by a friend about six years ago. “We were so mesmerized to learn about their mission to enable, educate, and empower the visually impaired to live with independence and dignity,” she recalls. “The Vision-Aid cause touched my heart since I have personal experience with the challenges faced by visually impaired and blind. I have seen my brother who was visually impaired and my grandmother who was blind struggling with their day-to-day life when no such help was available from a similar organization.”
Ms. Handa and her husband, Pramod, recently visited two of Vision-Aid’s resource centers in South India and it was such a heartwarming experience to see firsthand how well the rehabilitation and training programs are being run and how students are being helped with different tools. After serving on the Advisory Board for few years, she was appointed as a voluntary Vice Chair of Vision-Aid. Other non-profit organizations she has volunteered for include AIF and Sew-We-Care.
Here is a Q/A with Ms. Handa, who will honored at the Woman of the Year Awards Gala at Burlington Marriott Hotel in Burlington, MA, on April 14, 2023. To buy a ticket for the gala, please click here.
INDIA NEW ENGLAND NEWS: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
Veena Handa: I am truly honored to be nominated for the India New England Woman of the Year 2023 and feel that this is a great platform to recognize accomplished women in their fields. The community service I do is not to get recognition but purely for the immense satisfaction and fulfillment I get from being able to use my experience to help others.
After completing my master’s degree from Lady Irwin College in India, I worked with the Indian Government as an editor of a magazine. This was followed by a 2-years in Australia where I taught High School students. After my husband and I moved to the USA, I started my career working for MetLife, then Fidelity Investments and finally retired from John Hancock as Assistant Vice President of Operations for Shared Services. At John Hancock, I was responsible for multiple operations within US, Canada and Philippines managing large teams of 250 plus, focusing mainly on day-to-day operations, change management, process improvement, new technologies, corporate skills, and leadership development. I enjoyed collaborating with employees and assisting them in their career development and helping them adopt change effectively.
Since my retirement, I wanted to use my learning and experiences over the years to give back to the community. I volunteer for multiple organizations and each of these organizations have a different mission making a significant impact for the community.
I started my volunteer work as a project coordinator for a nursing home and at the Lexington Community Center (LCC). With my background in Financial Services, it was a great opportunity for me to work with Human Services to present Budgeting Concepts and Retirement Tips for youth and seniors at the Lexington Community Center. It was quite surprising that so many who attended the seminar had no idea about when they should take Social Security to get the maximum benefit and did not know that if they contribute to 401K, their savings can grow tax free. They were enlightened to learn about different aspects of retirement saving options such as IRA, Roth IRA, 529 College Savings and 401K.
Through Minuteman Senior Services, I have been volunteering as a Money Manager and a Shine Counselor for the past 5 years. To become a Shine Counselor, I completed certification through which I help people understand the intricacies of Medicare and supplement insurance. Additionally, since Medicare premiums, and regulations for public benefits change every year, so Shine Counselors have to be certified twice a year. I enjoy working with seniors who cannot pay their bills on their own and they don’t know how to manage their limited assets, so I help them with their bills and balance their books. Most of my clients are over 65 who need help with understanding Social Security and Medicare. They also do not know that Medicare only covers 80% of their medical needs and they need to get supplemental insurance to cover the rest. As a Shine Counselor, I guide them as to when to sign up for Social Security and Medicare to avoid penalty and find best supplement and prescription plan. I have helped multiple beneficiaries and saved them hundreds of dollars by recommending less expensive plans with similar benefits. Volunteering at Minuteman Senior Services have been very fulfilling, and it gives me immense pleasure that I can help seniors with their money management and healthcare needs.
I joined AIF Circle of Hope as Neeru Oberoi introduced me to this group which consists of about 30 women who review different projects that are proposed by AIF NGO from India. As a group we review and select the most appropriate project and fund for the selected project that helps women and children in poor settings with education, technology or health related aspects of their life. I have been engaged with AIF Circle of Hope for the past 3 years working with amazing women here in USA and in India. I am glad to be part of this group and feel blessed to be able to help a good cause.
During Covid, I was fortunate to join Manisha Jain for “Sew We Care” and as a Team we made over 20,000 masks and caps and provided them to hospitals, community health centers and senior centers. Manisha and I would consult and come up with simple designs that we could teach other volunteers. It was the most amazing experience that we joined forces with almost 100 women who wanted to help out for this effort, whether it was cutting the fabric, sewing or delivering to the facility. It was a great team effort. I personally made over 1000 masks and surgical caps and the idea was to make as many cloth masks as we could since there was shortage of surgical masks at that time.
My most favorite volunteer work is being the Vice Chair of Vision-Aid. Vision-Aid’s work is most gratifying to me because it enables, educates and empower the marginalized blind and visually impaired to lead an independent life with dignity. Through our network of Vision-Aid resource centers across India and our rich offering of online training, Vision-Aid provides a comprehensive range of devices such as AI Powered Smart Vision Glasses (in partnership with SHG technologies) and Smart Phones (in partnership with Trees for Life), training and services which provide holistic vision enhancement and vision rehabilitation programs for adults and children who are blind or who have low vision. Vision-Aid’s Innovative programs have won national and international awards and helps to bring independence and dignity to over 18,000 visually impaired each year in 23 locations. Just recently, 42 of our students have landed up their dream jobs in technology companies such as Infosys, Goldman Sachs, Cognizant, Benetech, HCL, Citibank, Amazon and Tek Systems. As part of the Leadership team, we come up with new tools, increase our partnership with Eye Hospitals and Blind Schools and continue to increase our service through our resource centers.
INE: What does success and failure mean to you?
VH: Success to me is when you achieve your goals and help others. During my career, success meant when my teams did well and reached their highest potential. Now, through my voluntary work, success is when I am able to bring a smile to someone’s face and get their blessings for helping them with something they could not do for themselves. I feel that to achieve success, you need commitment, motivation and willingness to achieve that goal.
Failure to me are a few roadblocks in your journey which gives you an opportunity to do it better and learn from your mistakes to reach your goal. Failures often lead to success because they allow you to test and try what doesn’t work to discover what actually works. Experiencing failure might be painful initially, though without it, you might miss the many benefits it can bring, including the ways that failures can lead to success. Failure often allows you to examine what did not work and it can foster your analytical thinking skills, allowing you to innovate, redirect and try another way to execute.
INE: The one thing you attribute your success to?
VH: If I had to name one thing to which I can attribute my success to – it would be a spirit of service to others. I have always found throughout my life that when we strive to help others succeed, it always comes back to you in a full circle!
In addition, I feel hard work, persistence, self-confidence and positivity of never giving up to achieve my goals, are attributes to my success.
Multiple people have been great contributors to my success at different times in my life.
As I was growing up, my father was my mentor and a source of inspiration because of his work ethic, honesty, integrity, and his commitment for community service. Despite being a hard-working Supreme Court lawyer, he always made time for community service. He was the president of many associations but in spite of his work and voluntary commitments he was always available for his family. He was hard working, disciplined, had lots of patience, was true to his words and was very well regarded by his colleagues, friends and family.
My husband of over 50 years, Pramod Handa, has also played a big role in achieving my goals. He has always shied away from limelight for himself but always supports me and encourages me to do my best in anything I desire to do starting from my career, my hobbies and now with all the community work.
INE: To what charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?\
VH: I am grateful for different opportunities I have had over the years to serve on different professional and charitable groups.
During my professional career, I was an Advisory Board member for Global Women Alliance for John Hancock. Through this program, we started the Mentorship Program to help young employees, extended Family Leave from 6 to 12 weeks and promoted many networking opportunities. I served as a Mentor for hundreds of employees and helped them with their career aspirations. I also served as a panel member for multiple conferences for Tax and Robotics Process Automation.
I currently serve as volunteer Vice-Chair for Vision-Aid, a non-profit which has a mission of enabling, educating and empowering the visually impaired.
In addition, I volunteer for Minuteman Senior Services as a Money Manager and a Shine Counselor at the Lexington Community Center apart from serving on AIF Circle of Hope.
I also support and believe in the cause of Akshaya Patra, Pratham, Ekal Vidyalaya and IAGB.
INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?
VH: During my professional career, I received Service Excellence Award from MetLife and STAR of Excellence Award from John Hancock for my professional contributions.
As a Director of the Control Department, I was able to eliminate Annuity losses from 5 million dollars to zero within two years, initiated Process Improvement Teams, improved and consolidated multiple processes and reduced Tax liability by 700K in one year.
I enjoyed mentoring young employees and help them with their career advancement. I got the highest rating of 99% for employee satisfaction survey each year.
I was a pioneer in introducing Robotics Process Automation to my company in spite of many hurdles from IT Infrastructure, Legal and Compliance. I not only introduced the concept but implemented over 10 processes within first 6 months and saved thousands of budget dollars. Now the whole company has adopted the idea and most departments have implemented multiple processes.
Regarding my Volunteer work, educating Youth and Seniors at Community Centers has been very gratifying. Being a Shine Counselor gives me an opportunity to help seniors understand the intricacies of Medicare. Being a part of “Sew We Care” team gave me an opportunity not only to create masks and surgical caps but also to get to know many outstanding women who were so willing to do whatever it takes to help Doctors and Nurses and other front-line workers who were risking their lives to treat covid patients.
The Vision-Aid cause is very dear to my heart since I have had personal experience to know how challenging it is for a visually impaired to lead a day-to-day life. My older brother lost his vision due to Retinitis Pigmentosa for which there is no treatment. Despite his disability, he studied to be a doctor with PHD and DSC and retired as a Vice Chancellor of Jodhpur University and travelled to many countries as a visiting professor. Even though he was very accomplished, he was being challenged and had to depend on others for his day-to-day activities. As he was growing up, there were no organization such as Vision-Aid that we knew of. I am so pleased that now we have opportunities for blind and visually impaired to be engaged with charities like Vision-Aid to empower, educate and enable them with life skills so they can lead their life with independence and dignity. This is my 6th year volunteering for Vision-Aid and I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to work alongside our leadership team of Puran Dang, Chairman Emeritus, Lalit Sudan, President, Ramakrishna Raju (Ram) and Revathy Ramakrishna, the founders for Vision-Aid and many other volunteers.
Recently Pramod and I had an opportunity to visit Hyderabad and Chennai Vision-Aid centers and it was so heartwarming to see our programs at work firsthand. At the L.V.Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) Palakurthi Vision-Aid center, it was really impressive to see the free / highly subsidized and high quality services to visually impaired persons from under-privileged backgrounds. Meeting the knowledgeable staff and the beneficiaries was an eye-opening experience.
Our visit to the Vision-Aid center at Sankara Nethralaya in Chennai, provided us valuable insights into how occupational therapy exercises are used to help young children based on their need and capacity. Pramod and I were so impressed by the breadth and depth of the programs at both centers and the huge impact these programs are having each day.
It was very gratifying to meet so many student beneficiaries, and children with multiple disabilities and visual impairments (MDVI) in person and learn how Vision-Aid is using technology to level the playing field and make the world a more inclusive place for the visually impaired.
INE: Any aptitude/gift or talent that not many people know about you?
VH: I don’t think I have any specific talent but I love to design clothes and jewelry. I don’t think many people know that I design and make many of my Indian outfits and make clothes for my grandkids. I also love to design jewelry to match with my clothes.
INE: What are your hobbies and interests?
VH: I have many hobbies and interests but most of all I love to design clothes and Jewelry. I get a lot of pleasure when I create something different.
I enjoy music and even though I have never received formal training, I have always enjoyed singing since my college days.
I like to travel and see the world and shop wherever I go. Besides that, I love socializing and being with my family and friends. I also like cooking and entertaining.
INE: What are your favorite books?
VH: During my professional career I was always focused on reading books on Leadership. “People Analytics” by Ben Weber was one of my favorites as it talks about how Social Sensing Technology will transform business and the future of work. Since I was managing multiple teams spread over different continents, it was important for me to know how people think and behave under different settings.
I also enjoyed “The Confidence Code” by Katy Kay & Claire Shipman and recommended it to my management staff.
One of my favorites is “Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor and “Love and Friendship” by Jane Austen.
I enjoyed “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen and “Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte.
I listen to Pod Casts and my most favorite Pod Cast is “The Sum of Us” by Michelle Obama.
INE: Your favorite quotes
VH: “Alone we can do so little, and together we can do so much” by Helen Keller
“Spread love everywhere you go” by Mother Teresa
“Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Follow your dreams and persist” by Barack Obama
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do” by Steve Jobs.
“For me becoming isn’t arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim, I see it instead as forward motion of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey does not end.” By Michelle Obama.
“Keep your face always toward the sunshine, and shadows will fall behind you” by Walt Whitman
INE: The one person you would like to meet and why?
VH: I really admire Michelle Obama for her integrity, honesty and family values and would love to meet her.
INE: Your core values that you try to live by?
VH: Honesty and Integrity- I feel you should take people as they are without being judgmental. If you are truthful to yourself, you can be truthful to others. Be loyal and good to your friends and family.
Empathetic- Be empathetic to situations and people.
Positivity – Look for positivity in everything and try to move on with positive attitude.
Service – Do what you can to help and give back especially to the underprivileged.
Respect- Treat everyone as you want to be treated by others.