When she tried to enter Miss Kenya pageant, Rennu Dhillon
was told that she could not because she is not African even though she was born
in Kenya and is a Kenyan citizen. Then she tried to enter Miss Femina pageant in
Bombay, India. They told her that she could not because she didn’t live in
At that time Rennu decided that one day she
would create a platform for NRI (non-resident Indian) women that would go beyond
fashion, glamour and Bollywood.
It took a while but she has done it. After two
years of planning and groundwork, Rennu launched Miss NRI Global pageant in San
Francisco. As promised, it contained all that she had said and then some more,
which is not quite surprising considering that she is a remarkable woman of many
A pharmacist by education, Rennu found her
calling in areas quite different from medicines. She calls herself a community
activist, children and their education are her passion, loves her fashion and
branded shows and is dedicated to organizing events for kids and senior
A second generation NRI, Rennu has lived in
three continents and has observed the expatriate community well, which is
reflected in many of her projects.
Generations of Indian settled in distant places
show amazing diversity and common connections. Most Indian immigrants to Africa
were businessmen. There they became big economic force and politically
influential. Many of UK’s NRIs are business people and professionals too but a
significant number is from villages. The growing Indian immigration to USA
consists primarily of professionals.
These migrating Indians took with them an image
of their homeland arguably stuck in time. Over the years they evolved, got
integrated with natives and developed their own distinct community identity,
which differs in many ways from each other. These differences have influenced Rennu’s passions and work.
She found the NRI community in Africa to be
most broad minded. She grew up in a Sikh community in Mombassa, Kenya where the
Gurudwara shares the boundary wall with the Arya Samaj temple. Compared to that
she has found NRIs in UK and USA to be old fashioned and intolerant of religious
and political differences amongst Indians.
Rennu credits education to the broad mindedness
of NRI community in Africa. No wonder education for children is one of her
passions. It is also the reason that she founded Genius Kids – a school for
kids. While teaching her kids to read, she realized that she had stumbled upon
something worthwhile. So she developed a reading curriculum, a book and a
CD-ROM. Now her six years old school is getting great testimonials.
Rennu also wants to do a lot for our senior
citizens. She thinks that our temples are too focused on religious events and
don’t do much for seniors. She wants to change it. Through Sikh community
centers she organizes events to help seniors and youth get more involved with
the community and the main-stream.
She had also not forgotten her initial dream of
a beauty pageant for NRI women. She produced one this year. Those who have seen
Michael Kane prepare Sandra Bullock for the beauty pageant in Miss Congeniality
know that it takes a lot of efforts to prepare for such a contest. So, Rennu
included grooming workshops for five days covering topics like public speaking,
how to dress, how to present yourself on the stage and yoga.
She also invited many professionals from such
diverse fields as entertainment and medicine to give the contestants pointers
about how to make a career in their respective fields.
The outcome was highly effective, as Mikki
Singhal, winner of Mrs. NRI Global Pageant, says, ‘It made me feel more
confident about myself – just being able to present myself in front of so many –
it was not an easy task.’
The tasks Rennu Dhillon has taken up are also
not easy, but then she sums up her philosophy quite well, “you can’t change the
masses, but if I make the difference with one or two persons then it will be a
good start.” §