When you see a glass ceiling, make sure you jump high enough to smash right through it. That is exactly what we've been taught by these amazing women who are successfully leading their organizations that are doing wonderful work in various fields. The impact they have created across domains such as health, agriculture, and sustainability amongst others is immense!
Raka Singh, Founder, Urja Energy
Mrs. Raka Singh founded URJA-Energy in December 2013. Raised and brought up in India she channels her efforts largely towards the betterment of the people of her ancestral hometown Siswa Bazaar in the district of Maharajganj, Uttar Pradesh, India. On land donated by her family, the NGO is essentially run by a team of locally-based, like-minded people.
After understanding the needs of the residents of the area, they decided to focus their intervention on a sewing school and production unit, production of biodegradable sanitary pads, investments in libraries, playgrounds, and scholarships, deployment of solar cells for energy production, and production of indigenous varieties of rice among other areas.
Their prime focus lies in the field of community development through women empowerment, while showing the way for environmentally friendly solutions to daily practices. Recently, they opened a training center for conducting sewing, stitching, and overall training of women entrepreneurs. They used the services of USHA International so that their students could get nationally recognized training certificates.
Raka is someone who always stays true to her word and who will get the job done no matter what the situation. Her passion for her work is unparalleled, which is the reason Urja has been able to create such an impact for so many.
Richa Malik, Founder, The Happy Turtle
Richa Malik started The Happy Turtle in October 2017. Richa started the company after the stark realization that clean-up drives may not be enough to clean up the oceans and our planet of plastic pollution. She is an MBA Graduate from XLRI with 8 years of corporate experience with giants like P&G and Unilever but she quit the corporate world for a life of adventure and pursued her passion for scuba diving by becoming a diving instructor in Indonesia. This is where she came face-to-face with the plastic that people consider “thrown away”. Volunteering for beach and dive clean-ups to remove plastic from the oceans was a regular activity for her but seeing a turtle mistake a plastic bag for its jellyfish lunch on one of her dives hit the point home. She managed to prevent the turtle from eating the bag but realized that clean-ups may not be enough and plastic consumption needs to reduce drastically if our planet and its inhabitants are to survive and flourish without being stifled by plastic pollution. As more time went by, she frequently came across plastic packaging underwater (some even from brands that she had worked on in the past during her corporate career), and that only fuelled her intent.
She then came back to India and started The Happy Turtle to address plastic pollution from the lens of plastic consumption and to turn off the tap on wasteful plastic consumption.
With an intent to alter consumer behavior towards sustainable consumption, both the products and service offerings of The Happy Turtle focus on nudging the consumer towards a habit of reuse and/or away from plastic consumption.
The products are made in a Plastic-Free Supply Chain by rural artisans and women from SHGs. All the products are reusable, made with a focus on minimizing carbon footprint, use natural treatments as much as possible, and cause minimal wastage in the production process. THT is also one of the first companies in India to have a plastic-free shipping policy and was the first company to use zero plastic in all their shipping - including tape! They are also the pioneers in End-to-End Plastic Reduction Consulting. This model helps them certify businesses on their Plastic Footprints, minimize their plastic consumption and also help them become Zero Waste to Landfill in a cost-effective manner. They further help businesses switch to sustainable alternatives to plastic depending on their requirements.
Richa's efficiency, keen business acumen, and eye for detail have propelled The Happy Turtle to amazing heights. She has helped reduce plastic consumption across the country, playing her part in helping save the earth.
Charty Dugdale, Founder, Artreach India
Charty started Artreach after seeing the impact a simple art engagement could have on the lives of homeless children in the New Delhi station. She was also inspired by her work with Triangle Arts Trust and Youthreach, for whom she co-edited 'If I were rain,' an acclaimed hardback book about the lives of street and slum children. Now based in the UK after 14 years in Delhi, Charty remains involved in Artreach operations, visiting India often. She is hugely proud of the team and inspired by what they make happen.
The following is a short note by Charty herself:
"While great strides forward have been made through the 20th Century and into the 21st towards gender equality - women and men, girls and boys, enjoying equal rights, resources, opportunities, protections - there’s still so far to go!!
Even in the most ‘progressive' societies, women do more domestic and childcare work than men, they get paid less for doing the same jobs, they are underrepresented in national parliaments and in senior posts in almost every field.
When it comes to India, as we know, the problems are deep and entrenched, all the way from conception: girl fetuses are more likely to be aborted, girl children are more likely to be malnourished, they are more likely not to go to school, to leave school early, to marry before they are adults.
At Artreach we have worked with many girls and women through the years. We work with a gender lens, which is as important for the boys as the girls - they need to understand the biases and inequalities of the world and become partners in changing them. We find imagination and self-expression to be very powerful tools: if you can begin to imagine and express yourself as having the same rights as boys, that is empowering, if you can begin to imagine what a more equal society might look light that is the first step towards building it.
My great International Women’s Day heroine is Sudha Varghese, who established the organization Nari Gunjan in Bihar in 1987. For more than 30 years she has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of women of the Musahar Dalit community. She established Prerna, a boarding school in Patna, where, away from the drudgery of farm work and domestic labor and the ever-present risk of sexual assault and likelihood of early marriage, Musahar Dalit girls are educated in the school curriculum and in sport, dance, karate, music, and art. They are taught about the rights they are promised in India’s constitution - and how to fight for them.
The Nari Gunjan girls are talented artists and you can buy their handmade tie-dye dupattas on Punya!
Let’s celebrate International Women’s Day - but with the knowledge that we have so much more to do to create a more equal world for all women."
Charty's compassion for underprivileged children coupled with her will to create an impact has helped nurture many children using art who otherwise would have no creative outlet. Hers is truly a unique form of social work and activism, one which we all are extremely proud to see flourish.
Suhani Jalota, Founder, Myna Mahila Foundation
Suhani Jalota is the Founder and CEO of Myna Mahila Foundation, a globally recognized organization working on women’s health in slum communities in India. She has impacted 550,000 women in the last 5 years by providing them menstrual health access and education, through her work with Myna Mahila and is now on a mission to reach 2 Million women across India by 2025 and empowering them through healthcare access, education, and employment opportunities.
She is currently a Knight Hennessy Scholar pursuing her MBA and Ph.D. in Health Policy and Economics at Stanford University. For the last eight years, Suhani has been working in urban slum areas and rural communities on projects ranging from adolescent girl health, water, and sanitation, to social protection policies in South Africa, Thailand, and several cities in India. She was involved in sanitation evaluation projects with IDinsight, UNICEF, and the Department of Education in the Philippines. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Global Health from Duke University. She is a Forbes Asia under 30 recipient 2018, Asia 21 Leader 2019, Young Achievers Mother Teresa Memorial Awardee 2018, a Queen’s Young Leader 2017, and a top 3 Nominee for the Global Citizen Prize 2020: Cisco Youth Leadership Award.
Myna Mahila Foundation is also one of the seven charities chosen to benefit from donations marking the wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle in 2018.
Rachita Arora, Founder, Granmade
GranMade India was born in 2017 at London College of Fashion as part of a thought-provoking business plan submission by Rachita herself.
GranMade's innovative business idea which solves a neglected cause was well appreciated in the U.K. where it was published by the University of Warwick's Ethics and Enterprise Research. GranMade then went onto become a runner-up up at the Green Gown Globe Award as part of LCF's final submission.
At present, GranMade ships worldwide and hosts pop-up shops pan-India.
In Rachita's own words: "GranMade is a women-centric business. My dadi was the inspiration behind our mission of accessorizing life and providing a better sense of being to all the women associated with us. For me, it’s always been about making an impact in the lives of those who are a part of our family- from our artisans to our customers. Each GranMade product is a symbol of recognition of the age-old craft perfected by grandmas all over the world."
Rachita's dedication to the cause, ability to meet deadlines, and systematic approach to her work have made partnering with GranMade a wonderful journey and we look forward to a long road ahead!
Ruksaar Khan, Founder, Abhilaasha
Ruksaar faced physical and emotional violence from her family members including her father, her brothers, and her mother. She was often locked in her room for extended durations. Because she was in confinement for such extended periods, she almost forgot how to deal with people. In addition to long durations of social isolation, she was also made to consult a male gynecologist with whom she was initially uncomfortable. Her parents wanted her to get treated fast so that they could get her married right after. Her parents were fixated with the idea of her marriage so much so that they lied to their relatives and neighbors about her health just so that they could get rid of her.
But Ruksaar wouldn’t take all of this lying down, and she questioned her restrictions. Her escape is something that is straight out of the movies (read here).
After her escape, Ruksaar got referred to Shakti Shalini where she restarted her education at the Kushalta Vikaas Kendra. She never enrolled in a former school because for that she would have to get an ID made, and all ID’s would require her father’s details which she didn’t want to furnish because she disliked the idea of even remembering her father, who had been so cruel to her. Ruksaar was handicapped when it came to social interactions, especially with men because of her experiences. But an important breakthrough moment came when she enrolled herself in theatre classes at Shakti Shalini. She was able to tell her entire story in front of an audience, while constantly interacting with the audience in the form of questions. Expressing herself via theatre opened her personality up, and her social interactions became much better.
After a positive experience with theatre, she turned to notebook making to sustain a living. After learning all the skills, Shakti Shalini gave her a grant of Rs. 5000 to buy a simple notebook-making machine, with which she could work. But she insisted that it be a loan and not a grant. She then started making notebooks and selling them, and was able to return the entire amount along with interest in one year!
Rukhsaar's story is one of grit, perseverance, and strength. Her commitment to financial independence is praiseworthy and we have always been amazed by her creativity expressed through numerous paintings and notebook covers.
Renu Bali, Founder, Tender Heart
Tender Heart's founder & director, Ms. Renu Bali, a highly qualified educator, and has served as a lecturer in one of India's best universities. When it all started, Renu realized to have been fortunate enough to receive a quality education and decided to use it to support those who are devoid of educational opportunities. In 1995, in the pursuit of this vision, she left the world of comfort and self-growth, and walked into Bhatola village near Faridabad, at the time, one of the Indian villages with lowest literacy rate. The male-dominated environment here also was not welcoming to this change, but Tender Heart stood strong against all the adversities.
Overall, Tender Heart’s mission is:
To educate disadvantaged children, and children with special educational needs through running both a village primary school and WOOPIE (Way Out Of Poverty Is Education); an after school program
To empower underprivileged women and individuals with disabilities, and youth by providing training and creating employment opportunities
To engage the local community and volunteers in alleviating poverty in the rural villages of northern India.
To manufacture handlooms, handicrafts, and 100% biodegradable sanitary napkins made by rural women and differently-abled individuals which are marketed under Zoonie.
With the dedication and perseverance of Renu Bali and her staff, the school started to grow steadily and now has over 450 students of different abilities, belonging to the underprivileged communities.
She is the recipient of the prestigious Derozio Award by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, New Delhi for education and human enrichment. Her warmth, courage, and tenacity are boundless and her positivity is infectious.
We at Punya consider ourselves to be extremely fortunate to have come across such amazing women during the course of our work. They inspire and motivate us to be better each day. Serving not only as agents of change but also as role models for all.
Punya wishes everyone reading this a very Happy Women's Day and we promise to keep working to move towards a world where every little girl grows up to be as empowered as our inspirations above!