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She Told The World That You Can Be A Woman Who Is An Entrepreneur: Interview With Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

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By Shivangi Singh:

From the Padma Shree to the Padma Bhushan to being in TIME magazine’s ‘Most Influential People’ list, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is one of the most inspirational women in India and the world. Read what the Chairman & Managing Director of Biocon Limited has to say about her company, her dreams, her passion and the way she achieved it all.


When you donned the entrepreneur’s cap the world was gender biased. Do you feel the phenomenon continues? If yes, how is it manifested in the 21st century?

Yes, there is perceptible gender discrimination when it comes to women entrepreneurs even today. Funding favours male entrepreneurs. Having said that, there are a number of women specific soft loans and seed funding which is available to aspiring women entrepreneurs.

What is the difference between the global business scene and the corresponding Indian scenario for biotechnology in general and Biocon in specific?

India ranks 4th globally in the Biotech sector. Its current $5 billion size is poised to attain a size of $100 billion by 2025 through leadership in Biogenerics, Bt crops, gene sequencing and Biofuels.

Biocon is ranked 20th in size globally and the 7th largest Biotech employer. Biocon is the only Asian Biotech company to feature amongst the world’s Top 25 Biotech companies.

Why did you choose this industry? When and how was an entrepreneur born in you? How difficult was it for you to pave your way as an industrialist?

I chose to become an entrepreneur due to an adverse set of circumstances that did not allow me a fair employment opportunity in my field of Brewing. I started Biocon as a fall back option to apply my Brewing knowledge to a related field – enzymes. My determination to succeed and prove to the gender biased world that women can make good business managers brought out my entrepreneurial qualities. My journey has been challenging all the way. First I had to overcome credibility challenges as a young, inexperienced woman of 25 trying to pioneer a new sector – Biotechnology. Then I had technological challenges of funding and scaling up a home grown proprietary fermentation based enzymes technology. I then had evolutionary and regulatory challenges of transforming the business from enzymes to Biopharmaceuticals. Today it’s innovation challenges of bringing new drugs to global markets. I am also addressing a new set of challenges that are about managing overseas operations in US, Europe, UAE and Malaysia. Overcoming each set of challenges has enabled me to augment my stature as a business leader.

You started with the dream of becoming a Doctor but ultimately followed your heart and set an example for all students. In a country where parents see only Engineering and Medicine as decent career options, how can a person truly follow their dreams without hurting their family?

The opportunities in every field are so vast and exciting that every young person can pursue their passion. India in the ’60s was an under resourced country with limited job opportunities. India today is a rapidly developing economy where the even the sky is not the limit!

What is your vision for Biocon? What philanthropic activities are you looking forward to be a part of in the near future?

I see Biocon as the torch bearer of innovation from India that makes global impact in Diabetes, Cancer and Immunological disorders. I see Biocon as a leading Insulins and Antibody company that delivers affordable drugs to patients across the world.

Our philanthropy is therefore invested in India’s quest for universal healthcare that provides Right to Healthcare. My personal philanthropy is in Cancer care where I have partnered with Dr Devi Shetty to establish the country’s largest Cancer hospital, The Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center.

From the Padma Shree to the Padma Bhushan to being in TIME magazine’s ‘Most Influential People’ list- you’ve won lots of awards. If you had to choose any one which remains closest to your heart, which would that be?

Every one of these recognitions is special and something I will always cherish. The Padma awards are most special as they are symbols of national pride. I am a very proud Indian.

What would be your message to the youth of the nation? In your opinion, how important is it for the youth to voice themselves and participate in shaping the future of the world’s largest democracy?

The youth have the moral responsibility to lead the country into the future. They represent more than 50% of our population and therefore must show courage and leadership by engaging in all aspects of our democratic processes to truly realize our demographic dividend.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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