“I like the culture of startups. It’s almost like you’re raising your own baby. It’s that sense of belonging and ownership.” – Dimple, a chief financial officer.
Nine years ago, Dimple was headhunted for the post of chief financial officer (CFO) of a fledgling organisation. In the process, she also became the first member of the organisation’s finance team.
She calls it fate. A few months earlier, she was about to submit her application for the Teach For India fellowship, following in the footsteps of a colleague at her previous company. She says: “We used to discuss where our country was heading towards over lunch. Then, we started wondering how long we could stay passive? When one of them got into the fellowship, I was inspired to apply, but my daughter was only three years old, and I couldn’t leave her alone for fives weeks at Institute. I thought I would wait until she was a little older.”
Dimple handled the setup, approval and hiring procedures at Teach For India in its early days. She still remains a driving force at Teach For India.
She fondly recalls playing musical chairs at the single table which they called their ‘office’. “If there weren’t seats, you’d go somewhere else! But we could shout across the table and get things done. Everyone was multi-tasking: there was nothing like an odd job or a small job. They were good times, challenging times. Now I can laugh about it”, she reminisces.
She drew from her more than 17 years of experience in the industry, which included a stint with FedEx (when it was first launched in India), to create strong, sustaining systems. And she’s most proud of building them.
She further adds: “One of our board members told me that someone from another non-profit organisation claimed that we at Teach For India have made life hard for other NGOs, because we’ve set very high standards for reporting, accounting and transparency when it comes to compliance. Their donors ask, ‘if Teach For India can do it, why not you?’ ”. In fact, Teach For India was awarded at India’s Most Ethical Companies Conferences & Awards in 2015 for fostering a culture of transparency and for its contributions to social causes and empowerment.
Internally, Dimple leveraged the team’s visibility across the organization to foster a culture of ‘cost-consciousness’. “If we set a budget of 100, I do not have the luxury of spending even 100.01, because I do not have that 0.01, unlike many other businesses. We’re really focussed on efficiency and being resourceful”, she says. There’s always pressure. “Even a 1-day interest on a donation, for example, is huge. We promptly put things into fixed deposits and spend money judiciously”, she adds.
Dimple is really excited about her team. It’s a solid group of people that makes endless hours of doing paperwork and rushing to meet statutory, non-negotiable deadlines seem joyful. Given that three members of her staff are alumni of the Akanksha after-school program, she feels that “the proof is in the pudding – it’s right here in my department!”
She has a daily reminder of what’s possible with a quality education, which she believes is the answer to everything. “As an economics student, I really feel that we’d have a better Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio, better infrastructure and more vibrant rural economies with jobs, only if everyone was educated. It’s the only solution.” A believer in ‘life-long education’, she’s fully supportive of team members who are also pursuing their Masters in Business Administration (MBAs) and further studies.
Her exemplary leadership led to her appointment as an independent member of sexual harassment committees of various corporate organizations. While this role is beyond her capacity as CFO at Teach For India, she says: “I am working towards maintaining fairness, safety and protection for women. Though I’ve never personally felt discriminated in any way, I know there are issues.”
While Dimple has transformed and moulded the organization, being a part of this journey has transformed her too. “Before joining, I had a limited understanding of the problems the sector faces. When you are negative and pessimistic, it usually comes from ignorance. Now, I am much more aware of the reality, which is actually worse than what I thought it was. Yet I am so much more optimistic, because we are actively taking part in the change. Every time I see the Teach For India fellows do what they do, my belief becomes stronger and I know that at the end of the day, I’ve done my bit to contribute”, Dimple states.
In the traditional division of labor – who is responsible for making a difference?
At Teach For India, women break rigid notions of what it means to be a nurturer and a leader, and challenge what “service” looks like in the popular imagination. We also recognise and celebrate the incredible journeys of some amazing women who are driving change inside the movement for educational equity!