There was a time when Indian women were known only as housewives who wore a long ghoonghat (veil), but over the years, women have not only changed their image but have also proven that they hold a strong ability to lead. From businesses to jobs, from politics to entertainment to sports, women are challenging men in every field.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, here is the inspiring story of the founder of “The Giving Back Foundation”, a philanthropist, the well-known socialite and an entrepreneur – none other than Meera Gandhi. Last week, I had the chance to talk to Meera Gandhi to explore her journey so far.
Here are some edited excerpts of our conversation:
Raghvendra Shikhrani (RS): What inspired you to initiate “The Giving Back Foundation”? Tell us a little about the journey so far.
Meera Gandhi (MG): “The Giving Back Foundation” was formed over a decade ago. The idea is to serve humans and help make lives happier.
Its three missions are to:
The motto of our foundation is “We are to the universe only as much as we give back to it.”
RS: Please take us through some of the challenges you have had to overcome as a woman.
MG: I am fortunate that being a woman has never stopped me in any way! I give great credit to my parents – especially my father Perbodh – who took me with him everywhere. If he was getting his car fixed on Sunday in the garage, I would be with him, and I learnt how mechanics fix things.
It was very normal for me to be with my father and surrounded by men and never see it any way other than we were a group of humans trying to get a job collectively accomplished. This is the key to how I work even today: Team-work, discussion, appreciation and collaboration.
Being a man or woman should not be the focus. Who is the best person for the job should be the focus. This will move us forward and make everyone happier too. After all, we all want happiness – is it not?
RS: What has been the most transformational moment for you in your career?
MG: I think every day is transformational. I believe we are the sum of every experience. The key is to do everything well in each moment, and that in itself is the transformation. Here and now and everything we do well in every breath is where the real transformation is occurring.
RS: What was the driving force for you in this endeavor?
MG: To be part of the end result. To walk with the people we support and delight in their journey. For me, it’s very personal. It’s not the quantity of what we do at the giving back foundation. It’s the ‘quality’ of what we do that is super important. Every person, every moment matters greatly to me, and the work of the foundation embodies that.
RS: What is the major difference between the atmosphere for working women in India and its international counterparts?
MG: I think the idea in the West is that women are as ‘tough’ as men. And they are – we bear multiple children which is supersizing.
Women in parts of India are victimized for their looks, for being feminine, and for the pleasure of some men. This is wrong. Men need to be educated about his. Thinking is key to action and results. In the West, women have greater access to jobs and opportunities if they wish to work. They are economically stronger hence have a voice. Now harassment against women is out in the open in the West, and things will improve more.
In India, the digital wave has enabled women to work without the hassles of long commute and exposure to previous firms of harassment. But we need to create more opportunities for women. Women too, need to be more supportive of other women. Both men and women should be equally encouraged to achieve their potential.
RS: According to you, what can be done to empower women to be leaders?
MG: According to me, role models and women who are already in positions of power, must enable other women to take such jobs. I think conferences organized by the Gutenberg Communications, as they did for the Cherie Blair Foundation, which The Giving Back Foundation and I co-sponsored bring together women from all over India.
More importantly, this brings together women from all walks of life, and this helps people listen to other women on panels. It empowers women, it makes women come up with their own ideas, and it gets the next generation ready to take the reins of power and share the responsibility with men. Everyone likes the work to be shared. If we bring in competent women, men will love to share the burden of government, of producing and of running things.
RS: What are the women-friendly career/employment policies you’d like to see in India ideally?
MG: India has had more women leaders than most developed countries, more CEOs than most developed countries . But the fact remains that women who don’t have proper educational opportunities are stuck in situations where they are not offering their best, either to their families, their community or the country’s economy at large.
Everyone – companies, governments, husband, partners and communities – must understand that when talented women grow, the economy grows not by millions, but by trillions of rupees. It’s good business sense to let women and for that matter to let any talented human perform to the top of their ability. Everyone benefits.
RS: What message you would like to convey to Indian Women on International Women’s Day?
MG: Today on Women’s Day, I salute all women. It’s a changing time in the landscape for women. When women are empowered everyone benefits – families, economies, continents and the planet as a whole. My message to all women in India is – now is your moment.
The Indian economy is growing at 7.2%. The world is watching in awe. The world wants to hold hands with India and walk this journey. Use this tone well. Use the internet to reach out and ask for help. Find opportunities, spread your wings and grow. The world is ready to see you succeed. Go for it.