Sometime ago, I was reading The Gene by Dr Siddartha Mukherjee. In that, this idea of finding the mitochondrial Eve, the first mother who, by giving energy cells to the humankind, produced the human race that mutated into various genres of thoughts, emotions and colour, blew my mind. But at the same time, a thought of what women have gone through history stuck with me. The originator of humankind, provider, protector, first-teacher, lioness, goddess – you name it. Yet, have we ever thought why women remain a sidelined community? The weaker one? We hardly ponder over it, although terms of feminism, equality and being secular are circulated and echoed in every corner of the society.
Last week, a mail by Indian School of Business, for an event known as RISE 2020, gave me a chance to get to those buried thoughts again and rewire the emotional, intelligent and social quotient in the aspects of women. The speakers, the crowd, the energy and the motive to talk were inspiring and empowering that would not only improve a section of society, but also have ecological, social and economic effects. I realise that in retrospect, when I think about the topics discussed, the amazing ideas shared and the enthusiasm the women and the organising committee brought, I realised that pondering over thoughts of equality, changing the patriarchal mindset, and giving women space could bring changes at an ecological and economical scale.
I was so inspired by the event and discussions of the event among friends, that it compelled me to write about it. Given that the event was big and several striking personalities had came, the discussions spanned over three areas – social, business and exceptional stories of women. The sessions started in the same order. I got to attend full sessions of business and exceptional stories, but only a bit of social, unfortunately. But, I assure that whatever I heard was in itself inspiring and empowering to learn and pen down. So, let me start by describing these beautiful sections of the event.
The panel consisted of four amazing women who were working as activists in social development. Due to some reasons, I got late to the event and I was only able to listen to these two amazing personalities: Vanita Viswanath and Manasi Pradhan
Viswanath works with Jagriti Enterprise and her career is towards helping and uplifting women who have been statistically left out of the market ecosystem. It’s an amazing area of work and the insights she shared shall remain long with me. She was right when she said that 80% of women are left out of market calculations. This includes the maids working at home, the housewives and the nannies. This goes well with the statistics of India Uninc, where the unincorporated sector contributes towards 70% to the economy, and yet is ignored in policy-making.
Now, when we hear this, doesn’t it compel you to think and praise what ma’am is up to: empowering women who are discriminated on daily basis at homes, who are a victim of domestic violence and many other discrimination, are already fighting their everyday wars, and yet they are not given a space in the market. Don’t we need to include them and empower them? Ideally, we should. This shall not only create an inclusive society, but also create a domino effect of a progressive economy.
Abhijeet Banerjee, in one of his books, proves the importance of uplifting poor people through incentives of emotions, faith, capitals, etc. And that idea gels with the idea Viswanath is up to. Women are deprived and there could be many ways to uplift that. For starters, what Viswanath said grabbed my attention: why do women have to follow men? Why women have to fit into the patterns of men when they are designed for more beautiful things? Yes! Women are mothers, have a more caring attitude, a better emotional quotient, and a multi-tasking nature. The best instance is our mother. How well she manages to train us for school, cook for her husband, listen to all tantrums and manage to carry on with life!
On a personal level, my mother has done this for the two of us: sacrificed her life and carried the burden of many diseases. And perhaps, that’s why I related a lot to the topic. The idea that women are by design made to nurture society is the gift every woman possesses. Nurturing is the first step to organising. And that’s what Viswanath advises to small entrepreneurs and communities working in the interest of women and the socially deprived. Her appeal to women to wear the hat of nurturing and carrying empathy is somewhat basic for an organisation. When the essence of empathy touches the community, it becomes ether-real, and perhaps that is the first step that women must take to empower themselves.
Secondly, just to add to this beautiful point, I believe that the best things could be done by data analytics and companies who pledge towards society. How can they be of help? Social relationships of the demography could be easily taken out. Companies and governments working in parallel could easily compute the social associativity of women in the given demography (say an area of UP) and incentivise the community by the condition of acceptance of women (an idea very similar to the CCT, conditional cash transfers). That would incentivise the community towards associativity of women, as the same idea did in the times of the Green Revolution in India.
The second star speaker I listened to was Manasi Pradhan, a staunch believer in hard work, and a gem of a person. Pradhan talked her heart out at the event. Her struggle in life, of breaking the social taboo and inspiring stories to take up challenges in life, and becoming one of the known activists and a known author, reverberates that hard work does repay at the end. Pradhan is an epitome of inspiration for all of us, men and women irrespective, that how strong persistence and dedication can keep a person going. Kudos to her aura and hunger to achieve more, and carry on the brightness, and giving her daughter a more elevated life by empowering her towards advanced education.
This panel consisted of women who have worked wonders in the entrepreneurial and business sector. I got a perspective to understand how they thrived in the startup ecosystem, the problems they faced as a general entrepreneur, their support systems, and their everyday problems at the job, especially as women. The panel consisted of beautiful, poised, determined and enthusiastic entrepreneurs who have made good names in the startup ecosystem and took huge risks to get to their goals. When Malika Sadani, a mother of two daughters, returned to India from London, she found an idea to produce and sell toxic-free creams for babies. She shared with us the ideas of marketing a product, the plight she used to face in the earlier days, and how she managed to leverage her network to thrive in the business world.
Shwetambari Shetty, the second panelist, a well-known personality in the fitness world, inspired the crowd with her story of taking a risk by starting a fitness startup, Tribe, in Bangalore. Her ability to stop a comfortable work at HSBC, and follow her calling of fitness and continue to bring a change in the fitness arena, a much-required thing for our sedentary life, is inspiring. The best thing about Tribe is that it is not just about the gym, but also about the ability to bring in exercises and activities that could be enjoyed by a community.
Shetty went from door-to-door to collect data, roamed from market to market to ask people about their interest in the fitness world and continued to collate data, analyse patterns, fix activities, rent a space and grow the business. The best part I liked about how she approached the problem was that she captured the consumer interest and set up her business by setting necessary triggers, and changing the monotonous gym activities to fun exercises.
Sonal Jain, the third panelist and founder of Boondh, inspired the audience by bringing in the concept of changing the way menstruation is looked upon in India. The idea of selling menstrual cups, a conical plastic container that is cost-effective and can provide proper sanitation to menstruating women. In a country like India, where even today, pads are given wrapped in paper, and a natural body adaptation of women is looked down upon with disgust, bringing this idea of using cups shall revolutionise the healthcare industry.
The best thing about Jain’s story is how she increased her sales. It was through the word-of-mouth policy. In earlier times, when the sales were down, her team realised that despite so many advertisements, people were not adopting the new product. A deeper analysis showed them that basically, the advertisers were foreigners, and because of that, Indians were not feeling a personal, desi connect with the new product, despite its many good leverages over other menstruating products.
The idea that every person who bought the product should appeal to others on social media started to bring that connection of Indianness. India is a country that binds to ideas based on personal connection, and an open declaration of using this innovative product at the global stage empowered the users and raised confidence of new users. After this instinct of declaration, the sales started growing and a demographic analysis showed that tier-2 and tier-3 cities of India were more into such products.
In my perspective, it enhances healthcare at homes, since a mother or a healthy sister has the power to keep the household healthy in rural areas. I feel this action of bringing the cups to the Indian market and its high adoption in tier-2 cities gives a cause to solve many problems. Even if 5% more women each year adopt these cups, they’d be able to save money on sanitary pads and also save themselves from generic infectious diseases, save money on healthcare, and contribute more towards the area of their work. This idea of declaration one day shall revolutionise India at an economic scale too, I believe, as the more the graph of knowledge of these technologies becomes tightly knit, better the living conditions, and thus, the better the chances of education, jobs and so on.
Sonal Biyani, the fourth panelist and a champion of many trades, enthralled us with her stories of struggle while she was working in the textile industry, did stand-up comedy, and worked as an investment banker. Biyani is a real gem when it comes to experience in many industries and talent. She humored us with funny stories that contained a tinge of judgment and stereotypes for struggling women. Her stories were true to the roots. She was judged in the business world because she comes from a tier-2 city. She was judged and her orders frequently needed approval from male counterparts. These are a few stereotypes that India is grappling with.
Listening to her story reminds me of Pam Kalsy, my principal at Birla Public School, Pilani, back in 2006-08, when she took command of the institute and had to fight the system of ‘men’ to make her orders turn into processes. I remember she used to clean her own office by brooming it when the staff in the morning didn’t use to turn up. At that time, I was too young to understand the difference of opinion that subordinates have for women leaders. But now, when I hear the stories from the likes of Sonal, my respect for such leaders just doubles. Kudos to all the ones who are capable but are looked down upon because of society’s hangover with bad old traditions and the inability to break the shackles of stereotypes.
Well, I would say every person here is an exception to others, and that is why we make the world look beautiful, just as different frills of a decorative cloth add to the beauty of the cloth. We got to learn much about the struggles of four exceptional women, who dared to achieve the sky and did achieve that.
Dr Latika Nath is a wildlife enthusiast and doctorate in wildlife conservation research from Oxford. She has been featured by the National Geography channel and is known as the ‘Tiger princess of India’. She shared some stories with us about her courage and openly committed that she does not fear even the tigers! But, when we looked at Nath, she looked so serene and simple. In the previous session, she was sitting with us in the audience and we couldn’t have believed that this lady could be the fierce lady that was being described on the stage. That kind of personality is what makes India’s women special today.
Surashree Rahane, a physically challenged but mentally tough person, shared her life story with us, and the story settled in my heart, piercing through the contours of emotions, layer by layer. Her story is a generic case of public discrimination against a physically disabled person. Life was tough for her because she was a woman, and that too one with a disability. Being a mentor of the great Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and a talented person throughout her career, she was rejected many times for corporate jobs. But that didn’t stop her to live a life on her own terms. You can read more about her and her inspiring journey here.
Lastly, the event ended with the ever-shining Shweta Tripathi. She is one of the actresses I adore. This is because, I somewhat always relate to her as a Masaan girl, a movie so close to my heart. I always have liked the choices she has made in choosing the movies and that fandom moment amplified when I saw her in person. She roared on the stage about bringing in practicality in life. Her idea was not only of women’s empowerment, but an idea of being supportive and thankful. She spread the message that thanking others and being there for others goes a long way.
I second this opinion, because that is what human conscience is wired to do. Of all the sociological theories, the crux theory is that the essence of empathy goes a long way, and a pinch of hatred disperses the community. It breaks it into pieces that are complex puzzles to solve. Being a part of an audience, I also got the privilege to ask her how her life changed after Masaan, for which she gave a very sweet reply: She said that she was contemplating that surely new things would turn up, but she never set expectations of big projects. A very important lesson she found in between such lines, Life is a sinusoidal curve, with troughs and crests. At times, you could be on crests, but assuming that from there, she shall go on bigger crests does not land well.
Life must be dealt with flexibility and paying gratitude are the two lessons Shweta taught me. Her idea to not endorse fairness creams well settled with me, as that reflects her ideology to break stereotypes and pave the way for flexibility towards beauty.
The Rise20 event conducted by ISB indeed ended, but it left behind the imprints of cravings of societal balance, the impact of empathy, and the outcry of consequences of stereotypes we have made to the very community from where all the life started. I wish that through this blog, I’m able to inspire educated people like me to ponder over such situations where we could improve to respect women in our life, and not stereotype them or question their capability.
The rules of the patriarchal society are so deep-seated in us that we sometimes forget the way we objectify. And thus, a bit of emotional quotient needs to be developed for the people we judge. And believe me, once we start coming out of this cocoon of prejudices, we could gallop through the highways of prosperity, smiling down at those hitches of stereotypes and judgments that we used to have.
I wish people read this big article and give a thought!