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BW Women: Creating An Equal World

Frequent interactions with poor women further convinced me that access to financial services have tremendous potential to change their social and cultural context, in addition to their economic situation

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The journey from small town Ludhiana to becoming the CEO of well-known development organisation has been quite interesting. Initially, I did not plan on helping create a world of equal opportunity as one of my life goals. Instead, I pursued B.A. from Panjab University followed by an MBA from IIM Bangalore.

After marriage, I settled in Seattle, Washington where my husband was pursuing his Ph.D. I decided to take up a course in International Studies thinking it will add an extra dimension to my MBA degree. But I realised I was drawn more to the courses related to women’s issues, particularly in developing countries.

I started as a volunteer with Grameen Foundation, a leading NGO promoting access to financial services for the poor, especially women. I eventually got a job with the same organisation in the US. Over the years, I got to experience a range of challenges and responsibilities. In particular, I was given charge of our Pakistan projects which allowed me to travel and interact with people from Pakistan. The experience broadened my world view.

About six years ago, Grameen Foundation made plans to establish a company in India and I took the opportunity to return home to India. I was given free hand to set up the organisation that enabled me to create a culture that embodies the best of the east and the west.

Despite several challenges, I chose to work in the field of financial inclusion, ensuring that poor and underserved households, especially women have better access to financial services that allow them to invest in businesses, educate their children, save for retirement, and insure their families and businesses against risk. I strongly believe that taking ownership of finances gives a woman the power to handle her equation with her family. It helps unlock a woman’s potential.

In addition, my frequent interactions with poor women further convinced me that access to financial services have tremendous potential to change their social and cultural context, in addition to their economic situation.

Kusum’s story is one such example. Kusum understands the value of saving for the future. Her family supported itself by selling vegetables in Northern India. When her husband fell ill and she had to take care of him, they didn’t earn a steady income for four months. Thankfully, an earlier loan from a microfinance institution, we work with, had enabled them to expand their business. The increased income meant they were able to save more money. Currently my work at Grameen Foundation is focused on unlocking the potential of technology, particularly the mobile phone, for poor women. Each day we create ideas and design solutions so women like Kusum have a wider choice of convenient, accessible and affordable financial services.

Finally, as they say behind every successful woman is her loving family. My family has been a huge source of support and inspiration as I have taken on increasingly demanding roles and responsibilities. My husband has celebrated every achievement of my career and my mother-in-law has cheerfully shared the responsibility of raising two young children. They have made the journey possible and enjoyable. I feel immensely blessed and wish that other women get a similar support and love from their families to fulfil their dreams.

BW starts a column by global thought leaders on success in careers and at the workplace. The author is CEO of Grameen Foundation India

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Chandni Ohri

The author is CEO of Grameen Foundation India

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