‘Muslim Women Can Positively Impact Indian Indicators’
Harvard graduate Ruha Shadab, who founded India’s first leadership incubator for Indian Muslim women, spells out her journey and the reasons for keeping her venture community- and gender-specific
Before launching my own venture, I wore several hats. As an academician, I completed my Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University; as a policy maker, I was associated with NITI Aayog; and as a frontline health professional with Clinton Health Access Initiative. Amid all this, I looked for a respectful and inclusive economic model that can eliminate entry and retention barriers for underrepresented women.
There are two million Muslim women in India with graduate degrees, yet very few Muslim women leaders. A dearth of role models and customized programs sensitive to the unique struggles of these women could account for a lack of C-suite success stories. While education is an important ingredient in climbing professional ladders, it does not always translate into success.
That is when I thought of LedBy, a leadership incubator designed to help Indian Muslim women. Indian Muslim women comprise a massive community of 100 million strength and if we happen to tap into their potential, we can really move the needle on a host of indicators everything from poverty, male female ratio, female labour force participation rate etc.
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Our challenge was how one makes these women contribute to the Indian growth story equivalent to their potentials, aspirations, ambition and aptitude. We set our goal in transforming Indian Muslim women’s education into empowerment by providing them with real-life career skills, a supportive ecosystem, and access to the right opportunities and networks.
When we started we had no idea what the market would be like. There was no data on Indian Muslim women. We conducted about 1,000 interviews. During the interactions, I discovered a trend irrespective of region or religion. Most women said, ‘I am thankful to my husband for letting me do this’; ‘Oh I didn’t want to study but my husband encouraged me’; or ‘Thanks to the men in my family.. However not one man said to me, “Thanks to my wife…” I found that mentality a little troubling.
India is a super diverse country and that is 100 percent our strength but we do realize as well that people sometimes do need targeted intervention in terms of the support that they have. As a doctor you don’t give the same medicine to every patient even though every patient may be feeling sick. None of this is unheard of. We all know that the reality of a Muslim and Hindu in India is different although they are culturally so similar and citizens of the same country.
There is up skilling in our programme but it is more than that. Here we are understanding that soft skill is more than just getting their English right. Soft skills is about understanding the other person, being empathetic, understanding their underlying interests, language being secondary. The level and the curriculum of our incubation is avant-garde. We are creating a group of likeminded ambitious Indian Muslim women.
People talk about women from different communities needing our programme. I agree that Muslim women are not the only ones who need this programme. However, I don’t want to dilute the curriculum. But I am more than happy to share all the programming and strategy with anyone who wants to set up a LedBy for any community that needs it. My goal is to have the best programme and then share it across communities and continue to contextualize and customize it.
My message to Muslim women is: Dream Big. Dream different from what you have been taught about your place in a family. I won’t say you can do it because it is a very privileged way of saying it. There are people who because of their backgrounds do not have the access and money to make it big but to dream big and to actively look for supporters, sponsors and mentors is really important. I must reiterate that the big bad world that we are taught about is not that bad after all.
As Told To Mamta Sharma