When I see a woman today on Shadhika’s website, I resonate with her. She has big dreams, just like I had, and I was able to reach them. Maybe she needs some help, but I know she can go places if she has the right tools.
When She Leads: Kavita Biyani
June 21, 2021Reading Time: 6 minutes
This interview is part of our When She Leads: Donor Highlights collection. Learn more.
Kavita Biyani is a member of Shadhika’s monthly FundHer Donor Circle. She was interviewed by Development Coordinator Jenna Sweig. If you would like to become a monthly FundHer Donor, you can do so here.
Hi Kavita. Can you introduce yourself and tell us how you first got connected to Shadhika?
I am Kavita Biyani, and I live in Madison, Wisconsin with my husband and my two daughters. I moved to the United States in 2005, originally from Surat, India in Gujarat and I am a broker associate and realtor. In 2017, I met [former] President and CEO Kim Burnett. My husband and I were both very impressed that there was an organization here in the U.S. focused on some very core issues in India, and we knew we wanted to be involved as donors.
Why do you continue to give to Shadhika? How does the mission resonate with you?
I grew up in the Middle East but then I came to India where I finished high school, went to college, pursued my MBA in Finance, and then worked there in banking for some time. So, when I see a woman today on [Shadhika’s] website, I resonate with her. She has big dreams, just like I had, and I was able to reach them. Maybe she needs some help, but I know she can go places if she has the right tools. With India primarily being a patriarchal society, the girl child has always been at a disadvantage historically. When girls and boys are growing up in adolescence, boys tend to have more freedom when girls are just more restricted. Their ability to move freely, to work, to make choices, to study further, to marry or have social relationships, everything becomes restricted.
In Surat, Citi Bank was coming up just as I was finishing my MBA in Finance and I was selected to spearhead the branch in a relationship management role, but I was the only woman. I was clearly in the minority. I was not discriminated against, but I felt like I had to work twice as hard to be taken a little bit more seriously. It’s a much bigger shift that needs to happen, and maybe it has started in bigger cities in India, but there is still a long way to go in smaller towns.
Why do you think it is important to invest in young women as changemakers?
Gender equality. India as a nation is still a developing country, [t]here is no way that you can actually develop with[out it]. Shadhika doing what it does is a huge step in bridging that gap. [The young women themselves are] helping everyone else understand what their role in society is today. It’s not just about cooking and cleaning. It’s not just about taking care of the family. She’s not just supposed to be married off. They can be so much more, and they have so many role models not just in India but around the world [s]o that is why I think it is important to educate the young and give them the tools to forge their way forward. And I think that what Shadhika is doing is dealing with these core issues.
[Shadhika is] trying to empower young girls or women, because they are going to be the voices that cause this change. When she speaks, they listen. When she leads, change follows. [T]he change you see in her, and her family and the society around her is huge. Those ripple effects are what excites me the most. And so it makes me happy to contribute to this change.
What would you tell prospective donors about Shadhika and your experience as a donor?
I fully believe in the cause, that is why I am here. That is why we are talking so passionately about empowering young women. I am a mother of two daughters. And just like I have viewed my own mother as a role model, I want my girls to see me that way. My oldest daughter is 12, and she is at an age where she is learning so much from the world around her. I talk to them about Shadhika.
To prospective donors, one thing I might say is that transparency is what I was looking for in an organization, and there is so much of that in Shadhika. You have all of the stories that come up of what is being done, and with COVID nothing stopped. Everything went on, stronger than ever. I want my daughters to see that the world is not just some small bubble that they live in.
And in 2019, when we held a Shadhika fundraiser for my birthday, we were told that this will help a girl go to college for a couple of years. And I just thought, “Wow, we changed a life!” She is probably going to be able to go off and work now, like I was able to, and change the lives of the people around her. Everytime I see a girl on the Shadhika website, I think maybe it’s her! You see the results right there. This is not the type of organization that you donate to and forget about.
As a girl you grow up looking at how your mom is doing everything. The voice that I have now […] came from my mom. She is a very strong willed woman and she grew up in the [traditionally patriarchal] society in India. [Yet] she made sure that I was equal. I have an older brother and I never felt I was anything less than him. She always told me to pursue my dreams no matter what. She is definitely a role model for me.
And overall, when I look at the world, I see a lot of change, especially with regards to how a woman’s role is perceived at large in society and I hope to see that in India. All these women in their respective fields are just so strong, and I keep telling my girls, “You need to listen to what they say, see how they are in their professions. They all dream big, and they figured out how to achieve their dreams.”
Giving to Shadhika makes me believe that we are telling the young women of India the same thing: that they can dream big and work hard to achieve those dreams.