Empowered women are best change agents, says philanthropist Zarina Screwvala

You have been engaged in philanthropy for so many years now — what are some of the biggest issues you have observed trouble the rural population …
Written by Prerna Mittra | New Delhi | October 15, 2020 10:50:48 am

International Day of Rural Women, philanthropist Zarina Screwvala, Zarina Screwvala interview, Swades Foundation, rural India, women empowerment, indian express newsZarina says both men and women need to understand they have a valuable role to play in the world. (Source: PR handout)

For many years now, Zarina Screwvala — co-founder of Swades Foundation — has been working for the upliftment of rural life in the country, especially that of women and children. Through her foundation — that works to empower lives by covering four key areas, namely health and nutrition, education, water and sanitation, and economic development — she and her husband Ronnie Screwvala have been striving to make a difference at the grassroots, by teaming up with full-time staff members and community volunteers, to cover 2500-plus villages in the country.

On the occasion of International Day of Rural Women, Zarina interacted with indianexpress.com to highlight key problems plaguing our villages, its women and young girls, and how empowering them can bring about economic stability in the country, among other things.


You have been engaged in philanthropy for so many years now — what are some of the biggest issues you have observed trouble the rural population of the country, especially women?

We believe in and work for empowered village communities, allowing all members to live a life of dignity. All means all: women, men, children, youth and the elderly. We believe the work must be sustainable and scalable; but change happens one village at a time. At our foundation, we all work for one dream — to create a model of rural empowerment that can lift a million people out of poverty every five years. An almost impossible dream, but one we deeply believe in and work for every day.

We also observed poverty is not just material but also mental, manifesting as a lack of hope, aspiration for a better life for themselves and their families. This mental poverty is a critical blockage to any kind of change, resulting in forced migration to ill-equip cities where their conditions are perhaps worse than in the village.

Wealth in the hands of women ensures not just economic stability to the family, but it also ensures that children complete education. A woman’s role in uplifting her family is not appreciated. She may be doing the work in the fields, looking after the buffaloes and cows, walking miles for water, but she has no idea of her own worth and nor do the others in the family.

One of our planned Dream Villages ⁦@WeAreSwades⁩ -in Poladpur block Raighad -where our school was totally damaged post cyclone and entire village got together to re build it brick by brick – Their Dream Their Village – and thanks to the District Admin for sanctioning grants pic.twitter.com/jP3jw2Su7u

— Ronnie Screwvala (@RonnieScrewvala) October 1, 2020

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What are the pre-conditions for the betterment, development and empowerment of rural women?

At Swades, we believe every life is valuable and has something to contribute. And that barriers to overall development, especially that of girls and women, are not that obvious to most. You have to know your community, love and respect them before they open out to you. And this is what we have done for 20 years and more — especially in the last six years. And the learnings have been rich and varied:

Women can only earn a living if they have water in/near their house. When we first went to our villages, we wanted to work on girls’ schooling. The villagers laughed and said their daughters had to fetch water for almost two hours a day. We decided to work on water. It was life-changing; the girls started going to school. Women started growing a second crop, started poultry, goat rearing, dairy, stitching and a host of micro-businesses.

Every woman must have a toilet in her home. When we first started going to our villages 20 years ago, we met women who went to the loo in the open fields before sunrise and then after sunset! They got bitten by snakes, developed kidney issues and urinary tract infections. Girls did not attend secondary school, because there was no safe place for them to go to the loo. By building 23,813 toilets, we have been able to protect women from rural Raigad.

Women must attend village meetings. When we first entered our villages only men attended community meetings; within two years we had equal numbers of men and women. Their regular attendance has empowered the village committees. Tribal women from Dharechiwadi, Poladpur, banned the sale and purchase of illegal alcohol in their village. They recognised alcohol menace as the biggest problem in their village’s development.

Empowered women are the best change agents. “Because women can manage poverty, they can manage development best” — this is what Sir Fazle Hasan Abed told Ronnie and me when we visited him and his amazing organisation BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee). I was starstruck and asked for a picture with him!

Rural or urban, women in our country have to struggle with basic rights, safety and dignity in the society…

We are a patriarchal society. And thousands of years of societal thought is hard to change. It’s the mental attitude that needs to change. In the villages we serve in rural Maharashtra, we see a lot of hope, we see families struggle to enable their girls to go to school. As soon as water comes to their villages, the girls are in school.

What have been your personal struggles vis-a-vis your foundation and the humanitarian work you do?

I have been fortunate that my struggles are related to my own deficiencies, not because I’m a woman. I come from a supportive family and have a supportive husband. I think right from day one, my parents never made me feel less valued, my school principal (Shirin Darasha of J.B. Petit Girls High School) was an inspirational firebrand and made us all feel valued.

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Can you explain the structure of Swades Foundation?

Swades nurtures our dream of uplifting one million rural lives out of poverty every five years. We implement a 360 degree holistic model of rural development which addresses four key needs of rural communities: water and sanitation, health, education and livelihoods. These lay the foundations for strong and self-sustaining rural communities.

Community members are empowered to make their own village development plans and Swades facilitates the interventions. We ensure community participation by small contributions or through shramdaan (voluntary labour). This, along with strong village development committees, is our approach to ensure sustainability once we exit the villages.

We believe true impact is not just in numbers but also when we are able to remove the mental poverty and change it to a can-do attitude.

Our strength is 90 per cent of our full-time staff of 270 people, who work directly at the grassroots. Another 1,000 are community volunteers making us a strong execution foundation impacting over 5.5 lakh population today in 2500+ villages.

How big of a support is your husband in all your social and humanitarian endeavours?

He is not a mere support, he is working with me and our fabulous team of 1,300 people, to make our impossible dream come true!

As equal partners, what can men do to make life easier for women?

Both men and women could begin by understanding that we each have a valuable role, a place in the world. We need to create a space to blossom. We are equal but different. Respecting this, we can make everyone’s life better.

Any advice for the women in our country who are reading this?

Believe in yourself, in your own self-worth and dignity. We have much to bring to the world. Find out your role and be that. Don’t let anyone stop you. I also recommend being like water that is a force no one can stop. If we are hard and stone-like we can be stopped in our journey. But water always flows. A river always finds its way to the ocean.

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[Matrix Moments] Bhavin Turakhia on his learnings from building and exiting four companies

In this episode of Matrix Moments podcast, Tarun Davda, Managing Director, Matrix Partners India, discusses with Bhavin Turakhia on his journey of …

Bhavin Turakhia is the Founder and CEO of Flock, Co-founder & CEO at Zeta, and Founder of Radix Registry. He started up at the age of 17 when he co-founded his first tech venture Directi with his brother Divyank Turakhia. Directi owned brands like BigRock, LogicBoxes, ResellerClub, and webhosting.info.

In 2014, he exited and sold all four companies to Endurance group, a NASDAQ listed web hosting, firm for $160 million. His neo-banking venture Zeta is valued at $300 million.

Over the last 21 years, Bhavin has built five successful businesses, all driven by his passion for problem solving and maximising efficiency through tech driven innovations.

In this episode, Tarun Davda, MD at Matrix India, spoke to Bhavin about his early love for coding and his journey as a serial entrepreneur. Incidentally, Tarun also happened to work with Bhavin as GM and Business Head at BigRock, close to a decade ago.

To take funding or not?

Talking to Tarun, Bhavin says, “In terms of at least the first company that I co-founded, I did not actually raise any funds. In fact, with Flock, Zeta and with Radix, I have funded the initial stages myself. I don’t think there’s one secret formula for success or one definitive path. It only goes to sort of prove that there are actually no constraints. Sometimes people think of funding as a constraint, and sometimes they think of idea as a constraint. I have always believed that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.”

He adds that he had the opportunity to start companies in different industries and sectors, which he knew nothing about before he started. Bhavin says he also had no formal education – whether payments or enterprise communication or web hosting.

“Each time we picked a particular space, we approached it from first principles, learnt everything that we could or needed to about that space. And then we built an amazing business around it. Just the courage, the mental resilience, and the attitude of being able to do so is sort of derived from that single powerful statement that I always believed – that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”

The early love for coding

Bhavin and his brother Divyank had humble beginnings and were living with their parents in Mumbai.

Bhavin says, while his father would compromise on several luxuries for himself, he would spend a lot of money on buying books for the brothers.

“We had tons of books about pretty much every subject. And throughout my schooling, I remember we used to have a standard curriculum where we would have various subjects – Maths, Science, Physics, etc. But over and above that, my dad would go out and buy five other books by different authors on each of these subjects,” says Bhavin.

It is a habit that holds good even today as Bhavin reads close to three books in a month.

Bhavin got his first computer in 1980 when he was 10, and his father had got him close to 40 books on programming. Bhavin says he would spend all his free time – short breaks and lunch breaks – on the books.

“We could not afford a computer back at home. And so, the computer teacher at school would leave the keys to the computer room with me. I would spend two to three hours every day after school learning to write different software programs,” says Bhavin.

One of the things they had to do in school was build computer projects twice year. It was part of the ICSE curriculum. And most people would spend a couple of days building some tiny applications.

Building early 

“I spent six months on my project building this really comprehensive game concerning sort of business and the stock markets. And it had background music, graphics, and lot of interesting stages. I really spent all my time on computer science in many ways. It also helped as it was a boys only school. No other distraction,” recollects Bhavin.

Moving ahead in his journey of starting up, Bhavin says, the internet came to India around 1994 with VSNL being the sole ISP for several years.

“I was really fascinated by the concept of being able to transmit data across the world at pretty much zero cost,” explains Bhavin.

It was during this time he started writing code, building software, and doing some consulting for people by building basic websites. And then he started out by building what was disaster in terms of success.

“I built this entire equivalent of a job site in early ’96,” says Bhavin. He says he did not make much in terms of sales, but the product was way ahead of its time.

“I actually over built and over engineered a product, which really would not function very well until the internet penetration in the country was substantially higher than what it was,” says Bhavin.

He adds, “I have learnt a lot from realising that go to market is more important in many cases, and the whole notion of building an MVP and lessons around that. But then I started off with this notion of the most fundamental product that anybody would need on the internet is if they want to set up web presence, they will need hosting space.”

Listen to the podcasts: 

Podcast 1

Podcast 2

Big Interview With Rajan Anandan | ET NOW Exclusive

Watch this Big Interview with Sequoia Capital Managing Director Rajan Anandan to ET NOW’s Nayantara Rai. These and many more insights from the …

Watch this Big Interview with Sequoia Capital Managing Director Rajan Anandan to ET NOW’s Nayantara Rai. These and many more insights from the Xoogler and one of India’s most respected and renowned stakeholder from the tech and startup universe. What you’re seeing in Indian fintech is still a trailer; the movie is yet to come. India’s digital lending will be the most advanced in the world in 4-5 years. Sundar Pichai has written to the US Govt wanting to do a Google version of UPI. Digital micro lending is going to explode with Open Credit Enabling Network announced by Nandan Nilekani. It will democratize it and be the UPI moment for micro lending.Bharat Health Stack will do to healthcare what UPI did to payments.Every successful startup has nearly 4-6 instances of near death experience, says Rajan Anandan

8.5 Million Infosys Shares Sold By Infosys Co-Founder’s Family

A quick backdrop: Shibulal along with NR Narayana Murthy and five others founded Infosys in 1981. Shibulal served as the chief executive officer and …
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A quick backdrop: Shibulal along with NR Narayana Murthy and five others founded Infosys in 1981. Shibulal served as the chief executive officer and managing director of Infosys from 2011-2014. Prior to becoming CEO and MD, he served as the chief operating officer of the IT Giant in 2007-11. Infosys Limited, is an Indian multinational corporation that provides business consulting, information technology and outsourcing services. The company is headquartered in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. Infosys is the second-largest Indian IT company after Tata Consultancy Services by 2017 revenue figures and the 596th largest public company in the world based on revenue.On 29 March 2019, its market capitalisation was $46.52 billion.

Co-founder S.D. Shibulal and Family

Infosys Ltd co-founder S.D. Shibulal and family have sold 8.5 million shares or 0.20% of their paid-up share capital in the company, during 22– 24 July. The sale was executed by Citigroup Global Markets India Pvt. Ltd as the sole broker. The names of the family members selling stake is unknown. Data showed SD Shibulal held 17,65,768 shares or 0.4 per cent stake in Infosys as of June 30. Kumari Shibulal, his wife, held another 0.25 per cent stake, son Shreyas Shibulal 0.66 percent and daughter Shruti Shibulal owned 0.06 per cent stake at the end of June quarter. Grandson Milan owned 0.36 percent of Infosys, son-in law Gaurav Manchanda (0.36 per cent) and daughter-in-law Bhairavi Madhusudan Shibulal (0.15 per cent), data showed.

But why an abrupt offload of the company’s stock even if it means a tiny portion of their overall ownership. There’s nothing to worry about.

Why were the shares sold?

“Proceeds from the partial stake monetization will be utilized for a combination of philanthropic and investment activities,” Shibulal’s family office said in a statement. The Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives has been involved in various social initiatives especially in the education, social welfare, and sustainable development space since 2005-06. Currently, Shubilal also invests in technology startups through Axilor Ventures where Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan is the chairman.

Infosys’ recent-past’s performance

Last week, Infosys posted a 11.5 per cent year-on-year (YoY) growth in net profit at Rs 4,233 crore for theJune quarter compared with Rs 3,798 crore in the corresponding quarter last year. The numbers beat ET NOW poll projection of Rs 3,820 crore by a wide margin.

Consolidated revenue of the company increased 8.5 per cent YoY to Rs 23,665 crore in Q1FY21, over Rs 21,803 crore in the same period last year. The IT major has projected FY21 revenue growth guidance in the 0-2 percent range in constant currency terms.

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‘Naagin 5’: Dheeraj Dhoopar to play a shape-shifting serpent in the supernatural show

There have been a lot of buzz about the star cast of the show. Actor Dheeraj Dhoopar has confirmed that he will be playing a shape-shifting serpent in ‘ …

Image Source – Instagram

Ekta Kapoor is all set to bring back ‘Naagin 5’ and the announcement was made by the TV czarina herself. Fans are excited about the fifth instalment and they are eagerly waiting for the show to go on air soon. There have been a lot of buzz about the star cast of the show.

Actor Dheeraj Dhoopar has confirmed that he will be playing a shape-shifting serpent in ‘Naagin 5’. Confirming this to Mumbai Mirror, Dheeraj said, “‘Naagin’ has emerged as a big brand and I didn’t think twice before giving my nod. I am a fan of the hot Naagin ladies.. my favourite part of the show is watching them dance.”

While talking about the challenges to play a shape-shifting serpent, Dheeraj said, “It’s going to be challenging because I have only played normal, human characters till now. Also, for a VFX-heavy show like Naagin, you have to pretend act with props, which are later enhanced or replaced on the edit table,so that will be new.”

View this post on Instagram

Occasionally, I give a damn.

A post shared by Dheeraj Dhoopar (@dheerajdhoopar) on Jul 24, 2020 at 4:12am PDT

The official Twitter handle of Colors TV had shared a new promo where a shape-shifting serpent seems to be looking like Hina Khan. Her face was covered with a black serpent. The tweet read: “Badle ki iss jung mein, Brinda ke saamne aane wala hai ek naya chehera! Kya hoga iss chehere ke peeche chupa hua raaz? Watch the new episodes of #Naagin: Bhagya Ka Zehreela Khel, Saturday, 25th July at 8 PM, & Sunday 28th July at 7 PM, only on #Colors. Anytime on @justvoot”

Badle ki iss jung mein, Brinda ke saamne aane wala hai ek naya chehera! Kya hoga iss chehere ke peeche chupa hua raaz?

Watch the new episodes of #Naagin: Bhagya Ka Zehreela Khel, Saturday, 25th July at 8 PM, & Sunday 28th July at 7 PM, only on #Colors.

Anytime on @justvoot. pic.twitter.com/Va3EvZXWZo

— COLORS (@ColorsTV) July 24, 2020

For more updates on ‘Naagin 5’, stay tuned to this space.

Also Read: ‘Naagin 5’: Is this Hina Khan as a shape-shifting serpent in this new promo?