There are some people in this world born to make a difference and my next Fabulous Females interviewee is one of them. At the tender age of 23, Suhani Jalota, the founder and CEO of the Myna Mahila Foundation has already achieved more than most do in a lifetime.
Living in the Western world there are many things as women we take for granted that others in less developed countries are denied. One such item is the humble sanitary pad.
Menstruation is an unavoidable part of female life, but in India it is a taboo topic and girls and women are considered impure, polluted and dirty during their periods. As a result of the stigma and shame associated with menstruation, 320 million women in India do not have access to sanitary pads and this has far reaching hygiene complications. For many of us worldwide not only is this scenario unbelievable but it is quite frankly untenable.
For the last six years, alongside schooling, Suhani has been working hands-on with women in Mumbai’s slums and in India’s rural communities to turn this situation around. The foundation provides access to menstrual hygiene information and products to more than 10,000 women every month at their doorstep.
This has brought Suhani worldwide acclaim and awards aplenty. Notably but not exclusively, she is a Queen’s Young Leader 2017 representing India and the Myna Mahila Foundation is one of only seven charities chosen to benefit from donations marking the wedding between Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle.
Suhani is an inspirational role model for our teens and young adults and sharing her story with my own teens provoked a period of stunned silence that comes from teens being in awe and an interesting debate.
It is difficult not to feel humbled by Suhani’s achievements to date and there is little doubt that she is a young woman to watch in the future. I hope you enjoy her story.
- Who is your role model?
I owe a lot of what I have learnt, the way I think and approach challenges, and what I have done with Myna Mahila Foundation to my inspiration, idol, and mentor, Dr. Jockin Arputham. I met the women through him for the first time a couple years ago, and since then have observed, learnt and followed a lot of his ways of mobilizing communities and being able to get work done in the most unlikely situations. He has singlehandedly improved the lives of millions worldwide, and dreams of creating a world with less poverty and more beauty. I am here to complete this mission.
- What motivates you?
Women’s potential. Women have so much potential that goes untouched, which could change the world. It shows how much can be done and what there is left to do!
- What are the values you hold dearest in life?
Be happy, nice and humble. Treat others the way you want to be treated!
- What has been your biggest challenge so far & how did you overcome it?
Too many challenges – we don’t have an experienced team and the issue isn’t obvious to tackle. It took us a while to understand how to go about breaking down the problems to select the biggest pain point to tackle. These pain points also differ between communities. Where access to products was a problem, we started delivering at the door-step, but where affordability was a problem we started to incentivize saving schemes that could help them save for pads and invest in their own health.
- What is your proudest moment?
On Women’s Day this year we launched our Sponsor A Girl campaign and invited 16 girls and their families to a workshop we were leading for the first time. It was a gamble for us, but we had been surveying girls for four months and had a list of 1,200 needy girls who needed support. After years of planning the survey, months of executing it, we saw the first pilot work at the event with the first cohort of girls to be given free menstrual hygiene kits. It was a special time for the whole team who saw their efforts in practice.
- What motto do you live by?
No one motto. There are many I can resonate with, but won’t be married to them every day.
- What advice would you give to your teenage self?
Open yourself emotionally and let yourself be vulnerable! Its okay, things will work out, but you need to have some fun.
- Who gave you the best advice and what was it?
My mother gives me the best advice. When nothing seems to work out and I am disappointed or dejected, she never consoles me. That was the time I needed to pull myself together and be stronger than ever before. She always said that life is all about responding to challenges, not the challenges themselves. And the power to decide how to respond is yours only.
- How would your friends describe you?
Passionate, hyper, impatient, gullible, talkative, determined.
- What makes you laugh out loud?
Talking Tom! (app)
- What does being a modern woman mean to you?
Being modern connotes with confidence and defiance, although many women in the past shared those attributes as well. The only difference is that now more women are able to come out and speak their hearts out and show their true personalities. Still, millions of women face oppression to speak up, but had they been given the opportunity and the standing to speak up, they would have symbolized what an image of a modern woman stands for. A balanced woman who works at home and outside.
- What would be your desert island essential?
- What makes you feel fabulous?
Being around my parents and grandparents. They bring out the best in me and make me feel like the only princess in the world.
- In your own words – “A fabulous female is…..
…one who can inspire other women and men to change something in their world.”
If like me you are inspired by Suhani’s ambition and would like to follow her story further you can find her here:
Business: Myna Mahila Foundation
Twitter : @MynaMahila
Suhani’s Accolades & Achievements: She is compelled by women’s stories and has given a TEDx talk at Duke University, titled “How to repurpose activist energy to govern” about the women who stood up to take charge of their own lives. Most recently, she was involved in evaluation projects with IDinsight, an independent research organization, UNICEF and Department of Education in the Philippines for sanitation programs. In the past few years, Suhani has worked in the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and several cities in India. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Global Health from Duke University, Durham, USA. Her Economics Honors Thesis topic was looking at the effect of slum redevelopment on child health outcomes, particularly stunting, as rapid urbanization calls for policies that keep people healthy and safe.
At Duke University, she was a Baldwin Scholar, a women’s four year leadership program, and a Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurship Fellow 2016 to start the Myna Mahila Foundation. She was the Commencement Speaker at the Global Health Graduation Ceremony and has won and participated in several social entrepreneurship competitions, such as the mHealth @ Duke Shark tank competition, STEAM Challenge, Hult Prize Competition, and the Mass Accelerator Challenge. Her work with Myna has been featured in Glamour Magazine, TIME Magazine, Huffington Post, Vogue and BBC, among others.