Persephone Pioneers

Kavita Ramdas: An Extraordinary Leader

It’s not every day that you get the chance to meet someone who is an inspiration to turn your life upside down and chase your dreams of making the world a better place. Several months ago, I did just that when I was virtually introduced to Kavita Ramdas by her cousin, who’s a close friend of mine. Kavita is a scholar, mother, advocate, and innovator. She is an international leader in the struggle for women’s rights and social change who has been on the front lines for the whole of her professional career with a passion for feminism since childhood.

Kavita Ramdas

Born in India as one of three daughters, she learned early on that women were not regarded equally. Her aunt lost her husband at an early age, which following tradition, meant that she was subjected to horrible treatment. Kavita’s father, being the youngest brother, was powerless to stop it. This experience marked the beginning of what would become a life dedicated to changing the rules which men and women live by in the world.

Kavita went on to get her education at Delhi University, Mount Holyoke College, and the Woodrow Wilson School for International Affairs at Princeton University, where she earned her M.P.A. and positioned herself as an advocate for women worldwide. She worked as the CEO of the Global Fund for Women from 1996-2010, where she grew the assets seven-fold, increasing opportunities for women to get access to grants in more than 170 countries. Her leadership created programs like the “Now or Never Fund” and the Africa Outreach Initiative, which provided funding to help women’s reproductive health issues, address religious extremism, and sustain communities.

Kavita with Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law summer fellows.

Currently, she’s piloting a project out of Stanford University as the Executive Director of Ripples to WavesProgram on Social Entrepreneurship, which aims to connect social entrepreneurs from around the world with students as part of the curriculum. The idea behind this and the name “Ripples to Waves,” is that small actions taken by members of a community will create change on a larger scale. The program invites a total of eight entrepreneurs each year, four in the spring and four in the fall, who are working on projects that are making an active difference in their community. They will work with students and create case studies that look at the projects’ challenges and their viability. The hope is that there will be value for the practitioners who take part as they’re exposed to new perspectives, networking opportunities, and potential investors.

Kavita speaking at TEDIndia in 2009

At the root of all the work Kavita is doing with her pilot project is one thing: Gender equality. Her timing couldn’t be more relevant as she says:

According to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control, that  one out of four women have been beaten and one out of five is sexually assaulted. You educate women, you give them opportunities, then you beat the crap out of them, you rape them and you continue to treat them as lesser human beings.

By working with social entrepreneurs who are responding to needs in society for more stable democracy, access to health services, information, education, and giving a voice to those who are marginalized, the world becomes safer for everyone, especially women.

Kavita has worked with activists the world over and says:

Many women activists believe violence against women will get worse before it gets better. The movement isn’t against men, but against a system that has given men more power. They’ve conned themselves into thinking the only way to be happy is to be dominant in power. This is a scary time for men. Advances in technology make it so that a woman can go to a sperm bank and decide when, how, and with whom she wants to have a baby. At a time when jobs are less dependent on physical strength, talk about a fear of not being relevant.

Her passion and her work are incredible gifts to the international community; she is an inspiration and evidence that everyone can help change

Global Fund for Women Gala

the world. You know what that means? You can help, too (yay!)! If, like me, you’re all inspired now and want to help make a difference, here’s what you can do:

  • Share information: shout it from the mountain tops, or just tweet and post on Facebook, all of that good social media stuff and get the word out. You never know who might see it and have the perfect way to help, which is key for the participants in the social entrepreneurship program.
  • Take the idea to your university with student support and ask for similar projects to start in your school. Imagine the possibilities!
  • Funding: you can sponsor a social entrepreneur to take part in the program for $15,000.
  • Support practitioners who are on campus by getting them involved in the community with things like speaking engagements, invitations to networking events, or introducing them to people who can help.

As Kavita continues her work to create a more equal society, especially for women, we can all do something. As she says, “If we stand in a line, someone always has to be first or last, but if we stand in a circle, no one does.” We have to work together to make change happen and to see advances in women’s rights.

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