A young girl selected from Chennai for the 1st Global edition of Young Change makers programme of Ashoka Innovators for the Public, Disha Shah now dreams of seeing others like her as tomorrow’s change makers and decision-makers, who do not have to depend on anybody else with regard to their matters related to finance. In an interview to DC, the 19-year-old speaks on her journey from school to becoming a budding entrepreneur.
“I have always been an entrepreneur in my approach to life since my school days when I would make products and sell them”, says Disha. I also used to take up leadership roles in school— I donned the cap of captain, cultural secretary, so I am accustomed to taking responsibility and leading teams. What actually got me thinking was Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’, where she talks about how, despite having all the privileges/ opportunities, women do not get to make it to leadership simply because they are women.”
And through that insight Disha started looking at ways to bridge the gap between women’s ambitions and finally becoming a leader. Disha’s pilot project, Inner Goddess, aims at improving the financial literacy rate in women.
“At the end of the workshops, I do a 10-min activity on personal finance. I included that activity because I have always been a saver and I know the importance of financial independence. I also initiated ‘If you had all the money’, where the participants have to answer the question. Activities like these can help them to ask for a raise at workplace without fear. Girls would say things like ‘I would start up my own company, I would run my own NGO, or travel the world’. Although the entire workshop is about imparting leadership and skill development training, the take away from this session is that whatever you learn from here cannot be applied, unless women are given financial security first.”
The young social entrepreneur now wants to focus on three areas where she feels not much has been done. “Women need to be a part of the conversation on their retirement years. No matter how much saving they have, that will never be enough, considering inflation. When we see ads on mutual funds and investment, how many women do we get to see in those ads?” asks Disha. “We need to involve more women and increase their financial literacy rate. Another problem women face is wage gap. And there are many women who do not actually get the maternity leave benefits and the reason could be the establishment does not come under the Act, they work in unorganised sectors etc.”
Disha is currently working on building a platform that will make investment and other financial tools and instruments much easier for women. “In terms of tech and finance, the world has advanced, but women have just not been a part of the conversation. It has been sold only to one gender,” exclaims Disha.
Disha’s Big Sister programme is a non-profit mentorship where she has 18-26 age group women come and teach young girls subjects like Math and English. The name Big Sister really lives upto its name.
“We want these young girls to have an ambition. I have realised the importance of mentors in life, and underprivileged girls do not have the access to good mentors”, she says. “First they need to have an ambition so that they will gradually work towards achieving it and that is possible only with proper guidance. This programme is a great opportunity for the women volunteers too who can gain a handsome experience throughout the workshops”.
Disha has conducted workshops in institutions across Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. The budding talent is now pursuing computer engineering from SRM university. “I know the future is computers and if I want to develop anything as an entrepreneur, I should not have to depend on anyone and should be able to build it myself. That’s why I chose computer science.”
“Ashoka Innovators has made a huge contribution to my journey. It has already created a family of social entrepreneurs and has been providing the resources. I am just trying to make the tiny impact on the world and aspiring for a better tomorrow,” says the humble girl.