By: Munira Khalif, U.S. Youth Observer to the UN 2017-2018
Two State Department program alumni Aprajita Verma & Sampriti Mukherjee, and Shaheen Advocate Sultana Begum, met with Munira during her recent trip to Hyderabad, India.
I arrived in Hyderabad, India in the evening. But even in the obscurity of darkness, I could make out the brightly colored signs welcoming delegates to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). With the significant time difference, I was very much awake and ready to take on the coming week.
Leading up to the summit, I met with the leaders of various female leaded enterprises - from a technology company to a women’s empowerment organization. This year’s theme at GES was “Women First; Prosperity for All” – championing the notion that the economic empowerment of women not only advances individual lives but transforms communities and nations.
Alongside two local graduate students and alumni of a US State Department exchange program, we began by visiting the Shaheen Women Resource & Welfare Association. Founded in 2002, the organization works tirelessly in Hyderabad to address gender inequity for women who come from under-served or marginalized communities. Shaheen provides a wide-range of programming from vocational training to legal counsel to leadership development.
We had the opportunity to hear from the women who had participated in Shaheen’s programming and they spoke of the variety of barriers that they faced from gender-based violence to challenges in completing their education. In sitting down with the founder Jameela Nishat, an activist and poet, I asked what Shaheen meant. She said that Shaheen is a bird that is limitless—that can soar to great heights. “Shaheen” was not a just name, but a promise to address the issues that kept women within the community from realizing their full potential.
Listening to a presentation on Shaheen’s work.
Clothing embroidered and crafted by the Women of Shaheen through vocational training offered.
In speaking with the women of Shaheen, there was an unmistakable value placed on Shaheen’s efforts to economically empower women. Ms. Nishat said economic empowerment is the first step towards liberation—towards finding your voice and becoming a key decision-maker within your community. The most powerful component of Shaheen’s work is the obvious ripple effect and potent cycle of empowerment set forth. This wasn’t simply about changing the lot of one woman but generations of women.
Pictured with Shaheen founder Jameela Nishat.
The following day we visited with the leaders of a virtual reality company entitled Merxius. Co-founded by Vaishali Neotia and Hasan Ali Khan—Merxius works to democratize access to virtually reality, so that every day people can utilize this powerful technology.
Pictured with Merxius’s co-founders Vaishali Neotia and Hasan Ali Khan.
I had the opportunity to test out the technology myself. With the help of a virtual reality headset and controller—I was transported into a completely different world. In one stimulation, I was placed into a garage with an engine. There I could disassemble and interact with the engine. In another stimulation, I was able to tour the interior of a house. CEO and alumnus of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Vaishali Neotia spoke to me about her experiences navigating entrepreneurship as a woman and the barriers that still exist for female entrepreneurs. She spoke at great length about the unequal division of labor within the home that can often stunt the progression of women entrepreneurs. In addition, she touched on the importance of representation and role-models for young women breaking into the tech industry in reference to the mentors who have helped her along the way.
Trying out Merxius virtual reality technology.
My visits to Shaheen and Merxius served as powerful testaments to the transformative nature of investing in women and ensuring that all people are economically empowered. It is only then that communities and countries can move forward and secure prosperity for all people.
Part II about my trip to the Global Engagement Summit in India – Coming Soon!