For those who know Chitra Rajeshwari through her work as Executive Director of Avasant Foundation or active involvement with IAOP’s Women Empowerment, Leadership and Diversity Chapter, it’s easy to see that she’s a natural champion for other women.
As such, Rajeshwari was the judging panel’s clear choice as the recipient of the Red Ladder award in the category of Women Empower Women at OWS2.0. Yet, she didn’t expect to be selected.
“There are so many wonderful women doing such amazing work and to be recognized and win the award was indeed surprising and humbling,” she says. “I have always enjoyed volunteering and helping others. After having had a successful career in the corporate sector I am now thoroughly enjoying the work I am doing at Avasant Foundation, the not-for-profit arm of Avasant. I can take the experience and skills I have gained and use them to do impactful work in the communities we serve. Being able to change the lives of vulnerable young adults gives me the greatest joy.”
Rajeshwari leads the development and implementation of Avasant Foundation’s mission through global initiatives to empower deserving youth through education, employment and entrepreneurship in the new digital economy. Under her leadership, Avasant Foundation has yielded fantastic results in projects across the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and the United States.
In nominating Rajeshwari, a colleague said, “Chitra’s amplification of women’s voices within Avasant and her support for capacity development and growth has distinguished her as the firm’s single greatest champion of women’s empowerment, moving diversity and inclusion from an abstract concept Avasant supports to a practical reality incorporated into the firm.”
PULSE talked with Rajeshwari about inspiring young women to dream big, how she finds balance in her life and the struggles women still face.
The WELD Chapter really has taken off since it was launched under your leadership – What do you want people to know about the Chapter and what are the future goals for the Chapter?
When the chapter began, it was more about helping women advance in their workplaces. Since then, our focus has expanded to include leadership and diversity. It is now a three-legged stool and each leg needs to support each other to be balanced. So, we renamed it WELD (Women Empowerment, Leadership and Diversity). Through the webinar series, we have been able to discuss important topics that are relevant to various verticals of the industry. We invite experts to participate and share their knowledge and insights on the chosen topics. During OWS2.0 we had a breakout session on Unconscious Bias, a topic that is so relevant today. These are the types of conversations that need to take place in offices across all sectors and geographies to empower women, discriminate against any biases and help women have opportunities to get into leadership roles.
We want the chapter to evolve and continue to discuss topics and challenges that women face every day in their workplace. Helping find solutions from within has a positive impact and paves the way for women to grow within the organization. We welcome new members who will come with new ideas and suggestions that will expand WELD to new heights.
Who are some of your role models?
There are a great many people whose accomplishments I respect. But it is the ordinary people who inspire me the most – people who are compassionate and do amazing acts of kindness in their communities, at schools and their workplaces. These may only be small gestures, but the impact is always tremendous. And these kinds of impacts and empathy go a long way in life.
What is the best advice you’ve received or advice that you give to others?
I was raised in a household where a lot of value was instilled in us, which helps me in my everyday life. There is no one “best” advice but the one that stays with me is: “Embrace change, as it is the only constant in life.”
Tell about the idea behind women empowering women – when should it start? What powerful results can it produce?
We must be role models for one another to uplift girls and women so they not only feel empowered but also can empower those within their homes and communities. This should start early. In organizations young women should be matched with mentors who will guide them to have their voices heard, to take on more responsibilities and help them to choose career paths that help them to get into leadership roles. Providing opportunities will result in women taking on more senior roles, joining more boards and being heard.
Is empowerment the same for women anywhere in the world?
I don’t think so, but I am optimistic that this will change. While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. Women are fighting for their rights. Look at Saudi Arabia where now women can drive!
Progress is occurring regarding harmful practices such as child marriage. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will benefit societies and humanity at large. Also implementing new legal frameworks regarding female equality in the workplace will have a huge impact on empowering women.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of the work I am currently doing with the Avasant Foundation helping inner communities’ youths to get into the workforce where we have a 75 to 35 percent ratio of females to males in our classroom. Watching them develop into confident young adults while in training is a wonderful thing to see. Through the job-related skills training program, we have paved the way for thousands of young adults to get into the workforce. We have helped them dream big so they too can have a brighter future.
Honestly, how do you do it all? You are such a role model and inspiring example. But how do you juggle work, family, personal interests? What do you enjoy doing outside work?
When you enjoy what you do, it does not seem like work. I try to keep a home, work-life balance so I am not tipping the scale one way or the other. I love the outdoors and enjoy running the trails and going trekking with my husband. Nature is calming and helps to restore faith in humanity.
At a Glance: Chitra Rajeshwari
Current Roles: Executive Director of Avasant Foundation, Lead Chair for the Women Empowerment, Leadership and Diversity Chapter for IAOP and a noted Program Development Specialist with over 20 years of experience in sales and management.
Experience: Leads all of Avasant Foundation’s programs including managing Avasant’s partnership with IDB Labs, guiding the successful rollout of a digital skills training program comprised of 60 percent women. She has also managed Avasant’s partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation on Digital Jobs Africa Initiative and membership of the Global Impact Sourcing Coalition.
Results: Under her leadership, the Avasant Digital Youth Employment Initiative (ADYEI) has produced more than 650 graduates in the Caribbean with a 95 percent employment rate after graduation. The digital skills training program is comprised of 70-75 percent women from vulnerable populations in emerging economies in the Caribbean and deserving youth between the ages of 18-30 may benefit from in-classroom instruction in professional skills and customer service, Office 365, Web Design, Data Analytics, Project Management, Cybersecurity, Agile and more.