Generosity of women leaders in India

Guest blog post by Cate Goethals, UW Foster School of Business lecturer

Women Leadership Trip - India 2010I first noticed it on the plane before I even reached Mumbai when I sat next to a woman who owned a handicraft business. I told her I was bringing a group of 22 students to India. “Come to my home,” she said. “Let me cook for you.” Her sister-in-law, who ran a different business, came to sit in our row. “Please let me host your group,” she said.

University of Washington students and I (their faculty trip organizer) had set out to study women’s leadership in India. I expected the accomplished women we met to be powerful, visionary, confident, charismatic, any number of traits. What I had not anticipated was generosity.  Extreme generosity. The more responsibility someone had, the more time and attention and respect they gave us.  Some more examples:

  • Rohini Nilekani, who runs a multimillion-dollar foundation in Bangalore and is known as “the Melinda Gates of India,” spoke to us and then had to go to a meeting.  After the meeting, she returned and gave us another hour of her time.  Half of that was spent asking us for our ideas.
  • Poorvi Chothani, well-known attorney often seen on Mumbai TV, not only agreed to brief my group on women and the law in India – but went on to spend many more hours organizing a special session of the Ladies Wing (!) of the Mumbai Merchants Chamber to gather dozens of women in our honor. She turned what could have been a personal platform into an exchange of ideas.
  • Veena Mankar, leading banker and co-founder of microfinance institution Swadhaar, had to cancel our visit to go to a funeral. She then rearranged her schedule and spent more than an hour driving across Mumbai to meet with us at our hotel early one morning. “Young people have the best ideas,” she told me. “I talk to them whenever I can.”
  • Amma, “the hugging saint” and most well-known female spiritual guru in the world, heard that we were rushed through our first session with her. Although she hugged thousands of other people that day, she invited us for a second session, asked that we sit at her feet and personally answered our questions about women’s leadership. Then she asked her swami to give us back the money we paid to stay at her ashram. “Students should have pocket money,” she said.
  • Women of the world-famous Self Employed Women’s Association greeted each of us several times with a personal flower, a special bindi (red dot pressed with rice on our foreheads to nourish our spirits) and a bit of sugar to eat.

I was struck by this generosity on nearly every visit.  It may be part of Indian culture, it may be related to gender, it may be a function of the exceptional people we saw.  In any case, it is an overlooked and undervalued leadership trait – and one that is infectious, making the students and I want to give back…and give elsewhere…and do it again, creating new cycles of generosity even now that we’re home.  The ripples are still being felt.

Cate Goethals, University of Washington Foster School of Business lecturer and Seattle consultant, leads global business seminars and study trips focused on women and international business. She has taught at the UW Foster School for more than 20 years—including a class called “Women at the Top” that was named one of the 10 most innovative MBA classes in the country by Forbes in 2010.

The India exploration seminar abroad, called Half the Sky: Women Leaders and Entrepreneurs, included 22 graduate and undergraduate students.

Interning in rural Kenya

Guest post by Nathan Whitson (UW business major graduating in 2012)

SAM_0286As part of my international studies at the UW, I desired to volunteer abroad during my college career. The summer of my sophomore year (2010) I traveled to Kenya as part of an informal internship at a small orphanage called Watoto Wa Baraka.

My time in Kenya lasted 6 weeks, but it was jam-packed with new experiences and encounters. Kenyans are wonderful. They help before you ask and smile before you can react. This attitude puzzled me, because in deep poverty, they persist and love the life that they were dealt. I quickly began drawing differences between Kenya and America, a natural process that creates unique global views.

Global conversations
Kenya was not the only thing new to me. So was everyone around me. While in Kenya, there were few Americans and many of my peers were European. I did not know what to expect, but my understanding grew as we discussed everything from politics to education. In addition to learning about Kenyan culture and society, I gained a unique understanding of different communities from around Europe. I now have a mini network of people from around the world that I can connect with in the future.

Preparing food at a Kenyan orphanage

Preparing food at a Kenyan orphanage

Making an impact
As volunteers, we spent time looking after the children, helping in the local school and hospital, aiding with laundry, harvesting and cooking food and traveling around to different communities in the area. This internship taught me what simple living really is. I am deeply humbled that I was able participate in an international internship this summer because the experience truly cannot be replicated. Kenyans are the most resilient people I have ever met, leaving me with the hope that a bit of this attitude rubbed off on me. I feel that this is true of all internships; they are gateways into the real world. Not every internship defines what your career will be, but it shines a light into what exists at that next level.

Resources
If you are thinking of interning abroad, my recommendation is to fully commit yourself to a program and go with it. A variety of great resources exist for those looking to make a difference abroad or gain experience locally. Here are a few I would recommend: Volunteer Match (opportunities abroad/locally), Intern Match (local internships) or UW Husky jobs.

Nathan Whitson is a junior at the Foster School of Business focusing on finance. He used his “summer break for something more heartfelt than simply a check every two weeks and it definitely paid off.” His Kenyan internship was organized by himself via Volunteer Match.

Entrepreneur Rich Barton on consumer-driven start-ups

Expedia founder and serial entrepreneur Rich Barton spoke candidly to University of Washington Foster School of Business entrepreneurial alumni about his philosophy, lessons learned, venture capitalist experience, owning consumer-driven dot coms and social networking.

Rich Barton is executive chairman of Zillow, chairman of Glassdoor, chairman of new venture Travelpost, board member of Realself (started by CEO Tom Seery, Foster MBA 2000) and involved with numerous other start-ups.

Watch a condensed 12-minute version of his guest lecture:

 Click on image above to play video