South Asian Women Driving Impact In New Jersey And New York
New Jersey based Anjalee Khemlani picks six women achievers from South Asia to put the spotlight on their success and struggles. Here’s an insight into the lives and times of those women of influence who are breaking new ground and exploring ways to succeed despite road blocks.
Co-Founder, Executive & Artistic Director, Indo-American Arts Council
When Shivdasani spearheaded the effort to give the arts and culture of India a stage in New York City, she struggled as both a woman and a South Asian to realize her dreams. Just shy of 20 years later, the battle continues.
Though she has been recognized in global news organizations and received awards over the years, she still struggles to get the kind of corporate backing that commercial programs like Bollywood get. She doesn’t begrudge the entertainment industry. But she does wish people would take her seriously.
“Back then people used to say, it’s almost as if they wanted to pat me on the head, and say, ‘Oh, good, good, you’re doing a hobby.’ Like, oh, you know, she’s somebody’s wife so she’s keeping herself occupied. That’s not at all what I was doing. I was very serious and still am about what I’m doing. This is giving artists a platform. This is giving the arts a place in North America.
I still get that, by the way, there is always someone new who comes upon this (Council) and says,’Oh I heard you’re doing such a nice thing.”
President, PARS Environmental, Inc.
Gill purchased her environmental consulting company in 2003 from the previous owners, when she was in her mid 20s, and has grown it exponentially. When she first took over, it was a company of six employees and revenues of $500,000. Now the company has 50 employees and revenues of $15 million. The company has grown to serve the needs of more than just the tri-state area, with clients around the country, including contracts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Gill also focuses on mentoring others, feeding the homeless through the interfaith ONE Project, and is part of an advocacy group aimed at spreading awareness of Sikhism through the SALDEF- the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. She conducts Sikh Awareness Training for law enforcement officers.
“I feel really fortunate to be where I am right now. I weathered a lot and learned a lot about what works and doesn’t. About leadership, about building teams and about growing companies. I want to be able to share that knowledge and exposure with other people. I don’t want just myself be successful, I want to see everyone, who wants it, to be successful. There are so many people that have been helpful in my journey and I want to be able to do the same for others.”
DR. RACHANA KULKARNI
Cardiologist, Medicor Cardiology
Kulkarni is a cardiologist in New Jersey and has been active in the national American Heart Association in Washington, D.C. She is also the doctor for the state’s governor, Chris Christie.
Kulkarni’s efforts to boost women’s health awareness in her field has developed into two streams of advocacy. On one hand, she has started a chapter of the AHA in New Jersey focused on encouraging more women into cardiology. The field is currently less than 10 percent women. On the other hand, she has pushed for better heart care for women, who often take on more stress and take less care of themselves–it’s a problem in many communities including with South Asians.
“What I have found is women, traditionally, are the caregivers, and they see themselves in that role. Even when they are working as hard as men, and supporting the family. As a result of that, they ignore their health. They do not pay attention to their heart health.”
S. NADIA HUSSAIN
Co-founder, Bangladeshi American Women’s Development Initiative
Hussain wears a number of non-profit hats. And that’s her full time job. In addition to co-founding the community initiative, BAWDI, which aims to grow into a fully structured not-for-profit, she is a trustee on the board for the American Civil Liberties Union New Jersey and a Maternal Justice Campaign Director at MomsRising. Being the daughter of Bangladeshi parents, she knows all too well the struggles of a demographic stuck with the “model minority” title.
“They think we all have big money and opportunities, but that isn’t the same for all immigrant communities across the board. That definitely isn’t the case for the Bangladeshi community. Amongst all South Asian communities it has the lowest income and higher health issues and things like that. I don’t see people from immigrant communities, I don’t see women, engaging in the decision making processes that are impacting our lives (in local government). I don’t see ‘us’ getting elected. And there is no organization for women in New Jersey. So (BAWDI) is very grassroots and it’s to empower, it’s for the Bangladeshi women. We want to provide mentoring for Bangladeshi teenagers and middle-schoolers and college students. We want to bridge resource gaps for Bangladeshi mothers, especially mothers and women with children and families, and also provide a space for senior citizens.”
President, The Prudential Foundation
Reddy is vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at Prudential Financial and president of The Prudential Foundation. Under Reddy’s leadership, Prudential pledged to build an impact investment portfolio of $1 billion by 2020. The portfolio holds more than $500 million in assets under management as of 2016. Additionally, she oversees a yearly budget of $50 million through The Prudential Foundation, which has made more than $750 million in grants and contributions to non-profit organizations since its founding in 1976. Prior to joining Prudential, Reddy dedicated herself to promoting equity in education as a non-profit executive and civil rights attorney with the U.S. Department of Education.
“I grew up in a truly bi-cultural experience where outside of our home, we dressed, spoke and ate like ‘Americans,’ but inside our home, the food, dress and language were different. The reality was, while we felt we were all supposed to blend in, we didn’t. The challenge of being ‘different’ and trying to find my place is actually what led me to becoming comfortable with who I am. It is these experiences that helped shaped my career.”
Anjalee Khemlani is a contributor to SheThePeople.tv and is a journalist in the US (or NJ, whichever) and conducted a series of interviews to select the winners.