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Disrupting With Dignity: The Immeasurable Impact Of The Desai Foundation

Culture

If you have skipped a rock on a placid pond, you’ll know the ripple effect is longer lasting than the initial splash. From one singular spot of disturbance, the ripples reverberate across the surrounding water, with each ripple adding to the original disruption.


The basic concept of the ripple effect is what drives The Desai Foundation; a nonprofit organization which empowers women and children through community programs to elevate health and livelihood in the U.S. and India. “Consistency is what has the most impact,” says Megha Desai, President of The Desai Foundation. “A lot of organizations go out and do programming once, then leave, but we are consistent so that we inject these ideas into everyday life.”

Megha Desai. Photo Courtesy of Ross Asdourian

For the past 20 years, The Desai Foundation has focused on improving livelihood through children’s health camps, sanitary napkin programs, and health seminars, as well as vocational training programs, like sewing and computer classes. In their most recent partnership, The Desai Foundation teamed up with Indian designer, Payal Singhal to amplify this consistency and extend beyond the stigma of a public organization’s one-off donation.

"I was looking for a platform that allowed me to get involved beyond mere monetary support,” says fashion designer Payal Singhal, who launched her namesake brand Payal Singhal in 1999, and whose partnership brings the Foundation’s efforts full circle by engaging women who have completed vocational programs in India to provide them with a next step.

After a fateful meeting in Bombay, Singhal asked Desai how she could get involved with the Foundation. Although Desai came back with a modest suggestion of donating 10 percent of proceeds from designated pop-up stores, Singhal insisted she come back with a more extensive offer.

"I went back to the drawing board and came up with all these insane ideas and she said yes to everything,” said Desai. This included donating two of her iconic patterns to The Desai Foundation, so that the foundation receives a portion of anything sold from these patterns, as well as the second-tier partnership, which both Desai and Singhal value as the highlight of their collaboration.

Singhal and Desai

“We’re working with the women we’ve taught to sew on a line of handbags,” says Desai, explaining that through Singhal, they were able to launch a collection of signature tote bags and vanity kits, which will be sold on the international market.

“Two signature Payal Singhal prints--the Anaar Aur Mor print, and the Chidiya print have been dedicated to this collaboration,” explains Singhal about the designs, which also happen to feature a lotus; The Desai Foundation’s logo. “The highlight for me was to visit the foundation’s sewing vocational program in Valsad, Gujarat. It’s one thing to be associated with a cause, and another to interact with the people who are going to be impacted by your work.”

It is this first-degree impact which ties back to The Desai Foundation’s macro-motivation to improve women’s quality of life while simultaneously improving self-worth. “When women have dignity it really elevates the entire community,” shares Desai, who was able to make this connection within the first year as President.

It was on one of her placement visits to Gujarat, India where Desai initially recognized the unquantifiable effects of the foundation. In villages such as Talangpur, Kharel, and Untdi, the Foundation had encouraged women to take factory jobs after completing three months of vocational training, even prior to the partnership with Singhal.

Yet, after one training session in Untdi, none of the women took the jobs lined up for them—ones with pre-negotiated salaries and commissions, as well as comfortable atmospheres—“We were a little concerned that we had done something wrong,” confesses Desai.

So, Desai sat down to understand what happened, only to learn that the majority of these women had used the vocational sewing program as a reprise to get out of the house, to meet friends beyond their extended family, to learn a new skill, or, to instill a sense of dignity. “One of the women said she sews for all the women on her block—it wasn’t about the money— she now feels like she has an expertise and she carries that with so much pride.”

Upon leaving the village, Desai checked in with the local school, only to find out one of the little girls, who had previously skipped classes for days at a time, had reached her 90-day attendance mark. “Her teacher pointed out that her mom now walks her to and from school everyday,” says Desai, further explaining that her mother was the woman now sewing for the women on her block. “Just the act of her mother walking her to school shows that her mom invested in herself, and, now, she’s trying to instill that dignity in her daughter."

Although The Desai Foundation quotes 331,000 lives impacted by these practical programs in both India and the U.S., Desai acknowledges the thousands of lives, similar to the Untdi family in India, that cannot be statistically recorded.

It is this immeasurable impact which emphasizes the Foundation’s mission to make a long-term investment in the lives of one woman, knowing it will impact not just her family, but her whole community.

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#GetFunded: The Best Way to Kick Off Pride as an LGBTQIA+ Entrepreneur

We're here. We're queer. Now that it's pride month, it feels like every store and corporation is flooding us with their best rainbow merchandise, capitalizing on a $917 billion dollar consumer market.


The rainbow flags are out. The mannequins are sporting pride tees. And corporate newsletters are full of interviews showcasing all their queer employees ("Look, we have a gay person here! We GET you!").

To me, this is blatant evidence that the future is queer.

These corporations follow the money, and with 20% of millennials and 31% of Gen Z openly identifying as queer, these businesses have to capitalize on the growing purchasing power of LGBTQIA+ consumers. With a recorded market size of $917 billion dollars in 2016, and a growing interest in socially conscious brands among young consumers, this is clearly a market opportunity that corporations cannot afford to ignore.

However, I'm always surprised by how little attention investors and the entrepreneurial community devotes to this undeniable trend, despite being constantly inundated with overwhelming statistics proving the importance of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Only 2.2% of venture capital funding went to women in 2018, less than .1% of funding has been allocated to black women since 2009, and only about 1% of venture-backed companies have a black founder or Latinx founder. These statistics are over-quoted but underacted upon.

This gender and diversity inequality significantly hinders economic growth, since 85% of all consumer purchases are controlled by women, and startups with higher ethnic diversity tend to produce financial returns above their industry norm.

The data is clearly leading to one direction: investing in women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, veterans, immigrants, and other minority groups in entrepreneurship leads to higher revenue and better business results.

As data-driven and forward-thinking as this industry claims to be, we haven't caught up to the queer founders, particularly queer women, who are rethinking the future. These founders understand and speak to a generation of increasing numbers of LGBTQIA+ people whose market share will only continue to grow exponentially. VCs and investors are already behind the curve.

Apply to pitch!

SoGal Foundation, a non-profit on a mission to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship, is helping bridge this divide between queer women founders and investors with the launch of applications for the second annual Global Pitch Competition for diverse entrepreneurs. Hosted in 25+ cities across five continents, and culminating in a final global pitch competition and 3-day immersive educational bootcamp in Silicon Valley, this is the first and only globally-focused pitch opportunity for diverse entrepreneurs.

Startups that are pre-Series A (raised less than $3M) with at least one woman or diverse founder, apply here to pitch! The top teams selected from each regional round will join SoGal's final global pitch competition and bootcamp in Silicon Valley for guaranteed face time with dozens of top Silicon Valley investors, curated educational programming, unparalleled 1:1 mentorship, press exposure, and a chance to win investment capital.

Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ founders: what's the best way to kick off pride? Apply to pitch!

Regional pitch rounds will be held August-November 2019; final pitch competition in Silicon Valley in February 2020. Details and additional cities to be announced.

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SoGal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the largest global platform for diverse founders and funders in 40+ chapters across 5 continents; our mission is to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship. SoGal Foundation's global startup competition represents the first and largest opportunity for women and diverse entrepreneurs and investors to connect worldwide. Join the SoGal community & follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.