10 upcoming female social entrepreneurs of India


Kamrin Klauschie | The Next Women | 20 February 2013


In India, there is no shortage of talented female social entrepreneurs. Women like Ela Bhatt, who in 1972 founded SEWA, the world’s first and largest trade union for undocumented women workers, as well as Women’s World Banking in 1979 – have been inspiring and leading women for generations.


Hina Shah, founder of The International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development (ICECD), has worked for over 25 years on scaling micro, small, and medium size businesses across 21 states of India.


Jeroo Billmoria, founder of Childline India and Ashoka fellow since 1998, has become the case study example of social entrepreneurship around the world. In education, Akanksha Foundation founder and Teach for India CEO ShaheenMistri is leading her country through arguably the most complex and challenging learning ecosystems in the world. Padmaja Reddy and Chetna Gala Sinha have founded two of the major microfinance organizations of India, Spandana and Mann Vikas Samajik Sanstha, while Neera Nundy, cofounder of Dasra, and AparajitaAgrawal and Manju Reddy, cofounders of Intellecap, build and grow the social enterprise sector through impact consulting


With social entrepreneurship exploding in popularity all over the world, it becomes hard to identify true future leaders. Here we identify 10 of the upcoming female social entrepreneurs we’re watching.


Pooja Warier – Co-Founder of UnLtd. India & Bombay Connect


If you’re ever in Mumbai, Pooja is the person you want to meet. After co-founding UnLtd India, the premier incubator for social entrepreneurs in India, and Bombay Connect, the country’s only co-working space dedicated to social change, Pooja is at the center of support and inspiration for India’s upcoming social entrepreneurs. She even started Journeys for Change, a travel company inspiring leaders through journeys into social enterprise.

Fun Fact: For each 1 rupee UnLtd has provided in funding, their investees have raised or earned a further 14.5 rupees – a 1,450% increase!



Leila Janah – Founder & CEO of Samasource


After graduating from Harvard with a degree in Development Studies, researching with the World Bank and Ashoka, and directing various non profit efforts in the U.S. and U.K., Leila has gone on to found Samasource, a company and non profit which utilizes a unique microwork model to bring the world’s poor to dignified employment in the digital economy by breaking down small computer-based tasks from larger projects. Samasource was founded in 2008, but already provides employment with in-country partners in Haiti, India, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, and Uganda.

“The greatest challenge of the next 50 years, I believe, will be to create dignified work for everyone… not through handouts and charity, but through market forces.” – Leila Janah, TEDxBrussels 2011


Ajaita Shah – Founder & CEO of Frontier Markets


Ajaita is on a mission to bring high quality and affordable products to bottom of the pyramid and rural households in India. Having worked in microfinance for 5 years with organizations like SKS Microfinance and Ujjivan Financial Services, Ajaita has already been ranked the most influential leader under 30 in microfinance by Business Week. Her organization, Frontier Markets, aims to be the scale solution for manufacturers creating products for rural markets. She is a 2012 Echoing Green fellow.

Her Goal: Help 30 million rural and low income households in the next 3 years.



Shital Shah – Founder of Think Change India


Shital completed her bachelors at Northwestern and her Masters in Public Administration at NYU and then went on to work in different capacities with organizations like the United Nations, Oxfam, the World Bank, and Acumen Fund. She now works as a strategy consultant focused on mobile money start-ups globally with ShoreBank International.


Along the way, she helped start ThinkChange India (TC-I), the one-stop website for keeping up with social entrepreneurship and social innovation in India. Through this effort, she started developing networks and relationships with social enterprises, making TC-I a demanded media partner in the country. Her work highlighting and connecting the social enterprise sector in India makes it easier for others to grow and learn in such a rapidly changing space. She is now interested in cultivating an intentional start-up ecosystem in her base of Ahmedabad, India.


Did You Know: ThinkChange India has nearly 6,000 followers on Twitter and over 1,500 on Facebook. The website achieved 150,000 page-views, and is averages more than 4,000 unique hits a week.


Priya Naik – Founder of Samhita Social Ventures


If you can believe it, Priya has 3 Masters degrees! She has one in Economics, one in Public Policy, and one in commerce – from Yale, University of Michigan, and University of Mumbai respectively. In 2009, she founded Samhita Social Ventures, an organization helping NGOs, corporations, philanthropists, donor agencies, and individuals collaborate for huge scale social impact.


Did You Know: Samhita means “collective good” in Sanskrit.


Saloni Malhotra – Founder of DesiCrew


Saloni is the founder of DesiCrew, a for-profit organization employing over 300 people that’s focused on creating knowledge-based livelihood opportunities in small towns and rural areas. Saloni stepped down as a the CEO in March 2012 to hand over to a professional management team and continues to participate on the Board.


In 2012, along with her friends, Saloni co-founded Safecity, a citizen’s initiative to make Indian Cities safer again. The platform encourages people to share their personal stories of harassment and the location where the incident occurred. As more people pin, hotspots are created. The team then works with the relevant authorities to improve the situation on the ground.


Did You Know: Desi is a term referring to the culture and people of the Indian subcontinent as well as South Asia.


Akanksha Hazari – Founder of m.Paani


With a Bachelors from Princeton and a Masters from Cambridge, Akanksha is undoubtedly one smart lady. She founded m.Paani in 2012, after it won the Hult Prize and was honored by President Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative, and is currently piloting its innovative model in India. m.Paani is harnessing the power and reach of mobile phones to address access to key basic services including safe water, education, healthcare, energy, and nutrition utilizing a unique loyalty program model, based off of the success of similar programs for airline and credit card companies. Akanksha already has secured a m.Paani partner for a pilot in Africa, which will begin soon.



“We are this Gen Next, where our dreams have no walls. Weʼre better connected, better informed, and better resourced than any other generation in history. This makes us incredibly powerful.” – Akanksha Hazari, Hult Prize 2012


Gloria Benny – Co-Founder of Make A Difference


India’s youth is growing up in a country that has some of the most complex and difficult socioeconomic inequalities in the world, and they know it. Gloria is a young person taking those problems head on. Having founded Make A Difference in 2006, she now finds herself a leader in one of India’s largest volunteer networks. Around 1,300 youth volunteers teach and mentor 5,400 orphaned and underprivileged children across 20 cities in India thanks to her organization.


Her Goal: Inspire 360 million Indians to dedicate 1 hour per week to helping underprivileged children across the country


Sheetal Mehta Walsh – Founder of Shanti Life


Sheetal is the founder of Shanti Life, a unique microfinance platform serving the poor in Gujarat villages and slums so that they can create sustainable businesses. All beneficiaries receive financial literacy training, mentoring, access to eco-sanitation facilities and a low interest rate of 12% – all funds are recycled into further loans. She is about to create an online marketplace for recipients of microfinance so that they can sell their goods online globally. She is also a yoga teacher, and we love her for that.


Fun Fact: Sheetal plays the dhol, a special Indian drum


Anu Sridharan – Founder of NextDrop


Armed with a Bachelors in Civil Engineering and a Masters in Civil Systems Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, Anu is poised to transform the way technology allows us to interact with our urban systems. Her company NextDrop allows urban Indian residents to track the availability of piped water through SMS and already serves 18,000 people in the state of Karnataka.


“We questioned, why is that so? It’s the only way we’re actually innovating on the ground right now, because we took everything that we thought we knew about a system and threw it out the window. And we learned.” – Anu Sridharan, TEDxGateway 2012


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