We are constantly inspired by amazing organizations and kick-ass women working to change the world. Today, we want to highlight the incredible work done by the Desai Foundation. The Desai Foundation focuses on sustainable development for women and girls with programs spanning from vocational classes, health camps, community volunteer outreach, and sanitary napkin programs. The organization, to date, has impacted 330,000 lives in Gujarat, India, Metro-Boston, and Harlem, New York. We sat down with the foundation’s President, Megha Desai, to learn more about the work they are doing and how you can get involved. Prior to serving as the president of the foundation, Desai spent 10+ years in traditional advertising at some of the most prestigious firms in the world. Since 2010, she has helped to transform the organization’s mission, work, and message leading to its pivot into a robust public foundation. Read on for more!
Sudara: Tell us about the founding of the Desai Foundation?
The Desai Foundation was established in 1997 by my parents Samir and Nilima Desai following a family trip to Peru. While sitting above the ancient civilization of Machu Picchu, we realized how fortunate we were and had a deep desire to share our resources, experiences and talents to improve the quality of life for others – both in the place we had made our home, America, and the place we came from, India. We founded the Desai Foundation with one simple goal: to serve the communities that had served us so well. In the past 20 years, we have learned, we have grown and are proud to now be a public non-profit pioneering programs that support women and children through health and livelihood initiatives while also partnering with established organizations throughout several sectors to further our mission.
Sudara: What are your long-term goals?
Looking to the future, we are focusing on our goal to impact 1 million lives and realizing our vision for a society in which no one is denied basic rights. By providing the initial stepping stones of development, we ultimately aim to empower local community members to run sustainable projects in the areas of health and livelihood and create long-lasting systemic change. We believe that uplifting individuals and restoring dignity are at the core of helping people to dream beyond their circumstances.
Sudara: What are your current challenges?
We have two main challenges right now:
- Stigma: we are working in a field with a lot of stigma associated with it – Sanitary napkins or menstrual health and hygiene. One of our biggest challenges is breaking through the silence around this taboo subject that is so deeply entwined in the cultural roots of the region. We have made great strides, but until we are able to speak freely about periods and until all young girls and boys are aware of the normality of menstruation, we will keep pushing.
- An unusual path: we have a unique story as we started as a family foundation and then converted to a public foundation to serve more people. This is quite rare in the social sector and thus it is now our responsibility to ensure this transition is as impactful as we intended it to be.
That said, we love the work we do, are thrilled to be able to collaborate with individuals and organizations to help us do it and are excited to announce so many exciting developments in the coming year.
Sudara: What lessons have you learned in this work?
We are always learning here at the Desai Foundation and are continuously working to improve our work. At a high level, we have a few big lessons that we apply every day.
The first is the way we evaluate our work. We know that there is a lot of pressure to simply look at the numbers – How many pads we have distributed, how many sewing classes resulted in jobs. But we also realize that our work goes beyond the numbers; that if we are doing our work properly there is so much more impact we are generating than what can be seen on a spreadsheet. For this reason, we are proud to evaluate our projects based on these intangibles that the numbers don’t describe.
Second, we believe that if everyone has basic health and opportunity, they have the ability to dream beyond their circumstances. That is why we aren’t scared to have a variety of programs that sever our holistic approach to community development with their specific focus on each issue. We know that our work is complex, but we also know that when you truly listen to those you serve, they know the solution better than you do. Our greatest lesson has been to emphasize listening more than preaching.
Last, make it fun! Through our years of experience, we found that we get much more traction for our health camps when they are designed more like festivals and fairs. By including elements like exciting activities for kids, we increase participation and get much better results overall.
Sudara: How can everyday people help your mission?
There are many ways anyone can help our mission. Whether through a donation, becoming an ambassador or advocate – all of these mechanisms have value and impact. First, you can make a donation to a program that speaks to you at thedesaifoundation.org. Second, you can donate your birthday to the Desai Foundation, inviting your friends and family to give a gift that empowers dreams. This May, leading up to Menstrual Health Day, we have an amazing campaign of influencers and change makers who will be involved in a campaign to bring awareness around the need for menstrual health access and education in India. We ’d love for you to get involved. Interested? Contact Tess our Director of Partnerships at firstname.lastname@example.org . Lastly, please connect with us on our social channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) and of course, help spread the word about our work!