Megha Desai, President, Desai Foundation: Empowering Women and Girls in U.S. + India
Megha Desai is President of the Desai Foundation, a public foundation that launches community-based empowerment initiatives to promote the health and livelihood of women and children in India and the U.S. Their organization designs and implements programming built on the principals of inclusivity, sustainability and accountability, bringing in local community members as program leaders to facilitate long-term local engagement and maximum impact.
Name: Megha S. Desai
Company: Desai Foundation
Job Title: President
Currently based in: Between NYC and Boston
Originally from: Outside of Boston, MA
I am a natural problem solver, so my superpower is being resourceful and solutions-oriented.
A woman in history you admire & why:
There are so many women that I admire. The more I learn about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the more in awe of her I become. The more I hear from her, the more I am amazed at how much fight she has in her. When I have moments when I don’t think I have any fight left in me, I always think of her.
Quote/piece of advice that you live by:
I wish there was just one, but I think of these four lines almost every day:
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it” – Confucius
“Where there is love there is life.” – Gandhi
What inspired you to start your current venture?
My goal of empowering women and girls. I am so passionate about giving women and girls the chance to have a voice and providing access to opportunities that give them a fair shot. The Desai Foundation is dedicated to creating work opportunities with the dignity of women and children in mind. I love our holistic approach of enriching the community from all sides in order to create long-term systemic change.
What is your company doing to make history today?
The Desai Foundation works to uplift women and girls so they can make history. The history books we read today don’t include the stories of women and girls, but that is going to change. We feel certain that some of the powerful and beautiful women we work with every day will be featured one day in history books around the world because the Desai Foundation believed in them and gave them the opportunity to rise.
What is one thing your company has accomplished that you are most proud of?
I really love our Asani Sanitary Napkin program. It’s a great example of what can happen when you combine deep community engagement, financial empowerment through vocational training, health and hygiene education, and throw in some joy, dignity and fun! It’s important to us that the women in our program feel they can speak proudly about their jobs, so we keep our production centers right in the middle of town where all the men and boys will see them. I love that our program brings girls together to celebrate their womanhood!
What is one project you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
The Desai Foundation’s vocational training program is expanding, and we are thrilled about it. We are about to expand to another region, as well as constantly improving our courses and diversifying the options available after the conclusion of each program to help provide flexible employment opportunities for those that want them.
I love how we help the women we work with gain a sense of dignity while providing them a supportive community. We also offer them skill-based courses in things like sewing, computers and more.
What, in your opinion, is one of the biggest challenges facing your industry today?
The NGO/Social sector has a growing number of people at the table. More corporations are making a commitment to social good initiatives, which is amazing, but I am concerned that it puts too much pressure on those of us in the social sector to quantify the work we are committed to. If we are forced to speak the language of corporate partners and only define our success is numerical terms, then we can lose sight of the valuable qualitative intangibles that are offered by certain programming.
The challenge is to ensure that we are developing programs with humans and dignity in mind; not just dollars and cents. My hope is that everyone in our sector will take a moment to remember this so that our outcomes will continue to be meaningful.
What is a trend in your industry that you foresee becoming popular in the future?
I have loved doing cross functional collaboration with brands and NGOs, and I hope this continues. We did a great collaboration with one of the best fashion designers in India, for our Payal Singhal x Desai Foundation collection. Payal and her team were generous enough to create a whole line of clothing for us, using two iconic patterns for which the Desai Foundation gets a portion of the proceeds. It has really helped connect us to so many incredible people in both the U.S. and India.
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced at this job? (Or if you’re willing, share a story of a time you screwed up & how you recovered!)
I screw up all the time! Thank god for resilience! For me, the biggest challenge I’ve faced was my lack of experience when I took my current position. Most people in my shoes have earned a master’s in social work, or they’ve at least held a top position at an NGO before. This meant that my biggest hurdle was being taken seriously — and most of all — taking myself seriously and believing that I could be successful in my role.
I knew I had the tools I needed, but I also knew that my pedigree was a bit outside the lines. I had to talk myself into believing that I was going to be good at this job. It’s been an incredible ride – and we have accomplished more in the last year than my board members and I could have ever dreamed of. It turns out that my lack of experience was actually the best asset I could bring to the table!
What were you doing before your current role?
I was the founder and CEO of a branding agency that specialized in working with brands and startups committed to social good. We primarily focused on brand development and strategic partnerships. I ran my agency for about five years. Before that, I worked in corporate advertising for a little over a decade.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to other female founders & change-makers?
I have two pieces of advice to share:
- Do it now, and ask for forgiveness later. Men have been doing this for decades. Now it’s time for women to do the same.
- We are stronger together than apart. Don’t cut other people down. There is PLENTY of room at the table for all of us. Help one another. Support one another. Be the best and most vocal advocate for other people.
Fun fact about yourself:
I am a member of the Resistance Revival Chorus. I am incredibly honored to be a part of this amazing group that uses joy and music to play our part in the resistance. And we just performed at Carnegie Hall!
Is your company currently hiring or looking for partnerships?
YES! We are always looking for people that are passionate about our work. Visit the Desai Foundation’s website for more information.