My Lo Cook: Executive Director of Shadhika

Shadhika is dedicated to lifting up women in India and helping them reach economic and social empowerment through education and job placement. Shadhika funds local organizations that are on the ground in India working to support women from every angle and in every area of the country. Thanks to Shadhika’s impressive programs, the women they work with can single handedly stop the cycle of poverty for their families. Shadhika encourages women in India to dream big and gives them the opportunities to make those dreams a reality.

Tell me about the need for your programs— what is the cultural state of India like right now for women?


The patriarchal rule still governs laws, policies, cultural norms, and gender norms in India. Since men are still believed to carry on the family name and fortune, it governs laws around things like ownership of property and divorce law. India is a country that is so vast, making law enforcement difficult because of the sheer surface area and diversity of religion, ethnicity, and caste within each state. Traditional gender norms are so ingrained in Indian society. In some parts of India, the honor of women has to be protected at all costs. It limits their ability to be at the table when discussions are being made about their own lives. Poverty in India also plays a big role because it gives women and families fewer choices. It’s not easy to fund the education of your daughter when you don’t have enough money for food. It’s easy to say “people just don’t care about women there”, but there’s a lot of nuance to it.


Can you tell me about Shadhika’s mission?


What we try to provide is more opportunities for women. We believe the solutions already exist on the ground and need to be tailored to the local interests. The organizations we partner with help women get the education and life skills they need to be successful, however they choose to define success. We want to hold space for women to achieve their goals and mitigate barriers to empowerment. Studies on gender justice done by the UN and World Bank show that investing in women lifts up the whole community. A young woman with a college education is more likely to integrate into the formal job market. Having an entry level formal job will double the household income and she will become the primary breadwinner of the family. It buys women a seat at a table and helps them have control over their futures, and the futures of their siblings and children. These complex gender issues cannot be solved overnight. We provide long-term support over the critical stages of a woman’s life where she is particularly vulnerable to decisions that will impact her life forever: puberty, start of high school, and start of college.


What are some of the benefits of your local approach?


Every place has a different set of needs. It’s local solutions to local problems driven by local people. Since India is so massive and diverse, just because a program works in one area doesn’t mean that it will work in another. We work with people who live and work in the communities and know exactly what is needed to help. It’s so important to understand the context, the environment, and the social norms at play. To fund our local efforts, the proposed plan of action needs to have long term horizons. There needs to be infrastructure, leadership, and key skills in place. We fund partners who are aligned with our feminist values. The local approach makes the process tailored, efficient, effective, and sustainable.


How do you choose which organizations to partner with?


Since we are a small grant maker, we put our money where our mouth is and go to the organizations where our money will make the biggest difference. It’s already incredibly difficult for organizations in India to receive foreign donations. They have to abide by strict criteria, which means that they are already vetted in our eyes as meeting key standards. The organizations we work with have to have majority female leadership and be of a size where our money has impact. We prefer to work with organizations that provide skills building rather than direct services. That charity work is important, but we are doing human rights work. The individual is supported to learn skills to develop their strengths, to understand what their rights are and what laws exist to protect them. We identified priority regions, states, and populations that are high-need and choose organizations that work with those areas. Those priorities can change over time as the need in each area changes.