Empowering young women in India

By Sasha Nyary

“There's a difference between being scared and being aware and the voice in your head is the only thing stopping you from ultimate success.”

“MHC Shakti has taught me how to use my confidence and voice to help other women develop the same.”

“It helped me gain an insight on the current status of leadership opportunities and challenges in the world and encouraged for me to make the most of the opportunities that are around me.”

“MHC Shakti plays an important role not only in empowering women, but encouraging young women to use their voices to speak up and make a difference.”

MHC Shakti 2018 circling

These are just a few of the glowing comments from the 47 high school girls who attended the 2018 MHC Shakti Program in Mumbai, India. The August weekend, hosted by Mount Holyoke College and now in its third year, inspires 11th and 12th grade young women to see themselves as the next generation of Indian women leaders. Some previous participants have chosen to pursue that vision by attending Mount Holyoke.

MHC Shakti 2018 - overview and panel

The organizers and speakers at the event were galvanized as well, said Sonya Stephens, president of Mount Holyoke. 

“It was inspiring to hear the aspirations and ambitions of the participants from high schools across India, and to see their engagement with each other, with us and with the panelists,” she said. “In sharing their own career journeys and insights — and their vision for the role of women in tomorrow’s India and globally — the panelists helped the students understand the roles that they can and will play, and equipped them with tools to advance their goals.”

MHC Shakti 2018 student with mic

The weekend was held at the American School of Bombay and many of the participants were local, but several had traveled from Chennai and Pune, as well as Hyderabad, Bangalore and New Delhi. They were dressed comfortably and ate pahadi chicken tikka, vegetable kolhapuri and masoor dal — the food got great reviews — as they participated in a range of presentations and individual and group activities, all designed designed to help them develop their voices and build awareness about their values, interests and goals.

MHC Shakti 2018 students in a circle

Several of the 21 speakers were alumnae of Mount Holyoke — all were representative of India’s illustrious legacy of women leaders. Indian women have left their mark on fields ranging from media, business, sports and fashion to entrepreneurship, banking, social services and politics. They discussed the challenges faced in leadership as they helped the participants develop a professional outlook and build networking skills.

MHC Shakti 2018 speakers

Inspired by their questions and enthusiasm, the speakers were as energized by the experience as the students. Kavita Mehta, co-founder of The Red Pen, said that MHC Shakti 2018 helped her to reflect on her own life journey and appreciate her mentors. 

“With the next generation of India’s young women poised to take on the world,” Mehta said, “it was gratifying to be able to offer practical advice on how to navigate opportunities with poise, thoughtfulness and an eye to the future.”

Diya ceremony, MHC Shakti 2018

As enthusiastic as the students and speakers were the parents. One wrote in a follow-up email that their daughter was inspired and came home with a renewed sense of purpose.

“Prior to the conference college was just an idea that she went along with because that's what was expected,” the parent wrote. “She came back with the realisation that college is a stepping stone to all her future goals.”

Above: Lighting a diya in the opening ceremony of MHC Shakti 2018 in Mumbai. From left, American School of Bombay’s Urja Shah, President Sonya Stephens, American School of Bombay’s Fiona Reynolds, and founding partners Shoba Narayan ’87 and Vijaya Pastala ’89. All photos: Indian Art Studio