Q&A: Women's empowerment advocate Rina Patel on making change and starting dialogue – The Indian SCENE

Q&A: Women’s empowerment advocate Rina Patel on making change and starting dialogue

Rina Patel says the key to change is seeking out like-minded people who can work with you to make a difference.

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“For me the change is not measured by how big or small it is but by heading in the right direction to make that change is what counts,” says executive vice president for the Women’s Ambassador Forum in Tampa Rina Patel. Lifting the less fortunate became her life’s mission. Most recently, she convened a global virtual summit, which brought advocates together to discuss bringing grassroots change to India.

The Indian SCENE: Rina, you are a force in women’s empowerment. Before we talk about that, tell us a little about your personal life and background

Rina Patel: I was born in India and my parents decided to move to America when I was ten years old. America was the land of opportunities and they wanted my sister and I to have everything America had to offer. My parents were the first immigrants and thereon they sponsored his and my mom’s entire family to America. One by one, they came and stayed with us till they became financially independent. We were a close knit joint family. In fact, when it came time to get me married, it was my cousin in Chicago that introduced me to my husband Prashant.

IS: And how did that partnership work out?

RP: The phrase ‘pillar of strength’ comes to mind when I think about my husband. Certainly, my best friend and biggest cheer leader and supporter, always encouraging me to grow, to pursue my dreams, goals and create a change in the world.

I must say that Prashant and I work very hard to raise our children with Indian culture and values. We want to leave a legacy behind. A legacy of our rich Hindu culture in the hopes that our kids will in turn continue this tradition.

The culture in our home is one of encouragement and togetherness. My children, Aanya, 14, and Aarav, 12, too, inspire me to be the best version of myself. When they see me struggle with technology, they are right beside me, ready to buoy me up and cheer me on! As a parent, I can proudly say that life has come full circle for me, as I witness my children embolden me to take risks and get out of my comfort zone. When the home front is healthy and functional, it’s easy to go out there and turn dreams to reality!

IS: Since we are on the topic of marriage and family, what advice can you give young people who are ready to settle?

RP: Be wise when choosing your life partner. Remember, the vital word, ‘life.’ Make sure they’re dependable, allows and supports your individuality, has financial independence, and shoulders of steel for you to fall back on! Look for someone who is open to having an equal partnership with you.

IS: You have been working to empower and uplift women for a long time. What has your journey been like?

RP: My own spiritual journey and growth has led me to give back to the community and make an impact on the world. Passionate about helping women heal, especially South Asians, I started my journey five years ago working on the board of directors of Heels to Heal.

There was no stopping me at this point. This led me to a new venture of Heaven Sent Saki. This NGO provides the right resources and tools to uplift and heal many issues that South Asian women face. This work was featured in The Know Women book. As the Executive Vice President of the Women Ambassadors Forum, I led a Global Virtual Forum, “Women of India Leading in Time of Crisis” on August 1, 2020.

This forum addressed solutions, opportunities, skills, and ways to increase women’s participation in the workplace and entrepreneurship. Domestic violence, mental health, and menstrual hygiene, are some of the many issues being faced by women in India today. We need advocates for these women, and I do believe we have a duty as women and as Indians to stand up for these causes.

IS: Could you elaborate on the steps you took to make Women Ambassadors Forum a success?

RP: It all started with a vision of hope and inspiration to help young girls, women and their families during the pandemic. The pandemic had created a level of uncertainty and those that were already disadvantaged were further impacted with scarcity for food. At that moment being a leader, an advocate for the young girls, like my daughter, I decided to make a change. I wanted to give back to India, the country where I was born and raised by feeding low income families. The need to shine the light on topics that would empower women and propagate gender inequality became imperative in my mind.

I was able to get full support from my partner and dear friend Ingrid Harb. We teamed up together and gave birth to ‘Women of India Leading in Time of Crisis.’

With that pillar to harness my innate desire of reaching out to the underprivileged especially in my home country, India, I approached Lakshyam. Lakshyam, an NGO in New Delhi headed by Rashi Anand, was already working to uplift children and women of at-risk communities through education, employment and resources mobilization. Rashi and I took this as an opportunity to educate the world. Through the virtual summit, issues related to women and methods to empower them were to be honed.

The summit, among a host of colloidal issues, addressed solutions and opportunities in which urban women can support and empower rural women in this situation of crisis. Our goal at the forum was to create a platform where women from all over the globe can come together, share their stories, learn from one another, be the voice that needs it, collaborate and evoke a positive change. We were able to truly achieve that through participation from 40-plus inspirational empowering women speakers, representing 7 different countries and women from all walks of life.

We had two mega powerhouse celebrities as our keynote speakers. The beautiful and vivacious Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez and Arunachalam Muruganatham. I had a candid conversation with Jacqueline where she shared her journey on being an A List Bollywood actress, and tips on how to stay positive through yoga and meditation. She had advice for young girls aspiring to achieve their goals and shed light on women empowerment through financial independence.

Arunachalam Murganatham, the original ‘Padman’ of India was our only male speaker. His tireless dedication to providing women with a basic and most needed necessity, inspired us to invite him to be our keynote speaker.

My daughter, Aanya Patel is definitely a chip of the old block. She decided to play the rendition to the ‘Vande Mataram.’ In her head, the Vande Mataram provided a beacon of hope and inspiration during our fight to form independent India. She wanted to play that song with the same gusto and thought process to fight the pandemic and encourage youth to come forward and help.

IS: The work you are doing is tough. I’m sure you’ve faced many challenges. Could you elaborate on any one or two challenges that have come your way and how you overcame them?

RP: Sharing a grand vision does not bode well with everyone. And that was my single largest challenge. Finding the right people to conceptualize and understand the vision and the ability to execute it along with me was the challenge.

That goes for associates, friends, and even family. A lot of people are busy naturally in their daily lives and it takes unique individuals to have faith in you, your vision and commit their valuable time in your support. I truly feel when like-minded women come together they can significantly create an impact and enable change.

Another challenge was raising funds during the midst of the global crisis was a challenge when many companies are furloughing employee salaries.  With the current global pandemic, we all are adapting to new ways of communicating through technology. The forum was conducted through a technology platform and transitioning all 40+ speakers and managing seven different time zones was a challenge on its own.

IS: Do you have a role model? Is there anyone who inspired you or someone you aspire to be like, to do this great work?

RP: My parents. At a very young age they taught me the value of hard work & determination, to be positive and optimistic about life, ethnic and cultural values, and never to give up hope.

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” by Gandhi touches my core. For me the change is not measured by how big or small it is but by heading in the right direction to make that change is what counts.

IS: Can you tell us one or two success stories and the feeling of accomplishment you received?

RP: When I chaired the first Tampa Fashion event for ‘Heels to Heal.’ It was our first time we were branching our services of healing into the Tampa Bay area. Through the Tampa Fashion event we were able to raise awareness and bring a large amount of funds to provide up to 12 hours of healing sessions. And of course, leading the Global Virtual Forum, “Women of India Leading in Time of Crisis” was a huge success.

But my biggest success story was when I saw my daughter spread her wings at a tender age of 14, and take it upon herself to become an advocate for the underprivileged. She was the force behind motivating the youth to raise awareness and money. To see my own child follow this path of seeing beyond herself and give with passion, was truly rewarding.

IS: How has spirituality guided you?

RP: My spirituality is my guiding light and beacon of hope. Spirituality teaches me ways to be grounded and not to take success for granted. That God has given me the inner Shakti to create a change within myself and achieve true happiness that one is looking for in the outside world. You are a powerhouse of energy and you can create anything you want in life. It taught me to be authentic and truthful to myself by helping me become more compassionate and empathetic.

IS: What advice would you give women who want to join hands or follow your footsteps?

RP: Believe in yourself, find your true purpose and start with the end in mind. Find the proper ‘sangat,’ and thereby get the support of like-minded people who can partner with you to make a difference in this world. Obstacles and challenges will show up, but giving up is never an option.

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