Women are taking the world by storm. They are unstoppable and they are out there to create their own identities. This is the story of four women from Goa who had carved a niche for themselves in a male-oriented industry. All of them come from different fields of work and specialisations but one thing they have in common is determination and passion to uphold their dreams and all of them have already created their mark in society. On this month of International Women’s Day, we have decided to dedicate this cover to these four women making their way in what can sometimes still be a man’s world.
When we decided to make a story on women achievers it was indeed a very difficult task to select only four from the hundreds of women who have achieved great heights. These women are an inspiration to hundreds of thousands women who have worked hard fighting against all the odds to create their identity in a male-dominated world.
We decided to connect with a maximum number of women who are in some way or other engaged in activities that have lead to create their mark in the various aspects of society. Some are running very successful businesses whilst others are involved in social work. Some are engaged in new startups while some are running companies. Yet every woman is unique here and we cannot compare one with another and hence we decided to randomly select four of the shortlisted ones who have shown themselves to stand out as role models.
Rajasi Dhavalikar – Scaling High in the Cotton World
Rajasi Dhavalikar, a 30-year-old entrepreneur, comes from a very affluent family background. She is a daughter of renowned politician and leader of MGP Shri Ramkrishna Sudin Dhavalikar, completed her Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Symbiosis International University in Pune before pursuing her dream of venturing into her own business of real estate and garments. “I came back to Goa after completing my post-graduation in Pune in year 2014 to start my own business,” says Rajasi. She started in real estate and later in 2016 ventured into Cottons Daily, which is a platform for Local-to-Global branding, originated in Goa to cater for the needs of cotton lovers in India and abroad. “Born into a joint family of renowned Poojari of Shri Mahalaxmi Devasthan of Bandora, Late Shri Madhavrao Dhavalikar, I have been always fascinated with being a successful business women since I was a child,” she adds.
Initially, Rajasi started selling cotton sarees and dresses to her friends circles through a social media platform. “Looking at the good response, I slowly started expanding my horizons,” says Rajasi. Goans find it difficult to get varieties in textiles. “The reason behind it is that the local retailers keep limited stock. I wanted to break that barrier and give more variety to Goans and as the business grew, I decided to make it bigger,” she added.
In time, the digital platform kept growing and so the scope of Cotton Daily kept expanding. “People like shopping online as they can buy what they want from the ample array of available choices,” said Rajasi.
Rajasi values quality, “We choose fabrics for dresses and sarees directly from approved weavers. We have around 50 weavers on board from the different regions of India. The Maheswari’s are sourced from Madhya Pradesh, the Paithani’s from Yeola, Maharashtra, the ikkat’s from Pochampalli, Andhra Pradesh, block prints from Jaipur,” she narrated.
Rajasi’s Ecommerce business not only caters for the needs of the hundreds of thousands cotton lovers but it also gives employment to hundreds of Goan women who are engaged in embroidery work. “Goan women are known to do good embroidery work as a hobby. I am encouraging them to do it for their livelihood and have tied up with local artisans to do hand embroidery and that is how we are able to provide customised material specially handcrafted by Goan Women, to our buyers,” she said.
Rajasi’s Cotton Daily brand mainly focuses on pure cotton fabrics which includes hand block printed Sanganeri Jaipur Cotton, hand woven Ikkat, Chikankari, Kalamkari as well as Penkalamkari. “We also provide the digitally printed cotton, and kantha embroideries and not to forget on mul cotton sarees, Sambalpuri ikkat sarees as well as Bengal cotton sarees,” said Rajasi adding that “We also specialise in customized wedding sarees in handmade pure silk Paithanis, purely handwoven Banarasi Katan silk sarees as well as pure silk Kanchi Pattu sarees.”
Rajasi’s Cotton Daily serve customers from all states across the country, “In a week we fulfill around 100 orders. We are doing well in cotton fabrics and wedding sarees. We cater to 3-4 weddings a month mainly from Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra,” she said.
Rajasi has always kept herself away from politics and established herself in business. “Despite having political roots I’ve always kept myself away from it since I wanted to establish myself in business. My parents have always been supportive of my dreams and encouraged and empowered me to achieve them. My husband and in-laws are supportive of my work and have always respected my independent thoughts. My husband, Aditya Desai, always accompanies me when I travel to new places to hand pick products from weavers,” she said.
Rajasi has a plan of providing the varieties of Indian fabrics and sarees to the most remote locations through e-commerce platform. “Our future plans mainly focus on expansion in already established markets as well as entering new remote markets,” she says.
Rajasi feels that the pandemic has given opportunities to women to work from home and become financially independent. “There are many who have lost jobs but the digital platform is open to all. Goan vocal-for-local groups are supportive in helping out new businesses too. I wish all the best to aspiring business women.”
Julia Kurian – Curating a Child-Friendly Education System
Julia Kurian entered into the field of social work at a very early age, paving her way up to becoming the Managing Director of Goa’s only Childcare NGO, El Shaddai. Julia today takes care of thousands of children who are either homeless, orphaned or from under-privileged backgrounds. Julia also manages a huge team of volunteers, teachers, educators and counsellors and she herself heads the School with custom-designed academics for the students.
Julia shifted from Kerala to Goa after getting married to Matthew Kurian in 1994. Matthew is the founder of El-Shaddai Foundation a charitable trust, which is a non-profit NGO running homes & shelters for street children and orphans and committed to education of children in Goa. “Initially, I did not get much involved in the day to day operations of El-Shaddai as I was busy focusing on my own family planning,” said Julia adding “In 1996, I had my first child. I started working in the school in 2000 after I witnessed the difficulties that the children were facing, and my husband Matthew had already established a school environment for them so I personally wanted to get into that side of things more.”
Although Julia did not take active part in the work of the El-Shaddai Foundation, she was always there to lend a hand for any sort of task at the charity. “I would cook for the children, cut their hair and all other such small tasks I used to take on with no hesitation, as my primary concern was to finish the job without waiting for any sort of assistance. It was in the initial stage and we were facing a shortage of staff members,” said Julia.
The education system followed by El-Shaddai is completely different from conventional study systems followed by the other schools. “I feel that the children that come to us do not go to school as they find it difficult to cope with the teaching methods of the formal schools as they are not quite accustomed to it and that prompted us to start aschool for these children. We teach the kids using props like toys and other such creative methods to assist them in learning,” said Julia.
Julia created the syllabus with the other teachers. “I had done some training in the UK and I also went to the Philippines and spent some time to see how their schools work and how they teach in creative ways.” It was her idea to start school for underprivileged children. “The moment I came to Goa, we started compiling our syllabus and curriculum utilising toys to teach Basic English, Maths and General Knowledge with games and activities,” she added. Julia, like many other people, is of the opinion that children remember more if they play while learning.
Julia managed her home and work at the same time without any complaints. “The thing is that I never face any problem in this sphere; as a matter of fact, I actually enjoyed every bit of it working here. For me, it’s always been an enthusiastic measure to start something of this nature even though I may have had my own commitments,” she said.
According to Julia, unlike the other schools El-Shaddai does not have any age restrictions for the children. “We recruit on ability and that is why we do not have conventional classes and standards. We also have different class names, such as First Ups, New Creations, and Challengers and so on. This way the children shouldn’t feel brought down by the regular structure of schooling and we branch away from the mainstream, thus setting a standard of our own,” she said.
Some may disagree or have doubts about this method of teaching but you’ll be surprised to learn that many of the children who were taught here are working in multinational companies and some even have their own business setups. Today Julia has more than 3000 students studying under the El-Shaddai umbrella and they have a centre in every city across Goa.
Julia has many plans in the pipeline. “We want to build more schools to impart education to more children. As of now, we have applied for an Open School, and they would be coming to visit us for an inspection soon. We would like to be based mainly in Goa but we have expanded to Karnataka, to influence others to take up this education method,” said Julia.
Julia wants to revolutionise the existing teaching system in the state and she is very positive that things will work out as the method which she uses in the school is the most effective. Julia’s efforts will surely pay off and she will be able to empower more children from underprivileged society in times to come.
Neena Panandikar – Life is the Biggest Teacher
Dr Neena Panandikar, Principal of Don Bosco College of Engineering is the first lady principal of a technical institution in the state of Goa. Born in 1971 into the Hede family and due to her father’s transferable job, she had to change her school frequently.
“Right from childhood my passion was to become a teacher but just like any other student I was also confused about my career and after my 12th I started searching for career options,” said Neena adding, she had the option of going into engineering or dentistry but with the help of her father’s advice she decided to do Civil Engineering. “During our time, very few girls used to take up engineering. But to my surprise almost half of the class was filled with girls and we ruled.” Neena completed her graduation in year 1992 and soon after completing her graduation Neena joined the office of Nasnodkar & Associates as a trainee design engineer and later took up the job as site engineer at Lawande & Associates. Leena got married in 1994 and like many, she had to leave her job to have her family. “I decided to take a break from my career after my son Kedar was born and it was my personal decision but deep inside me my passion to enter into the field of education was calling and to satisfy my urge I started taking tuitions for 12th Standard Students from my vicinity as I always wanted to do something for my student community.”
Finally, the day came in her life for which she was waiting for all this while: she got a call from the director PCCE, late Fr. Peter Martins, to tell her that she got selected for the post of lecturer at PCCE. “It was in the year 1997 when PCCE just started its college campus in Goa and they had a requirement to fill up the post of visiting lecturer in civil engineering. I decided to apply and put my best forward during the interview but I was unsure of getting any positive response until I received the call from Fr. Peter Martins saying “Mrs Palondicar you are selected out of over 20 candidates” I was completely overwhelmed with joy, and it was the beginning of my journey into the field of education,” she said.
According to Neena, she is lucky to have a husband and in-laws who supported her in all her endeavours. “I got strong backing of my husband and complete support of my in-laws due to which I was able to follow my passion with complete dedication,” said Neena adding that the able guidance of the Principal of PCCE Dr Shastry, she learnt a lot about leadership qualities, “I am honestly indebted to him: he inspired me to do higher studies and motivated me to do my post-graduation from reputed Institution.”
In year 2005, Neena answered the national level entrance exam for admission to teachers for PG course at NIT, “There were only two seats and due to giving my best I got into MTEch (Structural Engineering), although I got the seat but the biggest challenge was leaving my son at the tender age of 7 to pursue my dream and with a heavy heart I decided to go for it and completed my two years PG course at NIT Surathkal,” said Neena. “I am thankful to my then HOD Prof Venkataraman and my PCCE management who granted permission and study leave for two years,” she added.
According to Neena, learning is a continuous process and there is no end to it. “In 2009 I enrolled for PhD on part time basis and completed my doctorate in 2014 under the guidance of Dr. Babu Narayan. Managing college, home and additional PhD work was a big challenge. Working overtime without compromising on family I manage to get PhD degree,” she said.
After working for 19 years in PCCE, she got an opportunity to join as professor in Civil Engineering Department in 2016. “After joining Don Bosco, management entrusted me with additional responsibility of taking over as Principal of Institution which was in early stages of inception,” she said adding that “I am very much thankful to my Director Rev Fr. Kinley for having faith in my capabilities and entrusting me with major responsibility being a lady heading the technical institution. In 2017 I took over as full time principal and entitled to be first lady principal of technical institute in state of Goa.
Neena also thanked her team members and dedicated faculty and staff who continuously strived hard for overall development of the institution. It is well said that “Success comes to those who work hard and stays with those who don’t rest on the laurels of the past.” I am much thankful to the dedication and commitment of the Management, faculty, supporting staff and students of our college that is helping us in strengthening our journey of achieving excellence in technical education. A state-of-the-art infrastructure, motivating environment and with emphasis on providing professional education, within a short span of time, our institute is already well-known to be one of the best technical institutes in the state of Goa.”
According to Neena, life is the biggest teacher and in this infinite classroom of the Universe, what we can do is to learn to unlearn only to relearn. Be content with what you have and be content with what others have. Love what you do and do what you love …Life is short enjoy every moment of it…khul ke jio zindagi.
Pooja Bedi – a Student of Life
Pooja Bedi, who moved to Goa in 2012 from Mumbai to set up her life and career here in this beautiful land of sun, sea and siesta, comes from a very affluent Mumbai family. She started her journey in film and modelling at the tender age of 18 and becoming self-sufficient at that age. Her father, Mr Kabir Bedi, is a well-known actor in Bollywood and even in Hollywood. This story of Pooja Bedi is about empowering herself to be the independent and self-reliant woman.
Being a class topper in Lawrence School, Sanawar, Pooja Bedi is a student of life, and according to her, classrooms are great for formal education “I used to sign the book of honour and I was an enthusiastic all-rounder who was in the basketball team, hockey team, swimming team, debating team, theatre group and more,” she said adding that she aspired to be amongst the leading movers & shakers on Wall Street. “But destiny decided differently for me and at the tender age of 18 I found myself plunged into Bollywood & advertising and I’ve never looked back.”
According to Pooja, she always believes that whatever she set out to do, must get her 100% attention and focus and be executed with integrity. Whether it was her position as a sex symbol back in the 90s, to being a wife who practically did every cookery course (continental, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Thai, desserts, Mughlai), napkin folding, vegetable carving course etc, she kept a spotless and happy home in order to be the “best wife”.
“As a Mother I gave my kids 100% of my time and attention and as a single parent I made sure I was always focused on a great work-life balance and that the children maintained a great rapport with their father. Even as an ex-wife, I’ve striven to be the best version of one, and I get along fabulously with him and his current wife Laila. Life is shaped not by what happens to you, but by your reaction to it. I’m a happy optimist and believe in keeping things positive.”
As far as the professional space of Pooja is concerned, she let life lead her. “It’s amazing how at every juncture when I am certain that my life is meant to go in a certain direction that it suddenly does its own dance and leads me into unchartered waters where I learn, explore, evolve and grow from strength to strength. I’ve been an actor, a model, brand ambassador, I’ve worked in travel, lifestyle, skin care and other companies, I’m an award-winning relationship columnist, an award-winning talk show host with my talk show “Just Pooja” on Zoom. In addition, I’ve been a star on many reality shows ranging from fear factor (Khatron Ke Khiladi) to Nach Baliye to Bigg Boss 5,” narrated Pooja.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Pooja was always attracted towards business and finance and despite her life having taken her in a random direction, she decided to follow her own path. “I’ve always had a brain for finance and business and invested soundly over the years. Entrepreneurship for me was born out of sheer passion for the world of holistic wellness. I’ve been doing courses in various Metasciences for over 18 years. I have done courses and achieved certifications and diplomas in energy healing modalities like Usui Reki, Karuna Reiki, Shamanism, Magnified healing, to NLP (neuro linguistic programming), Clinical Hypnosis & behavioural resolutions and much, much more. When passion merges with preparation and purpose, magic begins,” says Pooja.
Pooja has launched her own brand in Goa called “Happy Soul” with the intention of it being a wellness wonderland. “It encompasses the best products, services and travel from across the country and gives visibility on a large and focussed wellnesscentric platform. The vision of Happy Soul spanning across all verticals of wellness is now a definite reality.
In the year 2012, Pooja bought her home in Goa and made it her emotional and professional base. “I have registered 2 companies here: the first being Magicians of Wellness(India) LLP which is my brick and mortar enterprise and deals with my multi-vendor wellness retail division as well as a rapidly expanding product line, an upcoming wellness centre and wellness café. We intend to curate our first wellness festival as well as wellness awards in the second half of this year. We recently signed a 50-store retail expansion deal with Francorp India and it’s thrilling to see Happy Soul spread its wings. We have also launched our own YouTube channel with many wellness playlists.”
Her second company “Merchants of India Pvt Ltd” is focussed on technology. “This is my mammoth multi-vendor B2B2C wellness e-commerce project which is under development and due to launch in May 2021. This has infinite potential, has a robust growth projection, and has the potential to be a Unicorn company by 2025. The thought of being the first Unicorn company of Goa is so damn exciting. Eventually I’d like to establish the same model in the UAE, the UK and USA,” said Pooja.
Pooja does not believe in gender competition and being a woman, according to Pooja, is her strength. “I never compete to be better than a man because I don’t see sense or purpose in it. Each of us has an individual destiny and calling and we must all follow our path. Women have such incredible qualities, be it the ability to nurture, to be kind, patient, compassionate and definitely the fact that we are great at multi-tasking. I’m juggling so many personal avatars and professionally so many different verticals of wellness all at the same time. Its hugely challenging and hugely rewarding as well. I’ve invested years of time and effort and lots of my finances into making Happy Soul go from dream to reality. There are oceans to cross and miles to travel and every bit of it excites me.”
According to Pooja every woman out there should practice self-love, assert self-worth and indulge in self-care. “None of these are “selfish”. We matter equally. Only when our well is full can others drink from it. Only if you are a happy, radiant, positive and an abundant person can you share it with others. Martyrdom, self-sacrifice are not the noble qualities we are programmed to believe they are. No one should expect you to want less from your own life. Yes, it’s an incredible feeling to help, comfort and extend ourselves for others. But our purpose is not to serve others at the cost of ourselves. It is to empower yourself so that you can empower other people’s lives as well. Also, do not allow the opinions of others to become your opinion of yourself. Stand your ground and believe in your individuality and always follow your intuition. The only person you need to feel proud in front of is your reflection in the mirror. And don’t hesitate to look into her eyes and say, “well done!” and “I Love you”.