This 24-year-old Chennai girl is changing a woman's world with education, financial literacy, and Inner Goddess
Anannya Parekh, the Co-founder and CEO of Inner Goddess, was someone who read a lot for her age. She grew up in a joint family that preached the morals of quality education, and one that leaned completely towards building career growth and quality life. The 24-year-old social entrepreneur's mindset naturally went towards that direction.
Hailing from Mylapore, the conservative part of Chennai city that fosters rich Indian tradition, devotion, and the fragrance of incense sticks, Anannya had books in her head from a mere age of six. She calls her habit, “the greatest thing her parents helped her adopt.”
Anannya Parekh, CEO of Inner Goddess.
Owing to the habit, and the understanding of the world she developed over time, Anannya says she's always been one who does a lot of self-reflection and introspection. While that was the beginning, what complemented along was the flow of dialogue in her family on the grounds of open discussions.
She tells SocialStory,
"I understood gender bias very clearly while growing up. I never kept my thoughts and questions to myself but rather discussed them openly with my parents. Over the years, I had my clarity of the why, behind the societal constructs and socio-economic discourse."
The initial seeds of social service were planted in her mind when she often visited a children's home near her residence in Chennai. She would collect donations from friends and family and purchase stationery for the children. This mere seed now transformed into a giant tree of a social organisation, the Inner Goddess.
Having a knack for Physics and Aerospace Engineering earlier, Anannya went to SRM University, Chennai. However, she found her calling in doing her part for women’s rights, empowerment, and education, thanks to her stint at AIESEC. She dropped out of university after her second year.
What does it do
Chennai-based Inner Goddess works towards educating women on financial literacy that covers the sensitivities of financial anxiety, mental health, and personal investing. The organisation follows a teacher-training model by conducting workshops that span over three hours.
The team at Inner Goddess.
Growing up, Anannya happened to have read plenty about women's issues, gender biases, and taboos, and sparked the necessary conversation with the women in her family. She understood that most women have their lives changed drastically, either in a small or large way, only because of their identities as women.
Going through an emotional ride that was coupled with anger and passion, Anannya wanted to make women empowerment and education her life's work. With Inner Goddess and education on financial literacy, she is gradually surging towards making a tangible impact.
Started in September 2016, Inner Goddess reports having its impact imprinted on over 10,000 women across Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru, having conducted over 70 workshops. A renowned public speaker in Chennai and an alumnus of AIESEC, Anannya has also represented India at many global summits.
She says, "There was a relative uproar in the women's movement around the time, and people were just starting to understand the subjects of feminism and equality. Chennai receives its information a bit late, compared to that of other cities in India, and the city is a lot more conservative if you compare it with a city like Bengaluru."
For the same reason, she started in Chennai and moved places to find relevant mentors to acquire the necessary guidance and mentorship for the project. She sought out Tanvi Girotra, Associate Director and Advisor at Arabella Advisors, and Cornelia Kunze, Founder of i-sekai. While Inner Goddess focusses primarily on empowering women at a larger scale, Anannya was recommended a narrowed down approach and starting with a specific subject. Thus, she found financial literacy to be the appropriate one to start with.
Inner Goddess primarily caters to young women aged between 16 and 25 years, who come from underprivileged backgrounds and have no roadmap on how to build important financial habits.
The team also approaches premier institutions and colleges to partner with them and conduct workshops, while charging them. The pricing ranges between Rs 300 and Rs 20,000, depending on the duration and the complexity of the teaching. Anannya says the organisation made revenue close to Rs 6 lakh in FY18 and Rs 3 lakh in FY19. Inner Goddess pivoted fully to non-profit after 2018.
Fixing the root cause
Anannya says her team understands that most problems arise due to a lack of financial independence in young girls. They only pick up these skills in times of turmoil or early adulthood. In the process, the team stumbled upon numerous stories of women whose husbands passed away abruptly.
"Suddenly, they are in a fix. They have to manage all the money now, and they do not know how to do it because nobody ever taught them. The education system is not teaching us these things and women are falling behind because of that. In many ways, it's a nuanced problem with multiple repercussions."
The problem persists in young girls aged between 16 and 25 years, when they are deciding on a lot of things around life, education, and future plans. It might be a normal human decision in a regular household, but for the underprivileged, there is not much hope with the many financial implications attached.
"So, the vision right now is to ensure that a lot of these girls get the right kind of information about personal finance, so their literacy around it becomes higher. It will automatically help them make better decisions, Anannya opines.
At the moment, Anannya is going all-in to draft a petition to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, saying that her team would build a larger curriculum for financial literacy that can be incorporated within the formal educational syllabi. Besides, the CEO is also pursuing a fellowship with the YP Foundation, that supports and develops youth leadership to advance the rights of young women, girls, and marginalised youth.
Her goal is to institutionalise the subject of women empowerment where it becomes larger than a mere social movement.
(Edited by Suman Singh)