CEO OF KATALYST – POORVI SHAH
In the fifth story of GoBarefootRealHeroes we are sharing an inspiring story of Poorvi Shah.
“To give of your possessions is to give little but to give of yourself is to give everything” -by Kahlil Gibran.
This is the maxim that defines me.
When I was in my finance career, I did take some volunteering initiatives like painting a school or
teaching a module at a public school, but what I did most was write a cheque annually typically to an
education focused Not for Profit.
How many people, male or females can see their dreams come true? Either they don’t have access
or they are pursuing someone else’s dreams. I was fortunate to be one of four sisters each of whom
got the opportunity and encouragement to pursue career of choice. My children were fortunate to
be in an environment where education was a given. I had seen my father work his way up and teach
me that there was no short cut to hard work. I strongly believe that education is a leveller and can be
a life changer.
Fast forward a few years, and I took a break from corporate career and in another couple years I was
pulled into the social sector not because I had planned it that way. I landed in Social Sector by
chance, but once I did, there was no looking back. I grew professionally and personally. The beauty
of being in the sector is that there is as much impact on oneself as on the beneficiaries. It’s a
Having come from an MBA and finance background, management and numbers came naturally to
me. I leveraged that to develop a leadership program at The Akanksha Foundation and then also got
into donor management and reporting. I was in an organization, an NGO, filled with leaders mostly
women, and only a few men. Lot of my myths were busted and stereotypes broken. I was finally
educated! However, the joy came out of working with and nurturing the young minds and
maximising their potential. I had learnt a lot from travel, exposure, reading and believed the same
was required for these young minds. I helped implement the community research project, organised
leadership outbound, participated with my students in Global forums such as UN WASH forum, went
on field visits to places they would not have otherwise.
When I got an opportunity to work with girls in higher education, I realised that it was time to move
on and apply my learning and skills to bridge the gap which only Katalyst seemed to be working on. I
could resonate with the vision. When I went on to follow my dream of an MBA in Finance, only a
third of my MBA class was girls. The ratio was even more skewed when I entered the venture capital
world, a male bastion. Hence, I was determined to bring some balance if not change the statistics in
favour of women.
I have been associated with Katalyst for over five years and it reinforces my belief that young girls
have so much potential and ambition, all they need is opportunity and exposure. And they are hard
working too. These girls are mired in social and financial pressure and on top of that there’s
Despite that they are willing to attend classes to learn and to hone their skills so that they get better job opportunities with a higher salary package, navigate the workplace and move up the career ladder. I am glad to say that these girls are making their own decisions about when to get married, who to get married to, when to have children and when and whether to take
a career break. There are girls who are moving cities and countries because they have better job
Most of the panels I have attended on women empowerment focus on livelihood, vocational
training, tailoring, beauty courses, etc. It’s required but Why not think of her as an Engineer or an
Orthopedic Doctor. Lack of role models cause further entry barrier through barrier in mind. Vicious
And it is not just a local problem, contrary to popular belief. It is the same story everywhere.
I was at the Global women in STEM leadership summit in Atlanta .The challenges
women face there are ditto! One of my co-panelists shared how she was asked to go and get a
degree in MRS when she expressed interest in pursuing Maths in college. I was racking my brain to
figure out the full form of MRS when fortunately a young college student in the audience asked what
it stood for? To my disbelief, Mrs. was the answer! And one would think the USA would be more
liberal. Well not yet as far as women in STEM, gender parity and representation in the workforce is
I am passionate about equity in education, I believe in the potential of youth especially women and I
thrive on relationships!
I believe that the biggest challenge to a woman is the woman herself. The roadblocks mental and
physical are laid by a woman herself. She needs to believe that she is a leader and that she can!
Easier said than done.