Women of Worth 2017

Passion Personified

Swades Foundation’s Zarina Screwvala isn’t one for a predictable path and that’s what makes her the super achiever she is

Soumik Kar

Walking away from something you love is never easy. And Zarina Screwvala had spent close to three decades nurturing an organisation she started. It was February 2012, when the media veteran and her co-founder husband, Ronnie, had sold UTV Software Communications to The Walt Disney Company. Needless to say it had a profound impact on Screwvala, who struggled to extricate herself from the enterprise. “The only thing holding me back was the fear of letting go — my entire identity was wrapped up in UTV,” she candidly shares. 

A few months later, a tiny piece of paper plastered on the wall at her philosophy class helped her gain a fresh perspective about her scenario. The post displayed a quote by a Chinese legend, Lao Tzu — “When you let go of who you are, you become what you might be”. A fairly small sentence but powerful enough to make her contemplate her next step. A month later, she bid adieu to the media company and in her own words left behind “a kickass” team in charge, that she was confident would outperform her. 

Once the painful part was taken care of, Screwvala had attained the clarity to envision her next enterprise. Taking a leaf out of the charitable arm of UTV she set up in 2001, Swades Foundation was established in 2013. Screwvala elucidates how her one-year extensive research, which involved field visits across various NGOs (including the biggies like SEWA and BRAC), gave her a multipronged strategy for Swades. The NGO that has empowered close to 500,000 people so far focuses on health, education, sanitation, community mobilisation and creation of livelihood. 

Based out of Mumbai, the foundation managed to reach out to 2,000 villages across six blocks in Raigad in Maharashtra. It has set itself an arduous target of empowering 1 million more in rural India over the next five years. “We are trying to create a model of development that can be replicated by others and scaled,” she explains.   

Swades’ design follows three key elements — a 360-degree multifaceted a


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