“Why do I support women and what does it really mean to me,” asked Nita M. Ambani at the Women in the World Summit in Delhi.
Nita is the founder and chairperson of the Reliance Foundation, a philanthropic group of the multi-billion dollar Reliance Industries Limited, a Fortune 500 company led by her husband Mukesh Ambani.
Among the numerous initiatives undertaken by the organization under her guidance — education, healthcare, empowerment of women, uplifting of marginalized communities — disaster response and sports have been paid special attention. Ambani is also the co-owner of the Mumbai Indians cricket franchise, and launched a grassroots football initiative late last year, which aims to scout young talent across India and train them.
She said that so far the Reliance Foundation has helped more than 2.2 million women, but she was quick to explain that while her work may be dubbed as philanthropy or corporate social responsibility, it was all an effort to “pay off a debt” to millions of women who are not as privileged as she is.
She shared with the audience that she was born in a family of 11 girls and one boy, but that she never suffered gender discrimination at home. She was fortunate to have received an education, which many Indian women still are struggling to access. She trained in the Indian classical dance form of Bharatnatyam and worked as a teacher. When she was engaged, her only pre-condition was that she should be allowed to work even after her marriage.
“I could make my own choice for myself because of an environment that encouraged and enabled me. Unfortunately millions of women don’t have access to basic things like healthcare, sanitation, water and education,” she said.
Quoting startling statistics Ambani said that hundreds of thousands of Indian girls were killed in the womb or abandoned, pointing to the discrimination that women were subject to even before they were born. High dropout rates of girls from school at puberty because of a lack of toilets, and lower participation of females in the workforce, are issues that need attention, she stressed. If the number of women in the workforce equaled the number of men, the GDP of India could be expected to rise by 27 percent, she said, quoting statistics from the IMF.
Sharing stories of impoverished women who had become self-reliant through grassroots initiatives supported by the Reliance Foundation, she made a plea:
“It is time for action. Together let’s make that dream real.”