Tech entrepreneur Reema Rasool has always stressed the importance of supporting education for women and girls in India.
“Here in America, we are used to the idea of social change and we are lucky to grow up with a sense of, ‘OK, you don’t like it, so change it,’” Rasool recently told MassMutual’s blog. “I do believe that’s the American in me.”
Rasool is the star of a new ad by MassMutual that tells the story of how she, the daughter of Indian immigrants, began her first company, which sold luxury scarves and pashminas. The products were inspired by her own Kashmiri heritage.
She later began her own clothing and social impact startup ElleBhi. The company trains women in India to embroider and manufacture clothes with the goal of helping them become financially independent.
Rasool recently completed the first round of seed funding for ElleBhi’s new trade school for women in Jammu, India. The mom of two said she was particularly dedicated to the cause of women’s empowerment because she had seen the Indian women she worked with stay in unhealthy relationships because they could not afford to move on.
“It really bothers me to see that,” said Rasool, adding that her own grandmother’s story was one of the main reasons she decided to pursue social impact work. My grandmother was extremely intelligent, but she grew up in India and she wasn’t allowed to study after the eighth grade, so she made sure that her daughters and granddaughters understood that education and financial independence equals power, especially for women,” she said. “This idea has been passed down from my family.”
Rasool’s own journey into entrepreneurship was not always a straightforward one. After graduating from NYU with a creative writing degree she began working as a publicist for several fashion brands. Her first attempt at starting her own business was rife with errors. “I knew nothing about retail or working with vendors in India,” she said. “I fell on my face tons of times.”
Since then, Rasool has founded South Asian Young Women Entrepreneurs (or SAY WE), a networking organization for other South Asian women business owners. Though SAY WE was established in 2010, Rasool has said that she continues to learn from its members.
“I get way more out of talking with students and other entrepreneurs than they get from me,” she told MassMutual. “I just love their energy.”
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