How Reshma Saujani made it to Fortune’s ‘50 Greatest World Leaders’

The Indian American founder of the non-profit, Girls Who Code, has helped place 10,000 high school girls into the tech world

India At Large staff

Today, Saujani is best known as the founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that aims to initiate young women into the tech world. So far, the nonprofit has helped place 10,000 high school girls into programmes where they learn how to code, develop mobile apps, and receive mentoring from women in engineering at companies like Facebook and Goldman Sachs. She has also managed to raise $16 million from corporations to support her mission.

She was recently named one of the ‘50 Greatest World Leaders’ by Fortune magazine, an annual list that included the likes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Roman Catholic Church’s Pope Francis and Apple chief executive Tim Cook in the top five this year. She came in at No. 20.

Fortune explained that at a TED talk in February 2015, the 40-year-old Saujani stressed teaching girls to be brave rather than perfect. The video of the talk she gave has accrued just shy of 1 million views. “She’s well-qualified to preach that message: It took the former Wall Street attorney three tries to get into Yale Law School,” Fortune wrote in its piece of the New York-based founder of Girls Who Code.

Born in Illinois, US, Saujani is of Gujarati descent. Her parents lived in Uganda, prior to being expelled along with other persons of Indian descent in the early 1970s by Idi Amin. They settled in Chicago.

Saujani attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she graduated in 1997 with majors in Political Science and Speech Communication. She attended the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where she received a Master of Public Policy in 1999, and Yale Law School, where she received her Juris Doctor in 2002.

Saujani is married to entrepreneur Nihal Mehta, who is a co-founder of ad tech startup LocalResponse. The two have a son named Shaan who was born in February 2015.

Saujani worked at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, where she defended securities fraud cases, and on a pro bono basis handled asylum cases. In 2005, she joined the investment firm Carret Asset Management. After Saujani left Carret, its principal owner, financier Hassan Nemazee, was convicted on felony charges relating to bank fraud carried out over the course of several years at Carret, including during Saujani’s time at Carret; she later told the news media that she had had no knowledge of any illicit conduct at Carret.

Subsequently, she joined Blue Wave Partners Management, a subsidiary of the Carlyle Group, the global alternative asset management firm specialising in private equity. She was an associate general counsel at Blue Wave, an equity multi-strategy hedge fund; it was closed in the aftermath of the 2008 market collapse.

By most measures, Saujani is a huge success. But at the same time, as she admits in an interview with Fortune, she is a “walking failure of not being able to accomplish [her] dream.”

Saujani is referring to her two failed attempts to run for public office: first for the House of Representatives, then for the office of New York City Public Advocate.

Yet the former financier didn’t let her failure determine her future, and she now wants other women to do the same: “I want women to be comfortable with being imperfect,” she was quoted as saying by Fortune. “I immediately see how girls are afraid to try things that they won’t be good in. And women stay with the things they’re good at even if that’s not what they’re put on this earth to do.”


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