Shine Your Light

eShe’s ‘Shine Your Light’ personal-growth workshops for women kicked off with the first edition on January 12 in Delhi. Mirr Investments founder Namrata B Durgan also participated in this unique session and shared her insights on financial planning for women. It was a day of learning, laughter and loving ourselves a little more!


(Video by Ananya Jain for eShe)

I Drove Two Hours to Give a Talk – to an Unexpected Audience

Mirr founder Namrata B Durgan was invited by a multinational company to give a talk on money matters to its employees. But she wasn’t prepared for this one little detail.

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Not long after eShe published an interview of me, I was contacted by a senior executive at a multinational technology company to deliver a talk on managing money at their office in Noida. Enthusiastically, I prepared my script and mused over the best points to put in my presentation. My husband Sanjay, a financial advisor himself, decided to accompany me for the long drive from our home in Delhi.

On the morning of the talk, the two of us got dressed in our ‘corporate best’, smart bags in hand. I set the location on the GPS and we drove off from home, full of optimism and a sense of attempting something new. As someone who is out to create financial awareness (my company motto is ‘Indulgence is freedom’), I’ve given talks on money management and investment to many groups of women – ranging from villagers to urban entrepreneurs.

But to address the employees of one of the world’s largest companies with 380,000 people on its rolls was an entirely new ballgame.

We arrived two hours later, traffic-weary, but the executive who had contacted me gave me a warm welcome restoring my cheer. She led me through the hi-tech office to the conference room. “This is my moment,” I thought to myself as we walked down the pristine corridors, my pulse racing madly. “These are some of the most brilliant minds in the world. And here I am, about to teach them about money.” Shivers of nervous anticipation ran down my spine. This was my make-or-break moment.

We arrived at the conference room. The executive paused for a fraction of a second, clicked the door handle, and then, with a flourish, opened the door wide. “Welcome to the conference room,” she announced with a big, dazzling smile.

“This is it,” the words boomed in my head, as if they would erupt out of my ears. I stepped into the room with as much confidence as I could muster.

I was not prepared for what I saw there.

It was empty.

Stark, chilled, corporate. Empty.

I looked at the vacant chairs – was one moving there in the corner? – and the lone laptop at the head table. My long drive, my makeup, my power point presentation, my notes, my nervousness that morning – all flashed in front of my eyes. Is this what I had geared up for? An empty room?

In the same instant, a realisation struck me. It was going back to the ‘source’. To nothingness. We all run around being busy, doing things, while the truth is emptiness. Silence. No mind. Just playfulness. Life is too short to take things seriously. Seconds ago everything was systematic, serious, protocol- and strategy-driven. Then the door opened and it was all empty. Zen.

And when I realised the divine paradox in the situation, I was subjected to another internal test, as a volcano of hysterical laughter threatened to erupt from inside me.

It took me an enormous amount of emotional energy and intense centering to suppress it.

I cleared my throat as the lady led me to the laptop. “It’s a webinar,” she explained, as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. She pulled a chair back and invited me to be seated. “You may begin.”

The sheer absurdity of it. I stared, tongue-tied, at an indecipherable screen with a few boxes and words moving about.

The cursor blinked. The white walls closed in. “Hello, welcome to my talk on this bright morning,” I began without conviction, a question mark lilting my words. I fiddled with my hair and face, until Sanjay – equally dazed, I hasten to add – indicated that I was being watched. Instantly, I froze. You can’t see us but we can see you, rang a chorus of evil voices in the recesses of my brain.

My ‘talk’ went along falteringly, sputtering and stopping in jerks and fits, until the executive – no doubt one of the most brilliant minds in the world – typed out a speedy instruction on her device that went out on the company’s vast intranet to all those who had to suffer my feeble exertions: “Ask something.”

A male voice sounded from the laptop, asking a question – about how safe mutual funds are. A sudden light went on behind my eyes. My heart bloomed. There was life out there. This was audience feedback. I could answer this. Another question came up, and another. And before I knew it, I was chatting happily with the laptop like a long-lost friend.

“That was quite something,” Sanjay and I discussed in the car. “They’ll probably never invite me again.”

Three days later, they did. This time, they gave me a human audience.

Then three of those humans invited me to give talks to their individual teams across four cities: Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi.

I narrated this to a friend.

“So you’ll travel now to Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and their office in Delhi,” she asked with a puzzled look, “to give more talks to empty rooms?”

A fortnight of pressure-cooked laughter erupted like Mount Vesuvius, wracking my bones until I doubled up, clutching my tummy, tears streaming down my face.

You gotta love technology.

Empowering Financial Freedom for Rural Women at Avani

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A visit to a ground breaking development project in the Kumaon region shows how rural women are eager to learn more about financial freedom.

When we talk of financial freedom for women, we automatically assume that urban women would be the first to comprehend the various financial options available to them. But as I discovered on a recent visit to the Avani community development project located in the Kumaon region of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, rural women are actually more keen to learn how they can maximise their investments for a rainy day.

Established in 1997, Avani – named after the Hindi word for Earth – creates opportunities for viable employment through a self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable supply chain. Though both men and women are involved in the activities of Avani, the focus is largely on women, who constitute 85% of the participants in the various programmes, from textile production such as wool, silk, linen, yarn and pashmina to the production of natural dyes, among other activities.

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My visit to Avani was an eye-opener as I saw the resilience of the women who were so dedicated to their work while balancing their duties at home. When I gave a group of women a presentation on the benefits of S.I.P (Systematic Investment Planning) and the wonders of compound interest, they realized how this was a better way of investing than the usual fixed deposits that they were used to.

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“Time, patience and discipline – these are the three mantras you need to follow,” I said in my presentation explaining that taking care of investments was like taking care of one’s health. They found it amusing when I shared that it’s false to think that all urban women are aware about investing despite earning more money than them.

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When I saw how easily they climbed down mountain trails, carrying heavy loads of pine needles on their heads, I used that as an example of how capable they were compared to me who needed help to walk the same mountain paths. “Financial planning is also about negotiating tricky paths,” I told them. “Just like you are aware about the pitfalls and know how to walk mountain paths, you can have a similar approach to ensure your financial planning is safe and fruitful.”

That inspired them to think how they would first set aside even a small monthly sum of just Rupees 200 for their SIP, before they spent on their domestic budgets.
In fact, when I was walking in the forest, I came across some women and started having a general chat about my visit to Avani. Intrigued, they started asking more questions and I ended up giving them a presentation on financial management, right in the lap of nature!

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India’s rural economy is considered a strong growth engine. According to a 2013 Accenture report, since 2000, per capita Gross Domestic Product has grown faster in India’s rural areas than in its urban centres: 6.2 per cent CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) versus 4.7 per cent.
Between 2009 and 2012, spending in rural India reached $69 billion, significantly higher than the $55 billion spent by the urban population.

Clearly, the opportunities for financial planning and empowerment abound in rural India. And as I discovered during my memorable visit to Avani, it is India’s rural women who can lead the way towards financial freedom.

– Namrata B Durgan, Founder, Mirr Investments

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