After unveiling the list of the most influential women, it’s time to take a closer look at the chosen leaders of 2023.
BW Education’s Most Influential Women list, presented on the occasion of International Women’s Day each year, is a celebration of their endeavour to bring about a positive impact in education through their vision, courage and relentless effort.
We submitted a list of 45 women educationists to our eminent Advisory Committee of Dr Rajan Singh, VC, NMIMS; Dr Anup Singh, DG, Nirma University; Dr Punam Sahgal, former Director, IIM Lucknow, Noida Campus; and Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson, Mpower, an initiative by the Aditya Birla Education Trust, the latter two being part of last year’s Most Influential Women list.
The committee responded with the names that they approved, listing their criteria for selection and suggesting a few names that they felt ought to be included in this grouping.
After discussion with the internal jury comprising Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld and Founder, Exchange4Media and Noor Fathima Warsia, Group Editorial Director, BW Businessworld, BW Education team tallied the names who had got ‘yes’ from all, majority of three ‘yes’ and at least two ‘yes’ and came upon the list of 20 most influential women.
This does not take away from the tireless effort a large number of women educators are doing. Our effort at BW Education is to highlight the work being done across the country by so many individuals about whom people ought to know.
Here are the most influential women in education for 2023:
Captains Of Education
The captains of education are those women who are at the forefront of change, leading some of our top institutes and influencing women on a national level.
Dr Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities
At a time when the National Education Policy is remodelling the higher education system, Four-year degree courses, academic bank of credits, multiple exit and entry points and dual degrees are being introduced and foreign universities are being allowed to open campuses, the Association of Indian Universities has a critical role to play in coordination between these universities and voicing their issues. The Secretary General of AIU is the dynamic Dr Pankaj Mittal, possessing a great macro and micro vision of higher education.
The Association, which is 98-year-old and which has been headed by stalwarts like Dr Zakir Husain and Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, coordinates with the universities and works as a liaisoning organisation between the government and the university. “It’s a voice of the universities for the government and if the government wants to implement anything in the sector of our education, they seek the help of AIU and we help them. We are implementing many, government policies,” says Mittal.
Sudha Murty, Chairperson, Infosys Foundation
She was in the news in 2022 as the mother-in-law of the UK’s new PM Rishi Sunak, but Sudha Murty is an influential woman in her own right. An educationist, philanthropist, businessperson, teacher and author rolled into one, Murty is a person of great vision for the country and the youth. Murty became the first female engineer hired at Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company. She taught engineering and started the Infosys Foundation, which is working in the areas of education, rural development, healthcare, arts and culture, and destitute care. Murty’s books are read by a cross-section of people and of different age groups, from toddlers to professionals and are an inspiration to an entire generation of youth.
Prof Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit, Vice-Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit is the first woman to hold the Vice Chancellor at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). This was a historic move for the well-respected university. The position itself was not new to Pandit who had held the same title at Savitribai Phule University, Maharashtra prior to joining JNU.
Pandit began her career in the field of teaching in 1988 at Goa University and moved to Pune University in 1993. Well-qualified with an MPhil and PhD degree from JNU, she is also a member of several organisations, such as the American Studies Research Institute, Hyderabad and the All India Political Science Association to name a few. Pandit is proactively rebranding the institute today.
Prof Najma Akhtar, VC, Jamia Millia Islamia
Steering the central university during a turbulent phase, and overseeing its rise to the third rank in the NIRF rankings for 2022, is Jamia’s first woman Vice-Chancellor, Prof Akhtar. Heading the university that has a brilliant legacy of over 100 years – the university was born during the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920 – and ensuring its role as a leading higher education provider catering to 21st-century R&D, skilling, and employability needs is no mean achievement, but Akhtar has been doing it silently.
New courses have started and now the ambit of courses – from bachelors degree to PhD – is as vast as Energy Sciences, Computational Mathematics, Microbiology, Virology (which has become crucial in the wake of Covid); Hotel Management; Architecture and planning, Design and Innovation, and languages, including Korean, besides vocational courses.
The VC is keen that the courses should make students employable and the placement cell works day and night to get the students placed, well in time, before the course ends. The university organises job readiness workshops, mock interviews and extension lectures by industry professionals.
Prof Sunaina Singh, Vice Chancellor, Nalanda University
Prof Sunaina Singh is noted as among the most prominent leaders in higher education in the South Asian region. She is currently the Vice-Chancellor of Nalanda University, a globally acclaimed historical university with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Singh is engaged with the naissance task of rebuilding the distinguished ancient Nalanda University. The Oxford Union has recently conferred the Honorary Professorship in 2020, in appreciation of her contribution to promoting Indian higher education and culture. She has been conferred with ‘Ambassador for Peace’ by the Universal Peace Federation, a global network of peacebuilders in the year 2022.
Dr Vinita Singh Sahay, Director, Indian Institute of Management, Bodh Gaya
Dr Vinita Singh Sahay is serving the second term as director of the Indian Institute of Management, Bodh Gaya. She holds a PhD in Customer Value from CSJM University, Kanpur. Sahay has received Business School Affair & Dewang Mehta B-School Award for Best Teacher in Marketing Management for the year 2011 and won the ‘Gold Medal’ for being Topper in MA (Economics). She has published six books on management, five cases, numerous research papers and regularly attends workshops and conferences.
Her area of interest in research includes marketing of services, retail management, retail supply chain management, customer value & customer satisfaction, customer relationship management and trust & relationship in the supply chain.
Dr Uma Tuli, Founder, Amar Jyoti Trust
Dr Uma Tuli began her career as a lecturer at Mata Sundari College at Delhi University. She founded Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust after her brother’s accident left him with an amputation. Determined to provide education and skills to people in similar situations who could not find proper employment, her mission since has expanded to include children and adult education, training and skilling. Having built an infrastructure that is accessible by all, Amar Jyoti Trust is regularly used as a base for institutes like IGNOU to conduct their own skilling courses.
Her efforts earned her the position of Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities for the Government of India and a Padma Shri in 2012.
Dr Nisha Mendiratta, Head, WISE-KIRAN Division and Climate Change Programme, Department of Science and Technology
Nisha Mendiratta is one of the top names working for the development of weather, farming and the natural ecosystem.
She has a master’s in Agricultural Physics, PG Diploma in remote sensing and a PhD in agricultural science. She commenced her career as Scientist at NRSA (National Remote Sensing Agency) and carried out intensive research in crop characterisation using satellite data and at NCMRWF. Mendiratta is working on two missions – National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE) and National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change.
Dilafroze Qazi, Founder, SSM College of Engineering & Technology
Dilafrose Qazi chose to emancipate people through education during the height of militancy in Kashmir. What began as a part-time course for women, teaching tailoring, cooking, shorthand, etc. went on to become the Srinagar School of Management-College of Engineering, the first private engineering institute in Kashmir.
Having studied law at the University of Kashmir, Qazi worked extensively to provide quality education for all. In 1996, she started a free primary school in the Baramulla district. Followed by the opening of another school in Dangarpora (1998). In 2001, Qazi started another free primary school at Kunan Poshpora in the Kupwara district. She was also among 90 women from India nominated for the 1000 women for Nobel Peace Prize.
Making Difference At Grassroots
These women are addressing the gaps in education by going straight to the source and working from the ground up to build a strong foundation for those without access to quality education.
Dr Zareena Quireshi, Principal Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Nagpur
Dr Zareena Quireshi is the Principal of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya Nagpur. She has achieved National Incentive Award from Commissioner Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti and achieved National Award from UNFPA for best work in India for Adolescence Education Programme. She is a Master Trainer of the Adolescence Education Programme. Dr Quireshi is known for raising the quality of education and has played an important role in facilitating a conducive environment for learners from the school level to the college level and from the research level to the job level. Dr Quireshi has been at the forefront of several initiatives to enhance the girls’ ratio in the STEM stream at UG, PG, PhD and Post Doc levels.
Aarti Naik, Founder, SAKHI for Girls Education
Aarti Naik is a slum-based young woman changemaker from the suburban slum area of Mumbai, India. Due to her parents’ poor conditions, she was not able to complete her higher education but it did not stop her from working on her mission. With the aim of building the capacity of slum-based girls with basic literacy, numeracy skills and life skills education, she started her social venture – SAKHI for Girls Education in 2008 – to create quality learning spaces so that every girl in the slums of Mumbai will get an opportunity to continue her school education with confidence. With her efforts, today more than 400 girls have access to a girls’ learning space inside their own slum community.
Bernadette Pimenta, Educationist and Social Activist
Bernadette Pimenta is a Sociology Graduate and has a post-graduation degree in Education. She is a principal of the Garden School, a non-formal child enrichment school in Mumbai. Pimenta is also the chairperson of Snehalaya- Centre for Persons in need of Special Care and advisor to the Rugna Kalyan Samiti of Thane Mental Hospital as well as the national coordinator of The World Community for Christian Meditation, London. She is known as the ‘Mother Teressa of Thane’ for her exemplary social work. Her contribution to the educational field is outstanding – right from starting a non-formal child enrichment school in Mumbai to responsibly providing children and youth supplementary curriculum enrichment programmes for over two decades.
Bhuvana Santhanam, CEO – Global Outreach, Prashanthi Balamandira Trust/ Sai Global Federation of Foundations
Bhuvana Santhanam has worked in corporates for most of her career. Her business knowledge and expertise and the myriad leadership roles she has held have contributed significantly to her personal and professional development. Now Santhanam leads global outreach for Prashanthi Balamandira Trust, working towards bringing respite to thousands of underprivileged children by providing them free healthcare, education, and nutrition across 30 countries. She aims to ensure that the last child is educated, not just through textbooks but holistically. This means prioritising emotional and mental health. Under Santhanam’s leadership, the organisation has fed 1.2 million children every morning across 60,000 schools in the country.
New Age Leaders
Leaders in education who are finding unique solutions to problems, whether through technology or by introducing new pedagogies, revealing the true potential of education in its many forms.
Dr Pallavi Rao Chaturvedi, Founder Director, Get Set Parent with Pallavi; Vice President, Early Childhood Association & Founder, Brainy Bear Preschool & Activity Club chain
Running a successful chain of pre-schools, Dr Pallavi Rao Chaturvedi realised the need for the right guidance for parents during the lockdown. She shares, “Everyone was stuck up at home during Covid. Parents were not sure what to do with their kids. And the teachers and parents used to WhatsApp me asking me what to do. To support our parents and teachers we started uploading videos. And then it struck me, that in this age of social media when I am communicating it to 500 parents, might as well put it on a social media platform where more parents can benefit.” Today, the platform that she created is benefitting half a million followers on social media. Get Set Parents and Brainy Bear fulfil a critical need of providing the right tools for brain development in early childhood, and also in consonance with the NEP, which lays unprecedented emphasis on learning in 0-6 years.
Smita Deorah, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, LEAD
Smita Deorah started her career as a chartered accountant before eventually turning to education and entrepreneurship. With more than 22 years of experience in finance and education, Deorah carries the responsibility for education research, product development and capability building at LEAD.
Deorah’s goal is to bring quality education to students from all backgrounds and make it more affordable through technology and other tools. LEAD is not her first education venture, Deorah had also founded an NGO, Sparsh, in Mumbai to uplift Anganwadis in association with the Maharashtra government.
Her tireless efforts as an entrepreneur and educationist, as well as, her contribution towards helping disadvantaged children make her an inspiration to women everywhere.
Dr Sudha Gopalakrishnan, Co-founder and Vice President, Sahapedia
Dr Sudha Gopalakrishnan is a founder and Vice President of Sahapedia’s governing body. Sahapedia is an ambitious online platform for exploring the cultural and historical resources of India. The platform engages in serious research work to foster scholarship in India.
A PhD in Comparative Drama, Dr Gopalakrishnan was the Mission Director of the National Mission for Manuscripts, from 2003-2007. Among her other important contributions is the preparation of three successful nomination dossiers for the recognition of three heritage expressions—Kutiyattam, Vedic Chanting and Ramlila—as UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. Significantly, she has contributed to, and fostered documentation and research pertaining to multiple aspects of Indian arts and heritage in her various roles.
Bobby Abrol, Lead – Developing Teachers, Tata Trusts
Bobby Abrol has been working in the education sector for over a decade. Starting as a teacher, Abrol moved on to become a teacher education, curriculum development and research. Finding a gap in the training programmes available for teachers while they are working, Abrol intends to improve the learning experience for teachers everywhere and find new ways to train educators across the country.
In her current role, she is a design team member of the education portfolio at Tata Trusts. She has developed and implemented a two-month ‘Experiential Learning Pedagogy Course’ for teachers in partnership with the Central Government.
Dharini Upadhyaya, CO-Founder and Co-CEO, Furtados School of Music
An erstwhile banker Dharini Upadhyaya sensed a gap in the music education space and evolved a model that would bring joy and build confidence among a large number of students. She co-founded the Furtados School of Music which has provided a structure and curriculum for music education. A lot of research went into each step, especially in evolving a pedagogy that takes into account what students want to learn. Teacher training programmes are also organised to empower music teachers with the right teaching methodology. Furtados has a presence in more than 200 schools across the country, including several Tier II and III cities.
Charu Mathur, Founder, Socrates Foundation
Charu Mathur is an educationist and a social entrepreneur from Pune, India and holds an experience of over three decades. She is an ILEP (International Leaders in Education Program) 2011 alumni and founder of Socrates Foundation for Enhanced Learning, India – a non-profit educational organisation.
She specialises in conceptualising, designing and implementing innovative learning modules which are designed to inculcate 21st-century learning methodology, collaborative learning, creativity and innovation and honing the critical thinking and problem-solving skills of students.
Mathur is an MSc Gold medallist from Agra University, from where she majored in Child Development in 1983.
Meghna Ghai Puri, President at Whistling Woods International
Meghna Ghai Puri is the President of Whistling Woods International, a film, communication and creative arts institute located in Mumbai. A pass out from King’s College, London, where she did Business Management. Puri has over 20 years of leadership experience and under her guidance, the institute has been amongst the Ten Best Film Schools in the world by a leading film publication on multiple occasions, and Excellence in Creative & Performing Arts at the 6th FICCI Higher Education Excellence Awards 2019.
Puri has successfully shaped a world-class film school in Mumbai in the heart of the ‘Film City- Goregaon’ a centre of the Indian Film Industry for a period of the century. Her film school has given notable alumni to the film Industry. She is now in a new venture where her focus is to inculcate film studies and creativity among school-going children.