Our aim is have over a 100 million connected over the internet’ – Sairee Chahal, Founder and CEO of SHEROES in an interview with Pooja Garg, Founder Chief Editor, The Woman Inc.
PG: How did you get involved in this work? They say there is usually a personal experience which propels such passion. Is there a personal experience/story behind what started this for you?
SC: I grew up in a small town, and this experience exposed me to the lived experiences of women, their dreams, aspirations, and struggles. There is so much potential, so much desire to achieve things. I understood the limitations and always knew instinctively that the internet could be a mass enabler in millions of journeys. Via SHEROES we have built a safe, accessible, constructive and creative social network for women to take charge, get support, express themselves and grow their identities. Over 70% of SHEROES users live outside Tier-1 cities, and we are seeing this number grow every day.
PG: What were the challenges you faced when you started? Have they eased since then?
SC: Connecting the dots between women, technology, aspirations and safe spaces was a new idea when we started out. Today, it is still a growing idea, but we are seeing the impact of this work via tons of narratives emerging from the SHEROES app.
PG: What are the new challenges you face today?
SC: With the onslaught of the COVID-19 triggered lockdown, we have strengthened our ecosystem to respond to real-time needs of users of the SHEROES app, with a COVID-19 support utility, information, live sessions, and other resources.
From a long-term perspective, our aim is to bring 100 million women on the Internet, and the challenge is to support women in getting access to data, smartphones, and time to invest in themselves. This is an ongoing mission. Another challenge is to help women with no credit history gain access to credit so they can invest in education or a small business.
PG: What is the one achievement that you prize more than any other, and why? What gives you hope for the area you work in?
SC: Our achievements lie in the success stories of women being able to grow, learn, invest in themselves, transform. We have tons of these to share. A single mom emerging out of domestic violence and building a business in her own village, a student overcoming depression to emerge much stronger, first-time internet users starting their own communities and making them vibrant spaces, an entrepreneur supporting hundreds of women to become professional bloggers. These stories give us hope.
PG: Is there a certain misconception that you wish people would change within the area you work in?
SC: One major misconception is our idea of products for women – we think of bags, shoes, cloths and kitchenware. We definitely need all of this, but also mainstream products that are more aspirational, and that create a space for women to dabble in the realm of expression, access, conversations, and enablement.
PG: If you had the chance to change any one policy in the area of your work, what would that be, and why?
SC: There needs to be more commitment and investment towards women’s healthcare, education, access to credit and data. These goals must be backed by political will. By investing in women, we can move the needle.
PG: What makes you get up and do this every day of your life?
SC: I am extremely passionate about entrepreneurship, technology and women’s progress. Connecting these dots helps us make unimaginable things possible. It’s exciting, fulfilling and so much to learn every day.
PG: What is your vision for the future? How do you see your work and organization shaping up?
SC: As a social network, we shall keep going deeper, strengthening our ecosystem in a way that supports women in growing their identities, making meaningful connections, growing financially independence, and investing in their own emotional and physical well-being.
PG: If you had just three words to describe yourself, what would they be?
SC: Driven. Energetic. Determined.
PG: What are the three things that people don’t know about you?
SC: I have a spiritual side that helps me stay grounded, mindful. I believe we need more empathy across the spectrum.
I start my day with yoga, and nature walks.
I love photographs that capture the gorgeousness of nature; they remind us what we need to preserve.
PG: If there was one poem or book that has inspired you the most on your journey, which one is it? What makes it special for you?
SC: The SHEROES anthology with real stories by our members – I shall always cherish this one.
PG: What does building a lasting legacy mean to you?
SC: Leveraging tech to solve deep-rooted problems in a creative, cool, consumable way. Making it scalable, inclusive, aspirational.
PG: What were some of the pivotal decisions you took in your career?
SC: I grew up in Muzaffarnagar – coming to Delhi alone for further studies was a big step for me – it pushed me to think autonomously. Plunging into entrepreneurship while still in college was another one – it pushed me to hustle, collaborate, leverage tech to build something from scratch. I bought my first car with my own money while still in college, and people knew me as the girl who got her own wheels. Starting SHEROES was the biggest decision – rethinking the Internet for women, growing this conversation, building a superior product for women, from the ground-up. It’s been a phenomenal journey.
PG: What role can we play as a path maker for other women?
SC: Be generous with support, appreciation, recognition and recommendations. Join or start your own community. Let’s face struggles, celebrate ambitions, together.
Sairee Chahal is the founder and CEO of SHEROES, a women-only social networkaccessible via Sheroes.com and the SHEROES app, offering over communities, a free-to-use counselling chat helpline, resources, mentorship, peer-to-peer conversations, a marketplace, a reproductive health tracker and opportunities for women. SHEROES is reimagining how women use, experience and benefit from the internet. It is specifically aligned to using the internet as a tool for change, especially for women in high gender gap countries offering a space for appreciation, recognition, growth and interactions. Safety, empathy and trust are tenets that are built into the platform at every level.