Neha Barjatya: Chief Internet Saathi
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Neha Barjatya to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Neha Barjatya: Bridging the economic gender divide by empowering women through technology. From having led Internet Saathi (a joint initiative of Google and Tata Trusts), which has empowered women through digital literacy across 200k+ villages, to now leading the vision at FREND (Foundation for Rural Entrepreneurship Development), towards providing these women with digitally-enabled livelihood opportunities. It’s a matter of great pride that FREND is facilitating this evolution, and has already enabled thousands of women across villages to earn a sustained monthly income.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
NB: As we scaled one village at a time, stories of transformation started pouring in from every village: Parvati, who was deprived of an education, but is now using information to improve the lives of people in her community; Bujji, who overcame caste barriers and helped women in her village generate an income by showing them new skills; Vandana, who started a company of potato chips with other women in her community. The Internet became a liberating force, helping women and their communities lead better, more informed, and progressive lives.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
NB: Deep-rooted mindset barriers such as “a woman’s place is within the house,” or “the Internet is a bad influence for women,” keep women from realizing their full potential, and hold them back—even as the world around them progresses at a fast pace.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
NB: Stories and smiles of women across villages who have found a new kind of freedom and meaning to their lives.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
NB: We all have the ability to drive change, and every step we take—big or small—matters. Don't let circumstances hold you back. Focus on what can be and let that be your motivation to keep moving forward.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
NB: For so long, innovation, startup, and tech space have seen men deciding, designing, developing, and delivering ideas. We continue to see developments where women’s needs are neglected. It is important to have both perspectives represented to make the future more equitable. Without an adequate representation of women, we will all continue to live in a man’s world.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.