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Indrani Goradia: “Leadership means to show up with my strengths and to allow everyone to show up with theirs”

Leadership means to show up with my strengths and to allow everyone to show up with theirs. Leadership means to come to a challenge with a curious mind and ask questions until everyone understands what we are solving and how we will start the process. Leaders pivot in the face of new and compelling information. […]

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Leadership means to show up with my strengths and to allow everyone to show up with theirs. Leadership means to come to a challenge with a curious mind and ask questions until everyone understands what we are solving and how we will start the process. Leaders pivot in the face of new and compelling information. Leaders listen with open hearts and minds.


Aspart of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Indrani Goradia.

Indrani Goradia is a philanthropist and advocate for women’s health and empowerment. As a victim of severe childhood abuse, Indrani created Indrani’s Light Foundation and RAFT, an organization committed to caring for survivors of domestic violence, teaching them how to stop generational abuse while empowering these women to change their lives while making an impact on the world around them. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Indrani has become a resource for caregivers and domestic abuse victims. She has also given a TedX talk, spoken at the UN, met with former President Obama and met with the Pope last year about supporting individuals experiencing gender violence.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Looking back at my career, I can see clearly now the steps I took that put me on this path of teaching how to end domestic violence.

I see myself at twelve years old, sad and in pain from the latest beating from my mother and scared about the next beating and wondering what I could do to “be better” so she would love me enough to not beat me. At twelve I promised myself that I “would never be like her” and when I had my first child at thirty-one years old, I vowed to my husband, the universe, my son and myself that I would not be abusive.

All the intentional steps I took from thirty-one years old to this moment, placed me on this path to help the world cultivate a culture of peace at home. Home is the most dangerous place for a woman.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Yes, this is easy. The second time I met the 44th president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, was a defining moment for me. I was part of a small group of people meeting President Obama and we were seated around an oval table. I was seated almost directly across from him and I had the best visual possible. He took questions from everyone at the table and when he nodded to me that I could ask my question, I said “Mr. President, I am sixty-four years old and I want to end violence for your girls and mine. How can I help you to do this?” He flashed his iconic smile and yes, it is more brilliant up close than on TV, and said “Sixty-four? I don’t believe it. What are you eating?” I replied, “The same thing Michelle makes you eat.”

He tossed his head back and laughed out loud. He then went around the table and came back to me twice more, each time referencing that we must all have “aspirational goals like Indrani here.” That singular moment gave me the permission I needed to never give up. I had in mind that I wanted President Obama to remember me, so when I met him the third time I said, “Mr. President, do you remember me?” He replied, “Yes, you are the woman who wants to end violence.” Then I flashed my signature smile at him, and said: “Yes, I am.”

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

At the start of my journey, I was trained by my friend Marshal Stowell on how to handle media interviews.

I was petrified that I would mess up and cause some major problems for the people I was representing. I was doing a media event in 2016 right after the election and a reporter asked me to comment on the new regime. I could see in his smirk that he thought he could trip me up. He could tell from the content of my talk that I was firmly a feminist and on the side of women’s rights.

I took a deep breath, put a big smile on my face, and said, “because of the President-elect I can say ____ at the dinner table and I am not being disrespectful to anyone.” Everyone knew that I was referring to the recording on the bus when he said he could “grab ’em by the ____” and the audience erupted with laughter. I held my smile and held the eyes of the reporter who was very embarrassed.

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I learned that I could learn hard things, even at my age. I learned that 27 years of being a housewife did not turn my brain to mush.

I learned that I could take my time with my responses to anyone and that I never had to pretend to have a response. I knew then that as long as I don’t embellish or shy from truth, I would be ok.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

During this time of COVID-19, it was painful to see that domestic violence rates were up by 35–40% in many countries and certainly in our own country. I wondered what I could do from home and what difference I could make. I began to offer free coaching to advocates and doing self-care workshops to any group that wanted them. I had no idea that anyone other than advocates were paying attention. I was wrong. People were paying attention. Jennifer Alcorn from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation referred to my COVID-19 offerings as stepping into leadership and “filling a critical gap” for advocates in an article published in Forbes, June 2020.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

There are three people to whom I owe my deepest gratitude. They are Ray DiNunzio, Jared Dubey and Judy Spaltoff. They all worked at the same institution and were involved in women’s issues.

Ray lived in Houston and introduced me to Jared who in turn introduced me to Judy. That year, their organization was putting on a conference in Switzerland called “It’s a Girl” and the focus was on investing in girls and women globally. Judy invited me to attend the conference and I shared the stage with a few women who were investing in girls and women. I told my story of ending generational violence. As a result of that conference, I began my global work to end domestic violence. My work has touched thousands and I evidence that some of those individuals have made big changes to end violence at home. One woman who comes to mind is Tania (name changed). She told her new husband that she would not put up with violence of any kind. She keeps reminding him when he “forgets.”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes.

1. All leaders need to stop referring to domestic violence as a private issue and frame the pandemic of domestic and sexual violence as a public health threat.

2. We must call out abuse and not force the victim to keep secrets for the “sake” of family or anyone’s reputation.

3. Immediately use active language, such as “Jack raped Jane” and not “Jane was raped” because this lets Jack completely off the hook. Jane is left to carry the burden of the crime.

How do you define “Leadership”?

Leadership means to show up with my strengths and to allow everyone to show up with theirs. Leadership means to come to a challenge with a curious mind and ask questions until everyone understands what we are solving and how we will start the process. Leaders pivot in the face of new and compelling information. Leaders listen with open hearts and minds.

Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I was part of a group of women philanthropists a few years ago that ended abruptly and I was very hurt. I told myself the following lie: “Indrani, if you were a true leader, this would not have happened to you.” This lie propelled me into a six-month intensive course on Leadership in Amsterdam. I went in scared but open to all the lessons that would arrive on my doorstep. The first lesson arrived on the very first night and I used my voice to attend to it. There was a night yoga class where all the participants were supposed to be served at their level of physicality. The teacher proceeded to pop up on his hands and walk around the room and many of the younger people began to “show” their hand walking skills. This “show” lasted 60 minutes. The teacher never, not once, addressed the two older women in the room, I was one, or provide us with another option. I watched in disbelief as I was relegated to the invisible class of people in that room.

The next morning, I was being “corralled” by the leadership at the program to adopt the attitude of “it happened and move on.” I stood in my authenticity from that moment on and knew that no one was going to be my advocate. I realized that I was being called to step into what leadership would look like for me.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

1. Indrani, if any boss or co-worker yells at you, you have the right to say, “I will not accept such behavior.”

My first real job in NYC was challenging and exciting. As the song says “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” was playing in my head when I accepted the job offer at BCBS of Greater New York.

My first boss was a nightmare. She would stand in the halls and scream at anyone she had an issue with. When she screamed at me, I would freeze, and I would feel like I was going to die. My parents were both screamers and I grew up in an abusive home where safety was never anyone’s concern. Now, here, as a grown woman in my late twenties, I was being subjected to the same behaviors I grew up with at home. Not having any skills to handle this public disrespect, I reacted as I did when I was a child. I kowtowed to the screamer. I turned myself inside out so she would “like me.” I made myself her servant. I offer much compassion to my younger self for believing that she was responsible for that woman’s anger.

2. Indrani, your hunger to end violence to women and children will cause you to make decisions too quickly and you will be burned.

The reference I made to the group of women philanthropists previously falls into this category. I am not an early adopter and I was told that I was the fourth person to join the group and I did not listen to my gut instinct. I invested with the program and found out later that I was the first, not the fourth, as I had been led to believe. This was a very expensive life lesson.

3. Indrani, always believe in yourself. You will do extraordinary things.

At the ripe old age of fifty, I learned how to swim and finished an Olympic Distance Triathlon. In the same year, I finished my first marathon. I never thought I had that level of courage in me. I teach every woman of a certain age to train for a race and to complete it. I came dead last in the triathlon, but I still got my medal. Do the work. Get the medal. Finish the race.

4. Indrani, everyone is doing their best. If their best is not what you need, it’s on you to leave the situation.

I used to think I knew what was best for everyone and I knew how to make them better people. When I look back now at this level of arrogance, I shake my head at my own ignorance. It is also clear to me now, that even when someone is doing their best, it may not be in our best interest to stay with that person or persons or to put up with the harm that it is causing.

5. Indrani, your vision/mission belongs to you. You do not need anyone to believe what you believe. Expect people to tell you that’s “it’s pie in the sky” thinking.

When I first voiced my mission of working to end violence to women and children at home, almost no one took me seriously. I had to find my tribe of supporters and they were all women and men who were also taking big chances with their lives.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There will only ever be one answer to this question, and it is end violence at home. One in three women will be abused in her life and one in seven men will face the same.

In every home where abuse is tolerated, children are being negatively affected. These children grow up to accept violence or act violently to others. Society accepts the following lie “It happened to me and I turned out ok.” If you are just ok, you are not thriving. We all need environments where we can thrive freely and feel safe.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

My life quote is from Anais Nin, 1903–1977, “There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.”

Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

In my mid-forties, I was worried that my life would have no meaning because I could see a time when my kids would not be home anymore. I had devoted my life to being a housewife/mom/doer-of-all-the-stuff-no-one-wanted-to-do. I had always “intended” to go back to the workforce, but I did not want to leave the kids with a nanny. My husband, their father, traveled 70–80 percent of the time and they needed a full-time parent. I also wanted to parent differently from the way I was parented, and that was a full-time commitment. I had a persistent feeling that I was “playing small” and that I was meant to do bigger work. This worry turned into angst/anxiety in my late forties. I would make journal entries about what I wanted to do “in the future” and nothing made me happy when I saw what I had written. I know now that I was making a list of what not to do.

When I found this quote, I began to view myself as the flower waiting patiently to bloom. I knew that flowers cannot be forced before their time. I began to sit in meditation and bring compassion to the bud, and whisper to myself that I was in the process of “becoming” and not to worry about it. I also told myself that I did not know what kind of flower I would be, and that it would be exactly what the world needed.

At this age, I have blossomed, and I am grateful for the work that I am doing in the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to meet Valerie Jared. She is a powerful woman. She is a strategist extraordinaire and I would be grateful if I could talk to her about making the movement to end domestic violence and asking her how I could help her with her mission.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

www.instagram.com/indrani.goradia/

www.facebook.com/indrani.goradia.5

www.twitter.com/indranis_light/

www.indranigoradia.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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