Jennifer Ganapathy’s ties with India began in 2010 while pursuing her second degree in sociology.

The Vancouver, Canada native had the opportunity to complete an international internship, and she chose India, where her father’s side of the family was from. While working in Bangalore with a human rights organization, she completed a research project on female domestic workers, delving into their challenges that included low pay and little to no labor rights.

After Ganapathy interviewed more than 200 women who were working in this field, she saw that many came from the same socioeconomic background – women who had no formal education and could benefit from some help navigating their society. She didn’t know it then, but what she had were the roots of a social venture.

Now, Ganapathy is the director of international program development at Global Concerns Leadership, the social venture that was born from her research and initial findings.

Global Concerns Leadership works with women to help them overcome challenges and become leaders in their communities.

“It’s a very bottom-up approach,” Ganapathy said. “We ask the women what issues they want to tackle, and we provide support as they talk about the issues and their possible solutions.”

Ganapathy partnered with a local facilitator, Brinda Adige, who had experience promoting women’s leadership in the rural areas of India. They held two pilot meetings to test the approach in 2012, funded by a grant from her school, Simon Fraser University.

She then spent the next two years setting up her nonprofit before returning to school – this time at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Ganapathy said she chose Duke because she wanted a program that focused on a balance between domestic and global policy.

While at Duke, Ganapathy found a lot of support and opportunities through the social entrepreneurship arm of the Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. Representatives from Global Concerns Leadership were able to attend an Ashoka conference in New Orleans, and the venture was selected for the Clinton Global Initiative.

Global Concerns Leadership has been working with the same women since the organization started, and Ganapathy said she is amazed at what the women have overcome and accomplished. They have learned communication and interpersonal skills that have helped them ask for salary raises, address issues of domestic violence and voice concerns with politicians and police departments.

Ganapathy observed that although they have used traditional nonprofit structures and systems, their organization has found inspiration in new innovation theories such as ‘Human-Centered Design.’

“When people hear the word ‘innovation’, their minds often jump to technology or the latest apps,” she said. “But social entrepreneurs who use a traditional structure can still apply innovative techniques and thinking into their organization – innovation is not only for tech startups.”

The next challenge, Ganapathy said, is figuring out how to scale. She would like to develop a system where the women’s newly acquired leadership skills can be passed on to others in the community, including young people and men, and where they can begin to effect change on a larger scale.

To learn more about Global Concerns Leadership, visit its website.

To read about more Duke Entrepreneurs, click here.

By Katie Jansen

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