In November of last year, Acumen Fellows Ashweetha Shetty and Shad Begum were invited to take the stage at TEDWomen and share their personal stories of becoming changemakers in their communities. TEDWomen is an annual conference that spotlights amazing women who are showing up, speaking out and pushing boundaries to catalyze social change.
Ashweetha Shetty was born in a poor, traditional family in south India where girls were usually seen as worthless. She was constantly told she was a burden to her family and expected to live a life with no voice and no choice. Ashweetha, however, didn’t let being from a small village stifle her big dreams. At 13, she discovered Helen Keller’s autobiography and set out to be the first in her family to go to college. Today, she is empowering India’s rural youth to follow her path and explore their full potential through the Bodhi Tree Foundation.
Shad Begum comes from Dir, a deeply religious and conservative area of northwest Pakistan that the Taliban also call home. When Shad was born, only 1 percent of girls were educated but fortunately she was among that one percent. Her parents, especially her father, supported her education until she was 16 and told her place was in the home. That didn’t stop Shad. She went on to create an organization, which focuses on empowering women and encouraging them to stand up for their rights, run for political office and win the U.S. State Department International Women of Courage Award.
Ashweetha and Shad are not the first of our Fellows to be invited to speak at TEDWomen. In 2017, Shameem Akhtar shared her incredible story of being raised as a boy in Pakistan to secure access to education, and Teresa Njoroge gave a gripping account of how being falsely imprisoned in Kenya led her to commit her life to helping formerly incarcerated women with a clean start.