An engineer turned nonprofit professional, Charanya Ravikumar serves as the Development Director of a prominent Texas research and advocacy nonprofit, whose vision is for every child to be supported and provided with equitable access to resources to help them maximize their potential regardless of where they were born. She is also an avid triathlete and has completed the Ironman Triathlon*— one of the very few Indian women to have done so.
Let me start with the obvious question, Charanya. A triathlon is not a hobby one hears of too often. How did you develop an interest in that?
I grew up as a complete non-athlete, I was more into debates, drama, and the like. In fact, I was not even into basic fitness. When I came to the U.S. to study, I even put on the infamous “Freshman 20 lbs”, which I struggled to lose. After I started working, I decided to focus on my physical health (I have no idea why!) and signed up to do a half-marathon to raise funds for a nonprofit. It was one of the most difficult things I had done but crossing that finish line was such an amazing feeling, I was hooked! Since then, I have done several half and full marathons, mostly to raise funds or awareness on issues impacting kids.
Some years ago, a friend asked me if I could swim — they were looking for a swimmer for a triathlon relay team. I had no idea what a triathlon was but knew how to swim so I agreed to participate. It has been quite a journey since then, from short distance triathlons to finally my first Ironman in 2018. I trained for that while working full-time and with two under-5 kids at home.
I don’t consider myself an extraordinarily strong triathlete, but I just love the sport and challenging myself to do better each time I sign up for a race. I would love to see more Indian women embrace the sport – we are so underrepresented in the triathlon community.
I would love to see more women, especially mothers, prioritize themselves — their physical and mental well-being. It is not at all selfish to carve time to take care of ourselves, or to pursue a passion or goal that’s not related to our families. Our children are always watching us – and often want to be like us. So, working on being the best version of ourselves is the best gift we can provide to them.
Being an engineer with almost eight years of experience in the industry, what prompted you to move to the nonprofit sector?
I grew up in India and Singapore and moved to the U.S. for college and started my career as an engineer in the high-tech sector. Through my work with one of our community resource groups, I was able to participate in an after-school program serving Title 1 middle school students. As someone who had not grown up here, that was really my first big exposure to the U.S. public school system, and the various inequities that were present in the system, in terms of both access and quality. This sparked a desire in me to do more in this space. And when the opportunity arose for me to make a career transition, I did not think twice. I am particularly interested in systems change and ensuring policymakers use data and facts in their decision-making that impacts the lives of disadvantaged children.
Tell us about your relationship with sarees.
There’s nothing that makes me feel more beautiful that draping myself with a saree. I don’t discriminate, I love all sorts of sarees. But in recent years, I’ve been paying more attention to the environmental impact sarees can have, focusing more on quality versus quantity, and looking at more eco-friendly saree varieties. Rather than buying new sarees, one of my favorite things to do is to swap sarees with my mother and sister, who both have lovely collections, and I hope to pass on my own collection to my daughter one day!
The orange saree in the featured picture is a handwoven banana pith saree that I bought from a local weaver during my trip to Coorg a few years ago — it’s my first vegan silk saree. It mimics the shine of silk beautifully while being so light, comfortable to wear, and easy to drape.
* The Ironman Triathlon comprises a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.