Hema Mohan is a Chief Financial officer, working mother of two boys, and enjoys mentoring youth volunteers on community service projects. She serves on the Executive Regional Board of Ekal Vidyalaya, supporting children’s education and enjoys organizing charity events in the Dallas area, where she has lived for over two decades now.
Which empowered women are your role models and why?
One of the most unusual things Indra Nooyi did as CEO of PepsiCo was to write more than 400 letters each year to the parents of her senior executives, thanking them for the gift of their child to PepsiCo. This deep appreciation of family and acknowledgement that even strong leaders stand on the shoulders of others, resonates strongly with me.
As does Melinda Gates philosophy when she said, “I define power as using your voice and your resources to change the world for others,”. With the privilege of money and power comes the social responsibility to help the broader community, and I am inspired by empowered women who look beyond themselves and actively engage in supporting broader causes to drive socio-economic changes.
You are a successful female leader. What drives you?
I strongly believe in the adage “you can disagree without being disagreeable”. As a finance professional working with global teams across many countries with varying financial systems and tight deadlines, I place a high premium on commitment and responsiveness to the needs of multiple stakeholders. However, I have always balanced high expectations with mentoring and caring for my team members as individuals.
As a working mother of two active boys and a partner to a wonderfully supportive man, I certainly recognize that it takes a good portion of mental gymnastics to balance the priorities between my professional and personal life every day. I am motivated to lead by example and share my experiences with younger generation of professionals I mentor.
What drives your volunteer work with many charitable organizations, particularly Ekal Vidyalaya for over a decade now?
As a mother, I am immensely grateful for the plethora of academic opportunities given to my children in my adopted homeland of United States. However, it is deeply distressing to me that even in these times when India is widely considered a technology powerhouse, a significant portion of Indian children lack access to basic literacy. Many people are shocked to learn that India has the highest illiterate population in the world! Ekal seeks to redress this gaping need and runs 100,000+ schools in remote tribal and rural areas, with a particular focus on reaching the girl child.
A few years into volunteering for Ekal’s team here in Texas, I had the joy of visiting an Ekal School in Tamil Nadu in a tiny remote village with no electricity. I met with very young Ekal students who joyously shared their dreams of growing up to become doctors, nurses, policemen and teachers. We also met the adults in the village who were caught in a never-ending cycle of poverty and illiteracy without even the basic knowledge to handling money or deciphering their destination points in a public bus stop. Their village was too small and remote for any public schools. Ekal had given the children of that village hope to pursue their dreams. I was thrilled to share this experience with my young sons, who were inspired by this experience to join me in volunteering with Ekal.
Ekal schools are run on a very simple model at a low cost of $365 dollars a year per school in a village – a cost of handful of family dinners for many of us! I am proud to say that our local Indian community has been very generous and have supported over 400 Ekal schools a year on average, over the last decade.
I am truly passionate about Ekal’s mission to enhance basic literacy and their expanding charter to help enhance vocational opportunities for women, organic farming for farmers, and deliver health and hygiene literacy, particularly relevant in these pandemic times. You can get more info at www.Ekal.org.
You also conducted the weekend Tamil radio show on the local Indian radio station for over 12 years. What motivated you?
Hosting a musical radio show and engaging with a wide range of listeners provides an interesting contrast to a majority of my workdays spent working on Financial reports and assessing profitability margins!
My experience hosting Tamil Neram broadly translated as “Tamil time” gave me the joy of connecting with the vibrant Tamil community here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and providing a broader platform to spread the word about the charity organizations I volunteer with. In keeping with my passion to educate children, I loved bringing young children on my show to sing, read poems or give speeches in Tamil, encouraging them to learn and speak confidently in their native language.
You moved to Texas from India 2 decades ago, what do you miss about the Indian culture and how do you stay connected?
Yes, India holds precious memories of time spent with my large family, shopping in busy bazaars, and visiting vibrant ancient temples. However, I am thrilled to live in the Dallas Fort Worth area with its very lively Indian community. From grand events of Diwali Ram Leela, colorful celebrations of Holi in multiple temples, to Navratri Golu hopping visiting friends’ homes, enjoying the cultural programs of visiting artists from India and the many arangetram recitals in the summer seasons, our community here hardly misses a beat. We even have elaborate street processions celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi in my neighborhood! We are also blessed to have Chinmaya mission, Sai Centers, and temples holding weekend classes teaching our values, languages and heritage to our children growing up here.
How does the saree help you express your personality?
I consider saree to be a beautiful and integral part of our traditional cultural expression. The colorful sarees present a wonderful contrast to the formal and sober professional attire. I really enjoy the informal tradition amongst my friends, of coordinating a specific saree color for every night of Navratri, the festival of women celebrating our goddesses. Even with the same coordinated color, it is fascinating to see the wide range of saree designs, borders, and varying shades of color, enhanced by matching jewelry!