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Women On Top

Shaheen Mistri: “Understanding That We’re Flawed As Humans Has Been An Important Learning”

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We don’t need just one day to celebrate women. Here at Hauterfly, we celebrate the smarter sex EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Nonetheless, we join in the party today, on March 8, International Women’s Day, to applaud some seriously badass women we know and love. These #WomenOnTop have conquered multiple worlds with ease — from corporate and social to entertainment and education. These personal essays give a glimpse into the journey of women who may not have always had it easy, but made it anyway, and shattered multiple glass ceilings along the way.  


Sacrificing your personal life for the lives of thousands of unknown names and faces is no easy feat. But it came as second nature to Shaheen Mistri, founder of Teach For India. And why not? These names and faces are no longer unknown to her — they are her family. A single mother herself, Shaheen has, over the years, tirelessly worked towards ensuring as many children as possible attain an education and make a name for themselves, breaking away from the daily atrocities that have become a part of their being. If you truly want to make a difference, apply for the Fellowship — you’ll not only be changing countless other lives, but will be changing yours in the bargain too


We Do Need An Education

I started teaching at 18 in a low-income community in Mumbai, an experience that shaped me in indescribable ways — I learned profound lessons from my students. This led to me setting up Akanksha, where I taught, worked with teachers, and built the organisation to serve 4,000 children from low-income backgrounds.

I founded Teach For India in 2008, where today 1,200 Fellows teach 42,000 kids, and our Alumni movement (Fellows after the Fellowship) has 1,500 Alumni working across sectors for a shared vision that one day, all children will attain an excellent education.

No Country For Women

While I’ve been lucky to just meet exceptional people through my work, my bigger experiences with gender inequality have been in witnessing situations my Akanksha and Teach For India children have faced, and face today.

They have been married early, convinced to drop out of school, made to take on serious home responsibilities — we read all of this over and over again, but seeing it first hand has been really hard. I spoke to one of the mothers 2 days ago — she grew up in a village, was one of 13 siblings, gets beaten daily by her husband, and isn’t allowed to leave the house — this just has to change.


Shaheen Mistri_Women On Top_Hauterfly


Gentle Does It

I don’t believe in being aggressive — I believe in understanding who I am and trying each day to live into that, and then making a change. I actually feel the world needs us to be gentle — both with ourselves and with others.

I don’t think the objective should be at the top of your game — that just ensures someone else isn’t. I think the goal is to work towards something you really care about and believe in, with others, creating opportunities for them to rise with you.

In fact, mentorship, rather than competition, is extremely important. I feel I’m flooded with mentors and inspired by the daily actions of so many. My dear friend and Chair of my board, Anu Aga, stands out as one of my greatest and most consistent mentors.

It’s important to be yourself, be gentle, work for something you believe in, trust your intuition, obsess about learning and getting better, ask for help.

One Foot In Front Of The Other

The biggest mistake that I have perhaps made was thinking of things as mistakes, and not opportunities to learn. Understanding that we’re all flawed as humans has been an important learning, and therefore, searching for the good in myself and in others, and building on that.

I’m not saying it’s been easy. It’s hard, and I’ve struggled. I have 2 daughters, and am a single mother, so I’m always feeling pulled in one direction or the other. One milestone, though, was letting go of the guilt and the need to be perfect in either — that helped immensely.

Whenever I get the time, I spend with my 2 daughters, enjoying various forms of art, music, and film — it’s how I unwind.

Parting Shots

Teaching has changed my life — not in terms of what I was able to give, but how I’ve grown through it. I urge you to consider the Teach For India Fellowship (applications close March 21), it’s an incredible way to discover who you are, grow as a leader, build a strong network for life, change children’s lives, and do whatever you choose post the 2 years. You can apply on


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