Anita Reddy: Rupal Dandia speaks with the Indian Florence Nightingale

By Rupal Dandia–

(Rupal Dandia speaks to philanthropist and entrepreneur Anita Reddy. Rupal is a seasoned fundraising professional for the past 15+ years, supporting various nonprofit organizations focused on education, community, rural India, computer history, and human services)

“Finding Dwaraka Plus, in the George Washington Textile Museum shop, alongside other countries artwork was most surprising and humbling experience this morning. All that hard work with reviving hand painted Kalamkari art and empowering women artists has brought us to this spot. Grateful for all prayers and blessings and the growth of the women’s movement in our rural India cutting across all shores to reach the city of Washington DC.” This statement came from the Padma Shri Award winner Anita Reddy.

This is what I call creating unquestionable and transformational impact. Most nonprofits dream of improving lives of marginalized people and most do make a difference, but few nonprofits can show the kind of spectacular results as shown by the nonprofits led by Anita Reddy. The best part is that she has done it with humility and deep sense of compassion and care.

Anita has been tirelessly working for the Kalamkari art revival to empower and uplift women artisans. We call her the Indian Florence Nightingale, “The Lady with the Lamp,” for illuminating the lives of countless individuals through the power of her exceptional service.

Recognized for her experience, expertise, and passion to serve society, Anita has been in various positions on state and national committees and boards in India. These leadership roles positioned her to influence state and national policy for bringing about sustainable and scalable transformation.

She was awarded India’s fourth highest civilian award — Padma Shri — in 2010. Besides this, she has another 23 other awards.

Anita Reddy (left) with the host Deepka Lalwani

I had the privilege and honor to interview Anita on March 24 at the home of Deepka Lalwani, and spoke to her about life and her incredible journey.

Anita comes from an affluent background, but chose to be a social worker. In her 20s, Anita launched AVAS (Association for Voluntary Action and Services) where she has been widely acclaimed for the rehabilitation and upliftment of slum dwellers in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

She helped facilitate people-centric development of thousands of homes and influenced macro policy that addressed the issues of evictions, homelessness, and demolitions. She went beyond ‘brick and mortar, to build communities, not just houses.”

Anita empowered women living in the slums to take charge of their destiny to lead the change and enabled youth to become community ambassadors.

Anita’s father, Dwaraknath Reddy, chairman of the Nutrine Group of Companies, was her role model. Her father had established the Dwaraknath Reddy Ramanarpanam Trust (DRRT) to focus on upliftment of rural and urban poor. In 1998, her father suggested that Anita should take the reins of DRRT. She did that successfully and even launched a few foundations to respond to urgent needs.

  • DRIK (Dwaraknath Reddy Institutes for Knowledge) an initiative of Dwaraknath Reddy Ramanarpanam Trust (DRRT) was founded in May 2011. DRIK was established with a vision to ensure that the children and youth from rural, urban, and indigenous villages are made aware of their rights through innovative educational interventions specially designed by DRIK.
  • DWARAKA (Development of Women and Rural Artisans for Knowledge and Action) Foundation focused on Kalamkari art revival and women’s livelihoods. This foundation revived the Indian heritage art form of hand painted Kalamkari in Southern India in 1998. Due to this foundation a radical transformation began to take place in indigent communities. Today, DWARAKA’s efforts have touched over 3000 artisans. All of them have become part of the art revival movement and found a market and recognition not just in India but also all over the world.
  • DWARAKA PLUS (DWARAKA Peoples Livelihoods Upliftment Society), an extension of DWARAKA Foundation, is a society of women and rural artisans to revive Indian craft, art and culture in addition to hand painted Kalamkari work.
  • DWARAKA Global-501c3 was registered in California to enable the Indian diaspora in the US to nurture the revival of the traditional artform in their homeland.
A group photo of women achievers who met at Deepka Lalwani’s house

Anita proudly displayed the exquisite Kalamkari artwork on beautiful scarves, purses, and bags. I was awestruck that Anita knows each artist by name, knows their family intimately and what dreams they have woven for themselves that she helps translate into reality.

She is there to help them through thick and thin. Anita dreams of a day when the boys and girls she helped get through college will take leadership role in the organization that she painstakingly but lovingly built to last way past her lifetime.

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