Apr 04, 2024

Empowering Through Learning: A journey with Darshana Shanbhag


Darshana Shanbhag, a physician based in the Seattle area, has been a Pratham supporter for over a decade and an active member of the Pratham Seattle Chapter Board since 2018, serving as the Seattle Chapter President from 2019-2022. A steadfast believer in the transformative power of learning, her own life’s journey has been fueled by a love of learning and accomplishment. Read on to discover what’s inspired her to support learning, the importance of empowering women, and what she’s found most fulfilling in her work with Pratham.

What does the ‘power of learning’ mean to you and how has learning empowered you on your personal or professional journey?
The power of learning encompasses the whole journey of life. It shapes, enhances and brightens our lives, and makes hope shine brighter with a definite pathway towards a successful future. Formal education is a more structured form of this learning with definite goals, metrics, connections to future learning and professions. In addition it enhances lives in numerous other ways.

I am a physician and it was learning through a long formal education process which fulfilled my curiosity for learning and accomplishment. It also paved the path through medical school and beyond to let me do what I aspired for.

After migrating to the US, working as a physician enabled me to create space for myself here as a contributing member of society. None of this would have occurred if not for education.

What message or advice do you have for individuals considering supporting Pratham’s mission?
It was this same strong belief in learning and education, and the belief that literacy and access to basic education is essential for all, that attracted me to Pratham’s mission. On studying Pratham’s methodology and its outcomes, the realization that they were all acquired in a very cost effective way and very scalable to the entire population needing it, led me to increase and sustain belief in Pratham’s mission and work.

For those considering Pratham’s mission, its cost effective and scalable methods and the data on outcomes resulting in huge impact on millions of children is more than enough reason to support it strongly. In addition, Pratham has been evolving, using the latest technologies that can make this work even more effective.

What is one of your most memorable experiences or highlights from your involvement with Pratham?
Some of my biggest highlights in my engagement with Pratham have been when I visited the schools, the skilling centers and saw the work in action, spoke to the kids and the youth, understood their dreams and aspirations, and also talked to the Pratham staff and learned about their sincerity and dedication.

In your experience, what moments have been particularly fulfilling of your volunteer work and board role?
I have had many wonderful moments, especially when talking to people who want to know more. When I talk about what Pratham actually does and how it does it in practical terms which they can relate to, there is always an aha moment when they feel this is their mission and their cause too. That is special to me in this role.

You’ve been a volunteer for a number of organizations that focus on the empowerment of women. Can you elaborate on the importance of this work and what inspired your commitment to this cause?
Yes, I am on the Boards of multiple organizations which emphasize the empowerment of women, be it through education, through supporting women writers or through supporting land rights for millions, the majority of whom are women. Women have been overlooked and suppressed for centuries; their potential has not been recognized, their rights have been trampled.

It behooves us all to correct that, and give women all the rights and privileges due to them, not only for the betterment of women but that of all society. Numerous studies have shown that educating and elevating women’s status makes a bigger difference to families.

Who inspires you in philanthropy?
I think philanthropy is an inspiration unto itself and is not necessarily done because you want to follow someone else. Nevertheless, Mackenzie Scott’s approach of researching organizations depending on what she believes in and then on finding the right places with the right people, making the gifts without dictating what they should be used for and giving the organizations that freedom is a refreshing and important approach.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.