Ramdas GS ’88 fights for global women’s rights
“The women the Global Fund for Women supports ... are often the poorest of the poor,” Ramdas, who has served as CEO since 1996, said in an interview. She is also on the Global Development Program Advisory Panel to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
During Ramdas’ tenure, GFW has expanded its financial and geographic scope. Ramdas has tripled the number of countries to which funds are given, and according to the organization’s website, GFW has given “over $65 million to 3,679 women’s organizations in 167 countries” in the last 11 years. The GFW addresses issues including economic security, violence, education, health and leadership.
Her work has not gone unrecognized. She won the 2004 Woman of the Year for the Public Sector award from the Financial Women’s Association. In 2003, the League of Women Voters honored Ramdas with the Women Who Could Be President Award. The list of other honors and tributes goes on.
Economics professor Uwe Reinhardt, who taught Ramdas in a course on accounting for nonprofit and governmental agencies, lauded her ambition and her work.
“Normally, in our money driven society, we think of entrepreneurs only as people who have made a contribution in the for-profit sector,” Reinhardt said in an e-mail. “I admire such people. But I admire equally the many imaginative entrepreneurs we have in the non-profit sector.”
Ramdas, who was named to the University’s Board of Trustees last June, said that she hopes to leverage her experiences to promote diversity at Old Nassau.
“I was asked to serve by [President Tilghman], and she really represents the future of Princeton,” Ramdas said, calling Tilghman a “forthright, courageous feminist.”
Ramdas noted the considerable progress in student body diversity since her time at the University, when the undergraduate student body was “stereotypically five-foot 10 and blonde.”
She praised Tilghman’s efforts to change the racial and socioeconomic dynamics of the University, adding that the Board of Trustees now has its first non-U.S. citizen in Gordon Wu ’58.
Ramdas joked, though, that women only comprise one-third of the board.
Getting her start at Old Nassau
Ramdas was born in India but grew up in Germany and England and attended Mount Holyoke College. She credited the Wilson School for the development of her leadership skills and is currently on the Wilson School’s Council of Advisers on Gender Equity.
“I really think the Woodrow Wilson School emphasizes a broad understanding of international and domestic policy and teaching you problem-solving skills,” Ramdas said. “I felt very prepared to go out into the world of work.”
Ali Stoeppelwerth GS ’89, who also received a degree from the Wilson School, said Ramdas’ success didn’t come as a surprise.
“I remember her as one of the leaders of [her] class,” Stoeppelwerth said, adding that Ramdas was even at the time a “dedicated feminist.”
Ramdas also praised the University’s financial aid policies for her postgraduate opportunities.
“I came as a full-scholarship student to Princeton, so I was able to make the choice I wanted to make after school instead of paying back loans,” she said.
She noted that graduating without debt allowed her to accept a position at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation instead of a more lucrative position at McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm.
Ramdas did note, however, that as a graduate student, she felt that the opportunities for interaction with undergraduates outside of the Wilson School were limited. She added, however, that she thinks the situation has improved.
Impact of recent economic downturn
Ramdas said that the current financial crisis may present a challenging fundraising environment for her foundation.
During the economic downturn following the burst of the dot-com bubble, she said, more individuals donated, but the total sum decreased.
The economic crisis can impact individuals as well. The women her foundation supports are “likely to be far more vulnerable to the repercussions of this global financial crisis than our donors in the United States,” Ramdas said, adding that “within four to six months, it will affect key service and manufacturing sectors of the global economy, and that will hurt women and their families even more.”
Despite the dismal situations of the women around the globe that her organization helps, she said that it was these women — and those who have partnered with her in these efforts — who motivate her to keep fighting for social justice.
She described the efforts of an activist, Mashuda Shefali, fighting for women’s rights in Bangladeshi factories.
“I’ve never seen Shefali without a smile on her face and believing that things will be better tomorrow. You meet people like this and think, ‘Who am I to complain?’ ” Ramdas said.
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