MMA conducted the MMA Women Managers’ Convention 2022 on the theme, ‘Marching Ahead: Inspire Change in Humankind,’ in March this year.
MMA conducted the MMA Women Managers’ Convention 2022 at MMA Management Center, Chennai. In the inaugural session on the theme, ‘Right Here, Right Now,’ Ranjini Manian, Founder-Chairperson, Global Adjustments Foundation led the conversation with Indian Chess Grandmaster and former World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand, Aruna Anand and Sairee Chahal, Founder, Sheroes & Mahila Money. Excerpts from the panel discussion:
Ranjini: Anand, you became a chess champion only after your marriage. Any comments on that?
Anand: When we were married, Aruna did not know anything about Chess. But she is a very good and quick learner. Soon, we came to an understanding and she said, “I will take care of the external things and you can a focus a lot more on your chess.” She is a big support for me.
Aruna, which is harder: to be Viswanathan Anand’s manager or Anand’s spouse?
Aruna: Definitely, Anand’s spouse. As a manager, it is a 9 to 5 job. As a wife, it’s a 24 hour job!
Chess is more of a mind game and does not require physical strength. Then, why do we need a Woman Chess Championship and why haven’t anyone from India made it there?
Anand: Historically, there was a huge gender gap in chess. The gender gap in the university is now closed or even slightly reversed. The chess gap continues. In the top 100, now there is no woman. Only Judit Polgar managed to achieve that earlier and she was exceptional. I support having a separate championship for women because sometimes you need a stepping stone. In chess, we don’t have men’s championship. We have the open championship and the women’s championship. The difference in participation is one of the reasons for this gap to continue.
Sairee, how did you manage to build Sheroes, which is a platform—a sort of Facebook for women—and engage with 24 million women?
Sairee: It was very slow to start with and then it went up all of a sudden. To tell you my background, I went to JNU. The funniest thing that happened was, I built a company when I was still in college. It was a tech startup. Lucky enough, it got sold. What I learnt there was the power of technology. We built the world’s first newspaper for mariners. Before we did that, there was no way for the merchant navy community to connect with each other. Two thirds of the shipping industry became our customers. Twenty years ago, I took the help of computer science students to create my email ID. I come from a very small town and the barriers for women were very different. On the other side, I saw the Silicon Valley phenomenon. When I started, there were just 10 million women online. Today, it is 300 million. India has seen amazing women-only communities like Amul, Asha workers and Anganwadi workers.
We created a giant tech space where you can come out to hang around, for seeking any help, to look for work or to start a digital storefront. We wanted to build a safe space for women, where their own aspirations can become the centre stage.
You also give loans for women. Can you tell us about that?
Sairee: Yes, we give micro credit for women who need money to take their next step – it could be education, learning something, buying equipment for a parlour, buying a vehicle for higher productivity, a laptop or whatever is their personal pursuit in life. If they need money to enable that, we bring hundred percent digital loan without collaterals. You don’t need to bring your family for getting the loan. We do the underwriting. We trust the women. What it does is, it reaches women in all parts of the country. It democratises access to the capital.
Aruna: What are your three tips to balance personal and professional life?
Sairee: You can have it all, but just not at the same time. Life is like going in a car. You have to shift gears. Take a long term view of things. Career is a marathon. We have to remain sane for a long time. Do what works for you. Lastly keep learning. The barriers to learning have all gone away today.
Do you have plans to scale up or go public?
Sairee: We do have plans to scale as a company. We have plans to get 100 million women on our platform. We are a venture backed company. Going public is an option but we are not in a hurry.
Ranjini: Anand, what is the role played by your mother?
Anand: My mother was responsible for my playing chess. I was very lucky to have a family member who knew how to play chess. My parents were very relaxed about my playing chess. I had played tournaments when exams were going on. My mother travelled with me till I was 16 or 17. In Manila, when we lived, my mother and I used to solve some chess puzzles broadcast over TV alongside a tournament, sent in our solutions and won many chess books as prizes.
Ranjini: Can you tell us about how your marriage was finalised?
Aruna: Ours was a typical arranged marriage. For the girl seeing ceremony, as advised by my mother, I agreed to keep my mouth shut but refused to dress up in traditional attire. When Anand came, what stood out was that he was such a simple person. My mother had prepared all the bajji, bonda, coffee stuff and I refused to be part of that. After serving them, my mom asked Anand, “Would you like another cup of coffee?”
If they need money to enable that, we bring hundred percent digital loan without collaterals. You don’t need to bring your family for getting the loan. We do the underwriting. We trust the women. What it does is, it reaches women in all parts of the country. ~ Sairee Chahal, Founder, Sheroes & Mahila Money
Normally, in Indian households, when this customary question is asked, we say, ‘No, no. I don’t want.’ But Anand was so brave and he asked, ‘Can I have another cup?’ When I saw my mother’s expression, I knew I was going to get married to this man (laughter). You must understand that I got married- not for my looks, not for his chess or how handsome he was but for my mother’s coffee! The third day after we got married, I went to a chess tournament and that was our honeymoon! I had no idea about chess and no idea about the importance of the person whom I had married to and had never travelled abroad. It was the huge auditorium. It was very dark but very comfortable. I would sit in the last row and happily sleep. One hour later, everybody would clap and I got up to see what was happening. Anand would get up from the stage and go. I did not even know if Anand won or lost. We agreed that if he won, he would show a thumbs-up sign after every tournament. That was my introduction to chess.
Ranjini: Tell us about Aruna’s pet advice to you—Go, Play!
Anand: Aruna is ultra-pragmatic and ultra-common sense character. On the verge of going to one of the tournaments, as we were travelling in the car, I forgot a line from the steps I had rehearsed. I tried to contact the coach for help but I couldn’t. I turned to Aruna and she coolly said, “You can’t do anything now. Just go and play.”
Sometimes, the best sporting strategy is to show up and play.
Sairee: What is there in your playbook, as Anand’s manager?
Aruna: Being his wife and manager, he trusts me fully. He signs contracts if I have vetted it. That puts a lot of responsibility on me. A lot of what I decide as Anand’s manager is based on empathy. I would ask myself, ‘If Anand were to take this decision, what would he do, under these conditions?’ and then decide.
Sairee: What has changed in the game of chess?
Anand: Its DNA is still the same and it is still a youngsters’ game. Earlier, it used to be a Russian and within Russia, a Ukrainian game. Now it has become global. Of course, computers have changed the game completely. Chess has also got younger, with the average age of players coming down.
Ranjini: What does success mean to all three of you?
Aruna: It is taking each day at a time, being happy for yourself and feeling accomplished for what you do each day. Be kind to yourself.
Sairee: It means keeping well and just enjoying the gifts that the world has given us.
Anand: Success is achieving things that you set out to do, including the difficult things that you set out for the long term. Success is also about appreciating many little things.
Our Voices, Our Stories
The panel discussion on the theme, ‘Our Voices, Our Stories’ was moderated by Sharanya Modi, Head HR, Expo Freight Pvt Ltd (EFL). Suhasini Maniratnam, Actor & Director, Dr Rohini Rau, Doctor and International Sailing Athlete, Ms Shraddha Trivedi, Wall Mural Artist & Graphic Designer, Pune participated in the discussions. Dr Rohini Rau spoke about the challenges she faced as an international sailing athlete. ‘My parents are my inspiration,’ she said. Suhasini Mani Ratnam who hails from a family of big achievers including her uncle Padmashri Kamal Hassan said that for her, the inspiration came from within. “I wanted to be a cinematographer and did a three years course for that. I worked as an assistant for a few films but couldn’t make a mark. Then I got a chance to act in films and my movies did well. So I consciously chose to switch to acting but at that time, deeply felt for moving away from my dream of becoming a cinematographer. Later, I embraced acting,” Suhasini said. There is always a challenge in balancing what you do out of passion and what you receive as the pay check, she added.
Shraddha Trivedi who has done murals throughout India including in Prime Minister Modi’s residence, took the audience through her journey of making breathtaking murals. She said she has no reservation, as a woman, in working at heights for her paintings.
The Power of Us/Better Together
The panel discussion on the theme, ‘The Power of Us / Better together’ was moderated by Rohini Manian, CEO, Global Adjustments. Gautam Sarogi, CEO, Go Colours; Rajoshi Ghosh, COO, Co-founder, First woman founder of a Unicorn startup-Hasura; and Tanmai Gopal, CEO, Co-Founder, Hasura participated in the discussions.
Vinaya Karthik Rajan gave a soulful rendition of songs under the theme, ‘Invocation-Music for Awakening.’ Akshyalakshmi, Sound Therapist, Zen & Sound demonstrated the power of sound therapy on the theme, ‘Sound is a medicine of future – Gong Healing Live.’