Many might assume that Kavita Ramdas, the president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women and the featured speaker for this year’s Commencement, would be an austere presence – all dignity and respectability.
After all, she is a trustee for both Mount Holyoke (her alma mater) and Princeton University. She also has won so many awards that she only lists them going back six years on the Global Fund website.
Despite all her honorifics, Ramdas is in fact not at all pretentious, according to colleagues. “She just exudes a warmth,” said President Janet Holmgren.
Ramdas also has an unpredictable streak. The last time she spoke at Mills, she broke into song.
During a screening of the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell in March, Ramdas was one of the introductory speakers. At the beginning of her speech, she said she felt so happy she had to sing.
A few minutes later, after a speech about Women’s History Month, Ramdas did sing (completely unaccompanied) a portion of “Bread and Roses.” Holmgren said Ramdas has raised the possibility of singing at commencement as well.
Ramdas, 47, was born and raised in Mumbai, India to an upper middle class family. Her father was an admiral lieutenant in the Indian navy, according to a 2002 San Francisco Chronicle article.
“She comes from a family of strong women,” said Holmgren. “Her mother, grandmother and sisters are all strong women,” a fact that Ramdas herself has referred to in interviews.
Ramdas began her education at the University of New Delhi but, wanting to go to a women’s college, transferred to Mount Holyoke College for her undergraduate degree. She then received a Master’s in Public Affairs from Princeton University.
Ramdas, a Palo Alto resident, began her tenure at the Global Fund for Women in 1996, at age 34. According to her biography on the Global Fund’s website, the organization’s funds have expanded from six million dollars to over 21 million dollars under Ramdas’ leadership.
The heart of the Global Fund organization’s funds have expanded from six million dollars to over 21 million dollars under Ramdas’ leadership.
The heart of the Global Fund for Women’s work is making small grants to women’s groups worldwide. According to its website, “Since 1987, [the Global Fund for Women] has awarded over $71 million to 3,800 women’s organizations in 167 countries.”
Holmgren described Ramdas’ work as, in part, “traveling the world to raise money so the Global Fund can give it away.”
In the past six years, Ramdas has won many awards for her work, including an award from the Girls Scouts of America, a “Local Hero” award from KQED Radio; and a “Women Who Could Be President” award from the League of Women Voters.
Most recently, on Apr 25, Ramdas was awarded the Haridas and Bina Chaudhuri Award for Distinguished Service from the California Institute of Integral Studies.
According to the CIIS President Joseph Subbiondo, Ramdas was given the award for “her dynamic leadership in promoting women’s empowerment and health worldwide,” according to a press release.
Although she has described herself as “a feminist and a feminine feminist,” don’t use the term “women’s issues” around her.
In an interview with the blog, Do Good Have Fun, Ramdas said of the term “women’s issues” that “I don’t believe there is any such thing. I don’t believe that 51 percent of the world’s population, which is what we are, doesn’t care about all the critical issues that affect us,” said Ramdas.
Ramdas also added a message for women in the same interview: “I will strongly challenge us to speak out and speak up against the ghetto-ization of the few issues that somehow we are supposed to care about, and then the more serious ones, like the military and the economy and the war will somehow be left to those other people.”
In her e-mail to the Mills community, Holmgren called Ramdas “an esteemed colleague,” and a “longtime friend of the College.”
Ramdas spoke at Convocation in 2002 and Holmgren has known her through collaborations over the years between the College and the Global Fund for Women (including the Transnational Feminist Conference at Mills in March).
Both women also sit on the Princeton University Board of Trustees.
“What I love about Kavita is how outspoken she is. She believes passionately in the empowerment of women,” said Holmgren.