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Inspiring Generations: Outstanding Women Education Leaders

EducationWorld March 2024 | Spotlight Feature

LoEstro Color LogoA spolight by LoEstro

As India’s leading education advisor, LoEstro has had the unique vantage point to see the critical role  women continue to play in the education sector. As an extension of that endeavour, we announce the Oustanding Women Leaders in Education List 2024 to celebrate and share stories of women in the  sector who inspire us. 

Education plays a crucial role in shaping the future of a country. India has made long  strides and progress towards the same over  the past decade, at 81%, inching closer to the global  average. A large part of this progress has been made  due to increase female attendance in schools and colleges.  

When go a step further and understand who builds  the backbone of education in India, we see that the  best education institutions and services are led by  women. This International Women’s Day, we want  to celebrate the top leaders who have shaped our  country’s education system over the past decade. 

Why Women are the Backbone of India’s  Education Ecosystem 

The education sector is a unique case, where women  have gravitated towards teaching as a profession.  According to UDISE 2021-22 data, women teachers  outnumbered their male counterparts. When we  imagine a teacher, we typically visualize a woman  teaching a classroom of students. We do so because  that is what the reality is: 

  • Women form a larger part of the education system  in India 
  • 62.3%: The percentage of female teachers in primary/elementary education in India (2019-20) ▪ 44.5%: The percentage of female teachers in higher   education in India (2019-20) 
  • Women have a higher and more positive impact on students  
  • Improved learning outcomes: Studies have shown that students, particularly girls, perform better academically when taught by female teachers 
  • Increased enrollment: Research suggests  that having more female teachers, especially in  rural areas, can lead to higher enrollment rates,  particularly for girls. 
  • Data from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tells a similar international perspective, where on average,  women make up over two-thirds of teachers from  pre-primary to tertiary education. Most teachers are  women. 

India Should Encourage More Women to Lead Education Initiatives 

While it is imperative that we appreciate and  recognize the large female participation in the  teaching workforce, a reality still remains. There is  a large underrepresentation in leadership roles by  women in education; While the number of female  teachers is rising, they are still underrepresented in  leadership positions within the education sector.  

When leaders in India are women, girls’ aspirations  and advancement in education improve. Across  the 16 biggest states in India, a 10% increase in the  number of women involved in district politics would  lead to an increase of nearly 6% in the probability of  primary school completion, with a larger impact on  girls’ education.  

Celebrating India’s ‘Women in Education’  this International Women’s Day 

I am an optimist at heart, and though my job requires  me to be analytical and often take a hard look at the  story data is telling, it is nearly not enough. Change  in real world is not driven by dreary statistics but by  powerful stories, stories of change; by people, people  who influence and lead, drive change; one child, one school, one city and ultimately a nation at a time.  

It is our honour and our first attempt to tell the  stories of women who have smashed the proverbial glass ceiling – who are educators, leaders and  entrepreneurs. My hope and ambition is that they  inspire you as much as us, some of them we have had  the privilege of working together closely and others,  whose work we have admired from a distance. 

Roshni Nadar, Chairperson of HCL  Technologies 

1_Roshni Nadar

Roshni Nadar Malhotra is the Chairperson of HCLTech, and commands a $50 billion global tech giant. As a Shiv Nadar Foundation Trustee, she’s driven $1.2 billion into transformative institutions. Pioneering VidyaGyan, she nurtures rural talent, earning the Children’s Champion Award in 2023. Roshni’s  leadership extends to MIT, Kellogg School, and US India Strategic Partnership Forum boards. Forbes recognizes her consistently among ‘The World’s 100  Most Powerful Women.’ Roshni, an alumnus of the  Forum of Young Global Leaders, holds an MBA from  Kellogg, receiving the Dean’s Distinguished Service  and Schaffner Awards.

Grace Pinto, Managing Director, Ryan  International Group of Institutions  

2_Grace Pinto

Dr. Grace Pinto, Managing Director of Ryan International Group of Institutions, exemplifies leadership in steering one of India’s largest private K-12 education groups. Ryan has a countrywide network of 135+ vibrant schools spread over 18 states of India. With a commitment to realizing excellence in education, she  shoulders the responsibility of providing strategic  direction. Her dedication contributes significantly to the group’s prominence and impact in the  educational landscape. 

Jayshree Periwal, Director, Jayshree  Periwal Group of Schools 

4_Jayshree Periwal

Dr. Jayshree Periwal is a transformative force in Rajasthan’s education. Her schools have grown from one student in her garage to leading over 12,000 across ten schools in 24 years. Pioneering international education in Rajasthan, her institutions, offering IB and IGCSE curricula, set a benchmark for global  standards. She was honoured as the ambassador for  the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and has represented  state of Rajasthan for Barack Obama’s high power  white house delegation for collaborative partnership  in education. Dr. Periwal’s accolades include the  Vijaya Raje Scindia Award of Excellence 2019 and  AsiaOne’s Person of the Year. 

Kavita Gupta, Founder, Neev Academy

3_KavitaKavita Gupta is the Founder and Managing Trustee of Neev. She established the organization in 2005 with a vision to achieve balanced early childhood development. Evolving from a preschool focus, Neev now operates a grade school aligned with the International Baccalaureate programs. With five preschools and  an academy campus in Bengaluru, Neev employs  over 200 teaching professionals, catering to nearly  1200 children. Kavita aims to extend Neev’s impact  by initiating a community school for underprivileged  children. With a background in corporate strategy  and finance, including leadership roles in a major  pharmaceutical firm, Kavita holds a master’s degree  in biotechnology from Mumbai University and  pursued part of her MBA at Harvard University  before restructuring the family business.  

Shaheen Mistri, CEO, Teach for India

5_Shaheen Mistri

Shaheen Mistri is the CEO of Teach For India. She has garnered global acclaim for her unwavering dedication to educational equity. Born in Mumbai and having lived in 13 countries, she returned at 18, founding the Akanksha Foundation in 1989 to address the educational disparities in Mumbai’s slums. Over 25 years, Akanksha evolved  from one center serving 15 children to 51 centers  and 16 schools, impacting thousands. Inspired by  Teach For America’s founder, Shaheen co-launched  Teach For India in 2008, placing nearly 1700 Fellows  in seven cities. As an Ashoka Fellow, WEF Global Leader, and Asia Society 21 Leader, Shaheen’s  influence extends to various boards and foundations,  shaping transformative changes in education.  Strategic Partnership Forum boards. Forbes  recognizes her consistently among ‘The World’s 100  Most Powerful Women.’ Roshni, an alumnus of the  Forum of Young Global Leaders, holds an MBA from  Kellogg, receiving the Dean’s Distinguished Service  and Schaffner Awards. 

Indu Shahani, Founding President, Atlas  SkillTech University 

6_Indu Shahani

Dr. lndu Shahani is the Founding President and Chancellor of ATLAS SkillTech University. Dr. Shahani was the Sheriff of Mumbai (2008, 2009), Member of the University Grants Commission (2011-14) and Principal of H.R. College of Commerce & Economics, Mumbai (2000-16). She is an Academician with over four  decades of institution building experience. She  was the first Indian to be appointed Vice-Chair  on the Board of Governors of the International  Baccalaureate (IB) and sits on a number of coproate  boards as an Independent Director.

Lina Ashar, Founder, Dreamtime Learning

7_Lina Ashar

Lina Ashar is the founder of Kangaroo Kids and  Billabong High schools. She is a visionary educator with over 30 years of experience. Her organisation has set up Billabong branches and Kangaroo Kids franchises across India and internationally, with schools in Maldives, Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In 2023, she continues to innovate with Dreamtime Learning,  with her learner-centric approach and emphasis on  experiential learning. 

Namita Dalmia, Co-founder, Enzia Ventures

8_Namita Dalmia Namita is the Founder of Enzia Ventures, venture  capital fund. Enzia invests in tech entrepreneurs  focusing on healthcare, education, and the  environment, offering deep sector experience and a curated network to foster long-term business growth. In her prior role, Namita led strategy and investments in education at Omidyar Network India, bringing five years of experience as associate director at Central Square Foundation. There, she spearheaded the education technology vertical, incubating and investing in non-profits  while collaborating with the government. With  a background as a design analyst at Education  Elements and contributions to the National  Knowledge Commission, Namita’s multifaceted  expertise complements her MBA from Stanford  Graduate School of Business and a dual degree in  electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of  Technology. 

Smita Deorah, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Lead School 

Smita Deorah, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, LEAD Group, January 2024

Smita Deorah is Co-Founder and Co-CEO at LEAD Group, India’s only School Edtech unicorn. At LEAD Group, Smita is responsible for education research, product development and capability building. She along with Sumeet have been instrumental in developing the LEAD Integrated System, which is benchmarked with the best education systems globally; and contextualized for schools across India. LEAD Group is today transforming learning outcomes for 5 million+ students in 9000+ schools across India. Smita is passionate about excellence and values in academia. Her goal is to bring quality learning to underserved communities and to bridge the gap between India’s high-fee schools and its budget private schools, so that every child can be nurtured to their true potential. Prior to co-founding LEAD Group, Smita founded Sparsh, an NGO that worked for the uplift of Anganwadis in Mumbai in association with the Maharashtra government. Sparsh currently runs four CBSE affiliated budget private schools in taluka areas of Maharashtra. Before establishing LEAD Group, Smita spent nine years at Procter & Gamble Singapore and India as
a leader in Finance, Treasury and Strategy.’

Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder, The Riverside School


Kiran Bir Sethi is the Founder of The Riverside  School. She is a Designer turned Teacher, Principal,  and Social Entrepreneur. She seamlessly applies design principles to education and community-based programs. A National Institute of Design graduate, she ran a successful Graphic Design Firm before founding The Riverside School in 2001. The school serves as a laboratory for prototyping design processes, fostering  transformative student learning experiences. Kiran  is the founder of ‘aProCh,’ an initiative for child friendly cities, earning her the Ashoka Fellow in  2008. She received the “Call to Conscience Award”  by the King Centre at Stanford in 2009. In the  same year, Kiran launched “Design For Change,”  utilizing a 4-step design framework to instill an ‘I  CAN’ mindset in children globally. DFC, now in 60+  countries, is the world’s largest movement of change  by children, impacting over 2.2 million children and  65,000 teachers. Kiran’s journey exemplifies a fusion  of design thinking, education reform, and social entrepreneurship. 

Tristha Ramamurthy, Founder, Ekya  Schools

11_Tristha Ramamurthy

Dr. Tristha Ramamurthy is the Founder of Ekya Schools and Vice President of CMR Group of Institutions. She pioneered pedagogically sound, research-based learning experiences in India. Overseeing K-10 and K-12 initiatives for the CMR Group, she manages CBSE, ICSE and Cambridge-affiliated schools with over 8000 students. Bringing cutting edge educational advancements to Ekya, Dr. Tristha  draws from principles of the Project Zero Classroom  at Harvard University, inquiry-based learning  from the Reggio Emilia approach in Italy, and  Design Thinking from Stanford Graduate School of  Education. With a Bachelor’s degree from Singapore  Management University, a Master’s from Stanford  Graduate School of Education, and a Doctorate  in Education from King’s College, London, Dr.  Tristha’s research focuses on educational equity,  teacher motivation, education policy and curriculum construction. 

Manjula Shroff, CEO, Kalorex Group

12_Manjula Shroff

Dr. Manjula Pooja Shroff is the Managing Director and CEO of Kalorex Group. She stands as a driving force behind premier educational institutions in India. Over three decades, Kalorex has become synonymous with professionalism and excellence in K-12 education, boasting 60+ institutions, including Delhi Public Schools and  Calorx Olive International School. Empowering  88,000+ students and enriching 4,000+ educators,  Dr. Shroff’s commitment extends to marginalized  communities and special learning needs, evident in  initiatives like Visamo Kids and Prerna. She has been  recognized with prestigious awards, including the  “Secular India Award” and “Woman of the Year” by  the American Bibliography Society. 

Supriya Paul, CEO, Josh Talks 


Supriya Paul is the CEO & Co-founder of Josh Talks, India’s leading regional content and upskilling organization. Initiating this impactful venture at just 20, she received the Woman Transforming India Award in 2021 and secured a spot in Forbes’ top 20 self-made women in 2020. Her commitment earned her a place in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in 2018. As a  Goalkeeper for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,  Supriya actively advances Global Goals, advising  platforms like YuWaah (Generation Unlimited), Atal Innovation Mission, the Founder Institute, and  the Women Economic Forum. Beyond leadership,  she invests in early-stage tech startups and mentors  through ‘Phir Ziddi Hi Sahi,’ empowering young girls  to navigate gender bias. Motivated to inspire youth, Supriya’s debut book ‘All You Need Is Josh’ captures  30 stories, reflecting her dedication to fostering  motivation and empowerment. 

Rakesh LoestroThe author is Rakesh Gupta, Managing Partner of LoEstro  Advisors. LoEstro Advisors is India’s leading investment  banking and consulting firm, working with blue-chip  education companies and organizations. 

Also read:

LoEstro Advisors: Enabling educational institutions to maximise their potential


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