EMBA graduate Smita Suchde Gruetter is working to improve the lives of young women in India through Hemlata, a social innovation and education project named after her mother. IMD recently caught up with Smita to talk about her project.

What is Hemlata 100?

Hemlata 100 is a social innovation project aimed at supporting 100 girls from India’s lowest socio-economic class with quality, tertiary education in accredited colleges in India, with a full scholarship. The scholarship is all-inclusive – providing tuition, lodging, meals, books and even a stipend for pocket money. 

Additional support is given by matching H100 Scholars with a mentor and peer from outside of India to allow for different perspectives, as well as a life coach to help with non-cognitive skills.

The initiative also addresses 6 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2030.

How does Hemlata tackle the challenges faced by young women in India?

The biggest challenge for a girl from the lowest socio-economic class in India is to break the cycle of inter-generational poverty. Even if she has been able to complete her schooling, as long as she does not have financial stability, the chances are that she will work in menial jobs or get married. Our intervention begins at this point.

Girls who have graduated from school, who match our criteria and have the grit and determination to go on to college, receive the Hemlata Scholarship to complete their college education. But education alone cannot be a job assurance.

Hence, the H100, as a social innovation project, goes further as we provide our scholars with opportunities and learning diversity. We experience this value at IMD when we meet with peers from 25-30 different nationalities and when we learn from each other’s backgrounds.

We introduce our scholars to female mentors and peers from outside of India – women empowering women –  to bring in diverse viewpoints, as well as a life coach to develop personal life skills. At the end of the program, a certificate and an internship ensure that our scholars are on the right path to their chosen future.

What is your vision for the organization?

The vision is to invest in 100 girls, but to impact one million. If each of our girls can give back by supporting, even in a small manner, 10 new scholars, the numbers multiply really fast. 100 girls impacting 10 means 1,000 girls; 1,000 becomes 10,000 and so on.

We also believe in the power of the community (just like the IMD community). 100 scholars + 100 mentors and 100 peers form a community: all empowered women each helping the other. A scholar or even a peer can have access to not just their mentors but can also reach out to other mentors and peers over the years. It’s a unique network and community as part of a social initiative.

What inspired you to take this path?

I’m very fortunate to have been educated in various countries, and to have travelled to and met people from different nations and backgrounds. These are the opportunities that have shaped me. Coming from India, I know that if girls, specifically those who are not privileged, are to break their cycle of poverty or live a life of dignity and self-worth, they will need to receive similar opportunities.

How did the IMD EMBA course help to develop you as a leader?

It grounded me – you come into a class with 26 different nationalities, different work habits, different personalities, different ways of working. When you have to work with several viewpoints due to differences in cultural backgrounds and nationalities, your own thinking makes a shift, enabling you to dig deeper into understanding yourself and others. We really benefited from each other.

How did your time with IMD influence Hemlata?

I’m looking at this entire project like a startup now – on all fronts: how do we raise funds, how quickly do we expand, including how and when I visualize my own exit?  And instead of treating this as a philanthropic project, my approach is to think about this as a social innovation project creating impact.

Plus, the various tools that I learnt at IMD are now applied within my team, especially how we should work together and strategize. The leadership part influenced me personally and is also the reason why we introduced a life coach for the scholars in our program.

What’s next?

The H100 program will act as a pilot in India, specifically, after which we wish to take this template and apply it to Latin America, Africa, the Philippines or Indonesia – wherever girls need to feel empowered. I believe we can prove this can be successful and grow it to help our girls, all over, live with self-worth and dignity.

Find out more about the EMBA program