Sumana Setty

Published on: August 2013

Sumana Setty is a co-founder of Commit-2-Change (C2C), a charity dedicated to creating systematic change by educating orphaned girls. Since its inception 2 years ago, C2C has supported over 400 children in their efforts to build a better future for themselves.

Sumana's belief that every woman should be empowered inspired the co-creation of Catrinka, a socially conscious fashion brand that collaborates with women around the world to make fair trade, fair wage handbags. The profits from the sales of these unique bags made by socially responsible artisan groups go to pay school fees for girls in the country where the bags were created. When she is not leading the crusade to improve the lives of those less fortunate, Sumana serves as general counsel of a private equity fund. She has been a practising attorney for 11 years.
sumana shetty,social entrepreneur
Drive toward social entrepreneurship:

The desire to create sustainable change drove me towards social entrepre-neurship. I co-founded C2C two years ago as a not for profit organization. One consistent theme in my work with C2C is the constant pursuit of funding and it diverts attention away from the task at hand. When we started Catrinka, we wanted to focus our efforts on empowering women and educating girls and not on how to constantly raise money for our projects. We decided we needed to be a sustainable business to achieve our goals and embraced the double bot-tom line model. As a business we are able to grow and expand which creates employment opportunities for women, and by giving back a portion of the pro-ceeds to educate girls we are creating a positive return to the society.

People supporting me:

I started Catrinka with two friends Megan Cayten and Amisha Patel, and C2C with my friend Sejal Gehani. As in any relationship, however, it is all about chemistry and when you build a business or organization with friends, you have a natural chemistry with each other that can have a positive impact on your business. This synergy is, however, highly dependent on a foundation of trust and it is important to us that we work with each other to make sure that the base of trust is strong.

Honestly, my family's initial response was ambivalence. My parents live in India and poverty and disparity were an unfortunate way of life. When I first started Catrinka, my mother called it the "purse project". Even though my parents didn't really understand why it was so important for me, they still supported me. My mother took me to orphanages and she helped me buy goods for the children and my father gave me seed capital to start Catrinka. I don't know what triggered the change, but slowly my parents and my cousins all started embracing my dreams. My favourite moment was when I called my mother on her 60th birthday to wish her and she told me that she couldn't talk because she was giving food to the children in a nearby orphanage.

The little girls at my orphanages are my inspiration. When I moved to New York 9 years ago, I never imagined that I would start my own company. I came as a wide eyed, bushy tailed young associate ready to tackle the world of corporate America. I went to India over the Christmas holidays and my aunt took me to an orphanage in Bangalore. I was overwhelmed by these children - each child was abused, abandoned or orphaned by their parents and each child was HIV positive. Yet, the image when I Ieft that place that day was the laughter in their eyes. The fact that they can find joy and happiness in the moment is a lesson in life.

Every child deserves the ability to dream and a path towards achieving it. I came back to New York wanting to continue to be a part of their journey. Catrinka and C2C are the tools which enable me to do so.

My family's response: How did you develop the skills required to be an entrepreneur?

I believe the key skill to be an entrepreneur is execution. Ideas are generic. It is the ability to make your idea reality that differentiates you from the herd. I was fortunate to receive this training as an associate in a law firm. We worked with our clients to bring their vision to fruition and this entailed everything from creat-ing a strategy, to problem solving, to getting "into the weeds" to understand what needed to be done and how to do it. We are also always under extreme time deadlines, which require us to be efficient and confident in our objectives.

What were the lessons learned during your journey?

My journey has just begun and every day presents a different challenge. The best way to tackle these hurdles is to check your ego at the door. I never thought I would be carrying handbags across the US and sitting outside movie theaters asking people to purchase a purse to support women and girls. It is not about where you are in your life, but where you want to go, and that requires a lot of persistence and humility. If you read the biography of Steve Jobs, or any other successful entrepreneur, you learn that they all took a lot of 'hits' before they were able to reach their goals. It is important to not give up, not to take "no" for an answer and not let other people define your vision or your abilities to make them a reality.
5 key people who helped me turn my visions into reality:

My parents: My parents grew up in a culture where girls are considered a curse and a burden, and education is not a priority. My father didn't adhere to these notions, instead ensured that I obtained an education. It is the best inheritance I could have received.

My Sampreetha aunty: My aunt took me to Little Flowers Children's Home, an orphanage in Bangalore where all children are infected with AIDS. Meeting them inspired me to co-create C2C.

My friends: I have an incredible network of supporters, advocators and thought leaders who constantly inspire me to push forward.

5 key words: Live your life with intention.

"Go with confidence in the direction of your dreams because the failures in life are what will enable you to succeed."
On a scale of 1-10, how inspiring did you find this article?