Member Spotlight: Anju Mahendroo's Mission to Empower Moms
When you’re born on one continent, raised on another continent, and now live on a third continent, it’s safe to say you are a global citizen.
While her roots are from India, Anju was born in Bahrain then grew up in Zambia and Botswana in difficult family circumstances. Her brave decision to move to America changed her life.
“I had a complex and traumatic childhood, but I always believed the universe has one's back even on days we don't see it or don't believe it. Deep in my heart, I knew that to change the trajectory of my life I had to move away from the negative vortex and get a college degree so I never had to depend on anyone.”
She had heard from missionaries in Africa that America was this far away place where you could make it because it welcomed people from all walks of life with open arms and free of judgment (“mind you this was in the early 1980s, pre-9/11”). So, after graduating from high school at 16, she picked Texas for her college experience because through her research she had learned it was the cheapest state for a "great quality" of education.
“Not knowing any better at a young age, I just started alphabetically at "A" and landed in Abilene, TX at Abilene Christian University for one semester before transferring to the University of Texas at Arlington. The rest, as they say, is history.”
What was it like for you to attend college by yourself across the world from your home and what has your career journey been like?
I loved the American university experience so much and would have studied forever and never left if not for massive debts and responsibilities. I did not pick a major based on passion (from where I came from, what is that?) but it was picked for me based on practicality and what others thought was best for my situation (thanks to some advisors). But I am a curious person so that’s why I have four minors! I worked dozens of jobs exhaustively to make ends meet. Most people’s memories of college are the parties or fun times or friends they made. Mine are mainly working to pay debts, attending classes, and studying to soak up as much knowledge as I could. I was hungry to learn and loved every minute. I got a bachelor’s degree in computer science engineering because it was a booming high-paying industry in the 1980s and my ticket to freedom. I also earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
I have worked in several industries from telecom to education to healthcare. As a norm, I switch industries every 10 years when I feel I have grown as much as possible. Through the years, I have served in every role to understand the entire software cycle, from software development to product management to professional/client services to business development to pre-sales. After years at big corporations, I co-founded a successful health care software start-up company. I have worked in every position from being a terrified new grad to being a senior executive managing 120-person teams across countries. I'm what many have called a multi-potentialite.
What prompted your move to Austin last year?
After decades of a successful career in a cut-throat corporate world (especially for women of color in a male-dominated field), I needed to detox. I took time off to figure out "what I want to be when I grow up" and also do what my heart always wanted but couldn't earlier, due to life's responsibilities—and that was to serve others! With both my wonderful boys grown and pursuing their life goals, I decided to travel the world and volunteer. I met so many wonderful people through so many channels including Gloria Perez (ex-CEO of Jeremiah Program). She invited me to come to Minnesota and learn about Jeremiah Program (JP). I was immediately drawn to the mission/vision of JP. Having been a single mother myself, I related to the moms at so many levels. I knew the impact not having a safe, loving childhood/home can have on our adult selves plus how it can trickle down to the next generation if we moms don't get the tools to heal and thrive since all we have known is surviving. I firmly believe the path to changing a generational cycle is to be empowered and educated. I packed up and moved to Austin to join the JP board.
How did you first learn about Impact Austin and what prompted you to join?
Gloria also invited me to the JP 20/20 summit in MN and that's where the universe brought Rebecca Powers and me together. Rebecca was on the JP national board. She had this warm, friendly, magnetic "power" about her (no pun intended). When I told her I was moving to Austin, she told me about Impact Austin. I needed no prompting and immediately joined. I have always been attracted to humble people who radiate positive energy. I tend to make my decisions based on people because that defines the value and culture of an organization. Even after moving to Austin, she made time out of her busy schedule to meet me for coffee, chat about life and ensure I was settling well in Austin. She defined the essence of this organization. And now I have met so many more amazing women like her at Impact Austin and enjoyed many more coffee meetings. On a side note, I would also like to point out this fall I feel blessed to be facilitating the empowerment course at JP, thanks to the Impact Austin grant. Thanks to you Impact Austin ladies (give yourselves a round of applause), we are empowering the next set of moms to change the trajectory of their life.
How have you been involved in Impact Austin and what has been most rewarding for you?
I first served on the Health and Wellness Grant Review Committee since I had just spent the last decade in healthcare. I loved every minute and my favorite part was the site visits (some that moved me to tears). This year when talk of the new Social Innovation Grant Committee started, I joined that in parallel. I had the privilege of briefly co-chairing the committee with Jessica Odeyemi for the first phase of the work before handing off to the next amazing group of women who will take it to the finish line. I was very impressed with the Social Innovation Grant pilot initiative to do something different, to think outside the box and invest in a collaborative (versus single organizations like the other IA grants). We all know our community as a whole benefits more when organizations come together for a common goal and generating new ideas to solve problems. This pilot can be the start of looking at a new way of doing things together to achieve maximum impact in our community. It reminds me of my favorite African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Why would you encourage other women to join Impact Austin?
I love quotes so I'll use another one here from Maya Angelou: "When you get, GIVE; when you learn, TEACH.” I have lived my life based on these words. And when we collectively GIVE, the impact is even greater!
Therefore, I would encourage other women to be empowered philanthropists and join organizations like Impact Austin and invest in their community.