Shamlu Dudeja
India
Shamlu Dudeja
  • Director, Malika's Kantha Collection & Trading Pvt. Ltd.; Chairperson, SHE Foundation and Calcutta Foundation. (Textiles, education)
Born Karachi, Pakistan, 1938; BA, Mathematics, University of Dehli, 1957; Diploma, College of Education, University of Nottingham, 1973.
“The people who can look at the distress of another person and put their hand out to help, they are the people of God.”

Summary

In this interview, Shamlu Dudeja—Founder of SHE (Self Help Enterprise) India and Chairperson of the Calcutta Foundation—narrates her inspiring story, beginning as a child in Pakistan on the eve of Partition, to her education and early career as a mathematics teacher, to ultimately founding a major women’s organization in Bengal.

As Dudeja explains, both of her parents were instrumental in guiding her down her future career path. From a young age, her father—himself a mathematician at a college in Karachi —drilled her on arithmetic and multiplication. Dudeja’s mother taught her the art of Kantha—a type of traditional embroidery stitched into multiple layers of fabric, common in the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, as well as in Bangladesh.

These two seemingly unrelated skillsets have driven Dudeja’s career. After spending many years as a mathematics teacher in Kolkata, she was approached by Oxford University Press about writing a series of math textbooks for ages 4-14. The books were a huge success, and Dudeja used the royalties from these and subsequent publications to fund the operation of her non-profit organization SHE (founded in the early 1990s), which simultaneously revived the dying art of Kantha and provided rural women with access to income.

In the interview, Dudeja describes how the organization that became SHE grew from just a few women embroidering Kantha in their spare time to a complex network with trained seamstresses each training overseeing hundreds of talented women. Dudeja also discusses SHE’s unique organizational structure, how she ensures fair compensation, and how the group is adapting to the new ecosystem of online retail.

Dudeja concludes the interview by talking about her broader commitment to social responsibility, as embodied in her work with the Calcutta Foundation and other organizations. She was recently recognized for her work by the International Folk Art Market, which awarded SHE Foundation the Community Impact Award in July 2018.

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In this interview, Shamlu Dudeja—Founder of SHE (Self Help Enterprise) India and Chairperson of the Calcutta Foundation—narrates her inspiring story, beginning as a child in Pakistan on the eve of Partition, to her education and early career as a mathematics teacher, to ultimately founding a major women’s organization in Bengal.

As Dudeja explains, both of her parents were instrumental in guiding her down her future career path. From a young age, her father—himself a mathematician at a college in Karachi —drilled her on arithmetic and multiplication. Dudeja’s mother taught her the art of Kantha—a type of traditional embroidery stitched into multiple layers of fabric, common in the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, as well as in Bangladesh.

These two seemingly unrelated skillsets have driven Dudeja’s career. After spending many years as a mathematics teacher in Kolkata, she was approached by Oxford University Press about writing a series of math textbooks for ages 4-14. The books were a huge success, and Dudeja used the royalties from these and subsequent publications to fund the operation of her non-profit organization SHE (founded in the early 1990s), which simultaneously revived the dying art of Kantha and provided rural women with access to income.

In the interview, Dudeja describes how the organization that became SHE grew from just a few women embroidering Kantha in their spare time to a complex network with trained seamstresses each training overseeing hundreds of talented women. Dudeja also discusses SHE’s unique organizational structure, how she ensures fair compensation, and how the group is adapting to the new ecosystem of online retail.

Dudeja concludes the interview by talking about her broader commitment to social responsibility, as embodied in her work with the Calcutta Foundation and other organizations. She was recently recognized for her work by the International Folk Art Market, which awarded SHE Foundation the Community Impact Award in July 2018.

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Video Clips by Topic

Social Impact (1)

Shamlu Dudeja, founder of Malika’s Kantha Collection and Chair of SHE Foundation based in Kolkata, India describes how she reinvented the traditional sewing craft of kantha to make luxury and art products. She explains that her goal was to generate income for rural women.

Keywords: Social Impact, India


Social Impact (2)

Shamlu Dudeja, founder of Malika’s Kantha Collection and Chair of SHE Foundation based in Kolkata, India describes how the revival of the kantha craft in Bengal, India, has improved the lives of artisans, raising their confidence, and helping to bring Hindus and Muslims together.

Keywords: Social Impact, India


Resilience

Shamlu Dudeja, founder of Malika’s Kantha Collection and Chair of SHE Foundation based in Kolkata, recounts her childhood during Partition in great detail, starting with the day of the Partition where she witnessed the Pakistani flag go up in Karachi, the subsequent looting in the city, her parent’s decision to leave Pakistan, and her family’s distressing journey by ship to Mumbai.
Keywords: India, Resilience


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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Shamlu Dudeja, interviewed by Geoffrey Jones, Kolkata, India, April 27, 2018, Creating Emerging Markets Project, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, http://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/.