Introducing Neythri: A Community By and For South Asian Womxn

The South Asian diaspora, comprised of immigrants hailing from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, is the largest in the world. Over 18 million citizens or children of citizens of the Indian subcontinent live outside of their countries of origin. 

In the workplace, South Asians make up 12 percent of the American workforce despite being only 5.6 percent of the population. As a result, South Asians have gained success in many fields ranging from academics to medicine and law and government, with technology being one of the most welcoming. Over the last decade in Silicon Valley, South Asians have been pushing the boundaries in every facet of the ecosystem, as operators in startups and big tech, and as venture capitalists and founders. 

However, although South Asians have become trailblazers in their own right–paving the path for those that come after them–there is still plenty of progress to be made. According to a study conducted by Ascend Leadership, the representation of Asian American women in leadership roles is the worst in comparison to white, Black and Latinx women. This statistic gets even bleaker when looking at South Asian women in particular. 

South Asian women are pushing the boundaries in every facet of the technology ecosystem; as operators in startups and big tech, investors and founders, even as they’ve been left out of the broader race/diversity narrative. This is why a community ecosystem that unites South Asian women across the diaspora, supporting and amplifying their work professionally, is so meaningful and important. And that is exactly what Neythri hopes to accomplish. 

An organization founded by and for South Asian women, Neythri is a nonprofit with a mission to build and engage a global community of South Asian professional women of all backgrounds and experiences who are committed to helping each other succeed. Launched in March 2020, Neythri has quickly grown into a community that’s 900-plus members strong.   

What differentiates Neythri is the opportunity for intersectional, cross-generational programming for South Asian women; young professionals and senior executives alike. There are four programmatic streams that the organization’s mission is focused on: Professional & Leadership Development, Mentorship, Founders & Funders, and Social Impact & Community Leadership. 

A core piece of the Neythri mandate is advancing South Asian female founders and investors in the startup ecosystem to build and fund more companies. By creating a supportive community for South Asian women to lean on each other, the nonprofit hopes to move the diversity conversation forward by helping fuel more successful South Asian female-founded companies. 

Neythri also has the potential to influence and enable more South Asian female check writers. To accomplish these goals, over the last six months the Founders & Funders committee has hosted several virtual events featuring South Asian women founders such as Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan (founder of Drawbridge, which was acquired by LinkedIn), and Shruti Shah (founder of Move Loot). In addition, the nonprofit ran an enterprise funder event featuring Shruti Gandhi, GP at Array Ventures, and Priya Saiprasad, GP at Mayfield Fund

Furthermore, Neythri’s Founders & Funders team is focused on creating initiatives to build relationships between junior and senior investors in the community as well as programs that share knowledge and insights on specific verticals from senior investors. In recognizing that allocating capital to this mandate is one of the best ways to change the equation, Neythri is also exploring the creation of a fund backed by South Asian female investors. More to come on that soon.

To learn more about the organization, check out this Q&A with the founders, Sruthi Ramaswami, Mythili Sankaran and Chitra Nayak


 

Q: How did you all come together to start Neythri? 

Sruthi: Mythili and my family have been close for a number of years. Around that time, I was working on a blog called Shakti Collaborative, where I was profiling South Asian women and amplifying their work. Mythili reached out one day to grab coffee and talk through some of the foundational ideas she’d been thinking through that would eventually become Neythri. When I transitioned to working in venture capital, I started to meet more South Asian founders and was able to experience firsthand the opportunity to improve access to capital, resources and mentorship for South Asian female founders. When Mythili approached me in that coffee shop that day, I knew this is a no-brainer, that we had to do it.

Mythili: Completely agree with everything Sruthi said. I was doing a lot of angel investing, advising entrepreneurs and operational leaders. Across all these domains, I was struck by the lack of representation for South Asian founders. When I connected with Chitra and Sruthi separately, I immediately knew these were the two best people to start this with. It’s been an incredible journey so far; we’ve come such a long way since the initial brainstorm and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

 

Q: Tell me about the story behind the name “Neythri.” Why was it so important to you all that you picked the right name for this organization? 

Chitra: This is one that we thought about a lot. We wanted to pick a name that encapsulates where we come from and what we stand for, something that’s uniquely South Asian with a Sanskrit origin. We picked Neythri because it stands for “female leader” in Sanskrit. The name is perfect for us as Neythri aspires to be a platform that creates and amplifies female leaders. We envision the Neythri community as one where the folks that are in it can lean on and uplift each other.

 

Q: Why does an organization like this need to exist for the South Asian community? 

Sruthi: Growing up, I was able to see so many adults (aka aunties and uncles, as I’m sure many South Asians reading this can relate) with amazing careers, but the relationships there felt more like  parent/child. I rarely saw those relationships as ones where I could have an adult conversation about my career, engage in a mentor/mentee relationship, and talk through my professional next steps in these networks. Neythri’s community became the first place where I could create friendships and lean on South Asians older than me outside of a parental context. To me, creating a cross-generational community is important so that we can all help each other navigate this world given the added cultural context of being South Asian. There’s so much to be gained from interacting with peers and those who are ahead of you in their careers who can potentially sponsor, mentor or just be a support system.

Mythili: Neythri’s progress and success is even more special to me because we’re able to build this together with a team of 100-plus dedicated volunteers, all with different backgrounds and experiences. When I immigrated here in the late ’80s, I had no support. I didn’t have a single friend or family member, and virtually no ecosystem of support. I had to hustle my way into every professional achievement and fight my way into the rooms I wanted to be in. Because of this, I’m even more determined today to pay it forward with this community, because I know what it’s like to not have it. This is where I can create meaningful impact. This is the legacy I want to leave for my two young daughters.

 

Q: I know Neythri has seen rapid growth since its launch earlier this year. What were some of the big milestones? 

Chitra: It’s been a really exciting last few months for us at Neythri. We launched on International Women’s Day–the perfect day to reveal this project to the world. In just the last seven months, we’ve been able to scale to 900-plus members and run more than 40 events. It’s important to note that this growth has been completely organic as we’ve spent nothing on marketing. I believe it goes to show how well folks have been responding to this community, and what we, with the support of our broader executive team, have been able to build. Most of our members are based predominantly in the Bay Area but our geographic presence is growing rapidly to other areas in the U.S. and internationally as well. More than 50 percent of our membership is in industries outside of tech, which is exciting. We have a cross-generational membership base with 55 percent to 60 percent of our members being senior individuals with 15-plus years of professional experience, and the rest being younger professionals who are earlier in their career.

 

Q: What’s next for Neythri? What does success look like for you as founders of this community? 

Mythili: I’d love to see thriving Neythri chapters in different parts of the globe: a global community. We want to build an industry-agnostic community where folks from different walks of life come together to support and uplift each other. We want to create specialized offerings for different industries to enable deeper relationships.

Chitra: As we scale, we want to move from “one size fits all” programming to more curated communities and events. To build a platform, we hope to run more programs beyond just events. We’re laying the seeds for that as we speak, with launching our blog, mentorship program and soon we will launch a platform where Neythri members can meet and connect with each other.

Sruthi: As a young professional myself, it’s really important to me to create a space for other young women to find peers and mentors as they navigate the early days of their career. Through creative media and content, events, and small group programming, we hope to elevate role models–trailblazers across multiple career paths–and enable our members to find authentic mentors and leaders who care, who’ve been where you are and want to uplift you.


If you want to learn more about Neythri or the work of the Founders & Funders team, feel free to reach out to neythri.org

To find more stories and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds, raised funding, and are now leading successful companies, check out the Crunchbase “Female Founder Series.”