Lata Krishnan, member of Opportunity Fund’s Leadership Council, reflects on the importance of supporting education and economic empowerment, the role of philanthropy in advancing a more just world, and her hopes for the new Women of Opportunity initiative.
Lata Krishnan is the founder and Board Chair of the American India Foundation and the Chief Financial Officer of Shah Capital Partners. She also co-founded and served as the CFO of SMART Modular Technologies.
Currently, Lata serves on Opportunity Fund’s Leadership Council and has been instrumental in launching Women of Opportunity, a new initiative engaging women philanthropists in support of small business owners, with an initial focus on Black entrepreneurs.
Who or what has inspired your philanthropy?
The spirit of American generosity is infectious and as citizens, we feel a responsibility to participate as best as we can. Frankly, it’s a privilege for my husband, Ajay and I to do so. My children are always an inspiration in everything I do.
You are a champion of education and economic empowerment, both in the U.S. and in India. Why do these causes speak do you?
We come from families who have always emphasized the importance of education. No one can take your education away from you; it is a pathway to opportunity.
My mother was a huge inspiration behind my belief in economic empowerment. Even though she didn’t have a career outside of the house, she was incredibly focused on me becoming a financially independent woman. She was really the force behind me taking on a strong career path. Economic empowerment helps one stand on one’s feet, regardless of gender.
Through my involvement with a number of nonprofits in the Bay Area and the American India Foundation, I’ve focused on the educational and economic needs of children and women. Children and women always get left behind. They don’t always have the opportunities or resources to uplift themselves.
What is the role of philanthropy in advancing a more just world?
Governments obviously have the most important responsibility in advancing an equitable world. But a government can only realize its full potential when it is paired with a vibrant civil society. A combination of engaged philanthropists, together with well-run non-profits, can provide innovative methods of social and economic development that lead to extraordinary returns.
Philanthropy has the independence to test new models, utilize risk capital, and determine how to derive efficiency and scalability. Well–managed philanthropic efforts can translate into significant impact that has the ability to measure, with clarity, the difference that one is making.
How has your background as a founder influenced your support of Opportunity Fund?
My experience as a founder of a tech company and the American India Foundation has greatly influenced my decision to be part of Opportunity Fund. As entrepreneurs, my husband and I had a deep desire to build something, to make a difference. We had something in our DNA that propelled us to take a risk at an early age.
The clients that the Opportunity Fund serves are people like us, who have a dream to own a business and be self-reliant. What better way is there to support them than to provide the initial capital to get a jump start, but also to provide the soft skills, like training and encouragement?
Our mission is to help any and all individuals to reach their full potential. Our journey had its share of struggles, and that will be true for any entrepreneur. When one has experienced that, it’s natural to have empathy for someone on a similar journey.
Please tell me about your hopes for Women of Opportunity.
Several years ago, I supported a program called CEO Women – Creating Economic Opportunities for Women. While it is no longer around, the program focused on job training and supporting the soft skills of underprivileged immigrant women so that they could access better livelihoods. Often these women were single mothers, or had suffered domestic violence, but they were always from underprivileged communities. This program enabled them to rebuild their skillsets and give them the confidence to march forward with a purpose.
Women of Opportunity is pulling together a group of dynamic women who are focused on lifting women around them. Especially in this day and age, when our country’s leadership is struggling in many ways, there are many disenfranchised communities that need support. In these times of strife, women and people of color will suffer the most. Those of us who can support these communities need to roll up our sleeves even more. This is the right thing to do.
Opportunity Fund, the nation’s leading nonprofit small business lender, believes small dollar loans help hard-working entrepreneurs make lasting change in their own lives and build stronger communities by growing businesses and creating jobs. Opportunity Fund’s community of donors and investors is creating an inclusive financial system that empowers women, immigrant, and minority small business owners. Our strategy combines microloans for small business owners and New Markets Tax Credit investments in high-impact community infrastructure projects. Since 1994, Opportunity Fund has deployed more than $1 billion and helped thousands of entrepreneurs invest in their families’ futures. The organization has committed to lending an additional $1.2 billion to small business owners across the country and investing $174 million in community real estate projects by 2023.
In March, 2020, Opportunity Fund and Accion, The US Network, joined forces to establish Accion Opportunity Fund, the first organization focused on a national microlending strategy to meet the credit needs of small businesses – developing new products, establishing new partnerships, promoting research and financial education, and leveraging digital technologies to support mission-driven lending.
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