PROVIDENCE, RI–With a packed crowd that allowed for minimal standing room, the IIT Alumni Leadership Conference in Providence kicked off to a great start with a well-organized set of sessions by the IIT Women, saying that although women start about 50 percent of businesses, they receive only three percent of venture capital funding.

2016 Leadership Conference, which was held at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, RI, from August 12 to 14, was organized by the IIT Association of Greater New England and PANIIT. The theme of the conference was: “Leading Transformation for a Better Tomorrow: Technologies that lift the human spirit.”

iit-women-audience-sThe conference was chaired by Raj Laad and co-chaired by Mandy Deb Pant.  The conference brought together an array of thought leaders in areas where New England leads the rest of the world, such as Life Sciences and Healthcare, Energy and Environment, Big Data, and Education.

Mandy Pant
Mandy Pant

In her introduction speech, Pant, IIT Kharagpur alumna and Co-Chair of the conference, emphasized conference goals of networking, learning, inspiring and influencing.

The panel on May the Force Be With Women Entrepreneurs was moderated by IIT Kanpur alumna, Gitanjali Swamy, an entrepreneur herself.

“The panelists shared some very startling statistics including the fact that women entrepreneurs start about 50% of businesses, but get only 3% of VC funding– a stat that hasn’t changed over a decade,” Pant said. “The panelists agreed that women are enterprising about finding solutions to funding needs, but additional techniques that could help range from establishing deeper networking for women to recognition for men who enable women entrepreneurs.”

The panel on solving the hidden challenges that women face in leadership moderated by IIT Bombay Alumna, Durriya Doctor talked about micro-inequities that make it harder for women to climb. Panelist, Anu Chitrapu quipped on the importance of women speaking up and raising their hand to volunteer whenever an opportunity arises as it may open new doors.

IIT-women-1-s“What differentiated this panel from other panels on similar topics was that here all the women related their personal stories of their challenges and how they overcame them,” said Chitrapu. “This was a panel where topics like unconscious bias were discussed via real experiences with solutions on how to deal with them.”

Anu Chitrapu
Anu Chitrapu

A session on how to become a person of influence was led by Jo Miller on Friday. Saturday saw two powerful panels, one on women advancing the common good through technology and one on women impact the next generation of STEM professionals. The former featured India New England News 2013 Woman of the Year, Poonam Ahluwalia and India New England News  2012 Woman of the Year and IIT Bombay alumna, Ranjani Saigal who shared deep insights on how each has impacted the social community through their work.

Panelist and IIT Madras alum, Savitha Sridharan, through her startup, talkied about targeting lighting up 100 villages across the world with renewable energy solutions . Young panelist Amrita Saigal inspired the attendess by sharing details about her MIT startup that has been launched to provide women in rural India access to biodegradable sanitary pads. The STEM panel was moderated by INEN 2016 finalist, Rita Advani.

The fact that the parallel system of expensive tutoring is what is impeding girls in India today from making it into coveted STEM institutions of higher learning was shared by panelist Prof Sudeshna Sarkar, IIT Kharagpur alum and now HOD of the Computer Science and Engineering department.

A dynamic mentor/mentee session led by Ranjani Saigal and Meenakshi Narain (IIT Kanpur alum and Brown Univ professor ) wrapped up the women’s sessions at the conference on Sunday, where conference co-chair, Mandy Deb Pant requested that in addition to the initial goals called out at the conference start, the attendees should take what they have learnt forward helping each other out.

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