Chaya Pamula, President and CEO of PamTen, recently had the honor of serving as a panelist at the prestigious India Conference 2016, hosted by the Harvard Business School - Harvard Kennedy School. The conference, one of the largest India conferences in the US, brought together business leaders, entertainment professionals, government officials, philanthropists, and other dignitaries to engage in conversation about India’s path to Global leadership. This year’s theme was India in Transition - Opportunities and Challenges.
Ms. Pamula was chosen for her professional acumen as an entrepreneur and co-founder of a growing IT services organization which has offices in Princeton, NJ; Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; and two locations in India: Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam, as well as her philanthropic work. Her involvements with NGO’s include serving on the board of Maher, a home for women which recently received the Nari Shakti Award 201, and founding of SOFKIN.
“Access to Justice” was the panel on which Ms. Pamula served. This panel also included Amitabha Mukherjee, a Lead Public Sector Specialist in the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice and Prof. Mohan Gopal, former head of the National Judicial Academy of the Supreme Court of India (NJA). Key to her selection on this panel was her successful founding, development, guidance, and growth of the NGO SOFKIN, Support Organization for Kids In Need. Ms. Pamula established SOFKIN 10 years ago. This organization cares for destitute children in a home like atmosphere, and has been gaining in significance and attention over the years.
While her expertise is in entrepreneurship and NGO development, it was an excellent opportunity for Ms. Pamula. “I approached the session from my point of view and the experiences I’ve had working with the justice system, not only as a business woman, but my experiences with SOFKIN, MAHER and other NGO organizations” she noted. “It was a very different topic for me, but an important one – and an interesting one.”
Her participation brought insight into the topic that all of the attendees and speakers appreciated. Ms. Pamula’s reflections included the fact that, although the number of lawyers in India increasing, the number of people who do not have legal representation has also been continuously increasing. The legal rights of women and children were also discussed. “Indian women and girls technically have constitutional rights equal to men in many regards — including citizenship and access to primary education — the reality is often radically different, many of them don’t even understand their own legal rights,” she noted.
Socially, women can be regarded as lesser humans, and face frightening levels of sexual assault and violence. The problem of access to justice is deep and pervasive in India and has affected the ability of the individuals, the poor and lower class, to seek justice. It is also difficult for the legal and judicial process to respond to these injustices. In 2015, it was reported that there were close to 400 vacancies for judge's posts in the country's 24 high courts. The social and political system in India makes it more difficult for poor and middle class communities to get justice. The time it takes to gain justice, and the strong social and political influence needed to get anything through the system, discourage many poor and lower class people from even pursuing their legal rights.
Ms. Pamula points out that, “Globally, the champions of human rights have most often been citizens, not government officials. In particular, it has been nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have played a primary role in focusing the international community on human rights issues. MAHER, our sister organizations, works diligently with social workers to educate rural women and children about human rights, social justice, property rights, child labor, and sexual & domestic violence.” These organizations let the women and men in dire circumstances know that they have recourse. However, without strengthening and refining the judicial system in India and creating a process for fair and prompt legal process, things will take a very long time to truly change.
As an IT professional, and President/CEO of PamTen, which she co-founded, Ms. Pamula has a distinct understanding of the power of technology, specifically Social Media. “By using social media, people are able to express their views and bring to the forefront the incidents of social injustice,” she says. “They can then gain larger support from the community where they live – and the community of the world. It’s important that we use technology to create greater awareness of the issues, educate people, and become the platform for social justice and reform,” she concluded.
This is not the first time Ms. Pamula has presented at one of Harvard’s Schools. Last year she had the distinction of speaking to a group of Harvard Law students, members of the Harvard Student Organizations Social Enterprise Law Association (SELA), SALSA (South Asian Law Students Association), and LIDS (Law and International Development Society). The students gathered for a workshop entitled “Leadership Reinforced – Non-Profit and For-Profit Worlds”. Here she discussed how her work, business acumen, and leadership skills in both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, seemingly opposing sectors, have instead mutually reinforced each other. It was a lively, packed meeting and very well received by the eager law students.
The India Conference 2016 was the culmination of a busy week. Ms. Pamula was honing her creative mind and innovative spirit by participating in a highly selective course at the hallowed halls of Harvard University. The course, ‘Leading Product Innovation' is part of the Harvard Executive Program. The program empowers participants, key executives from top companies around the country, to develop and foster innovative culture and encourage adaptable strategic planning. It has high standards for entrance and only selects qualified candidates based not only on their organizational responsibilities, but also on their professional achievement.
“It was an intense week of study, learning, and networking. To be a presenter at the conference was a great honor. It was a challenge, but a very exciting one,” concluded Ms. Pamula. The conversations at class and the conference only confirmed Ms. Pamula’s resolve. “Last year I established the Global Women’s League, an organization to help women find their inner strength and passion, to match them with mentors and a support system, and give them a place where ideas can be freely discussed.” She adds, “These issues that we covered, and of all I have learned here and over the years, show that I am following the path I was meant for.”