Facing an “identity crisis” when she sold her first company to Disney, how Zarina Screwvala found an even stronger purpose with Swades

When the media veteran and her co-founder husband, Ronnie, had sold UTV Software Communications to The Walt Disney Company in February 2012, it had a profound impact on Screwvala, for they had run it for three decades, and, she confesses, it was as though her “entire identity was wrapped up in UTV.”

Working on Doordarshan show Mashoor Mahal with Alyquee Padamsee, Ronnie Screwvala and Deven Khote, formed the genesis for what was launched as UTV in 1990. Commissioned to produce 250 hours by Zee TV, Screwvala was responsible for programming across genres and UTV adopted an unconventional approach by introducing game shows, chat shows, daily soaps with strong progressive women characters that set a new precedent in Indian television. So, naturally, the end of this stint felt like the end of an era.

But a quote by a Chinese legend Lao Tzu — “When you let go of who you are, you become what you might be” – showed her the way, and she attained the clarity to envision her next enterprise, Swades Foundation, in 2013. Screwvala elucidates how her one-year extensive research, which involved field visits across various NGOs (including the biggies like SEWA and BRAC), gave her a multipronged strategy for Swades.

The NGO, that has empowered close to 500,000 people so far, focuses on health, education, sanitation, community mobilisation and creation of livelihood. Based in Mumbai, the foundation managed to reach out to 2,000 villages across six blocks in Raigad in Maharashtra, and has set itself an arduous target of empowering 1 million more in rural India over the next five years. “We are clear that we have to bring people’s standard of living to a given threshold and then stop any kind of intervention. Because we are not just aiming to empower a million people, we want to empower many more, which is impossible without a well-defined exit strategy,” she signs off.

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