Out Of The Clouds

Zubaida Bai on building bridges, dismantling gender barriers, and amplifying HER power

Episode Notes

Anne V Mühlethaler speaks with Zubaida Bai, President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, in this enlightening exchange. Zubaida is a social entrepreneur and women's health advocate, as well as the founder of ayzh, a social enterprise that designs vital hygiene and reproductive healthcare products to women and girls in resource-poor settings.

Zubaida Bai is a distinguished social entrepreneur and women's health advocate with over 18 years of experience in the social impact space. As the founder of ayzh®, a pioneering social enterprise based in India, Zubaida has dedicated herself to designing vital healthcare products that enhance the well-being of women and girls throughout their reproductive journeys. Prior to her tenure at Grameen Foundation, Zubaida served as the managing director of social ventures at CARE, further solidifying her reputation as a transformative leader in the field of global health and development.

Throughout her illustrious career, Zubaida has garnered numerous accolades for her visionary leadership and tireless commitment to social change. Recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Maternal Health Champion by Ashoka, and a TED Fellow/Speaker, Zubaida's influence extends far beyond the realms of entrepreneurship and advocacy. She has been named a United Nations SDG 3 Pioneer by the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), highlighting her instrumental role in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. Additionally, Zubaida serves as a Visiting Social Innovator with Harvard University's Social Innovative Change Initiative (SICI) and sits on the Governing Body at SEMA (Shaping Equitable Market Access) for Reproductive Health.

Zubaida shares her remarkable journey from humble beginnings to becoming a trailblazer in the social sector. With unwavering dedication to empowering women and pioneering initiatives that address the unique needs of marginalised communities, Zubaida's insights offer invaluable lessons for listeners eager to make a positive difference in the world.

Zubaida then delves into the genesis of the Clean Birth Kit and her work at ayzh. She tells Anne about her role at the Grameen Foundation as well, and emphasises the crucial importance of investing in women’s power by dismantling gender barriers, with the goal of ending poverty.

She shares insights into fostering male champions, advocating for global support, and standing with the foundation’s founder, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, in his visionary quest to relegate poverty to the annals of history. Zubaida and Anne also explore the nuances of social entrepreneurship, empathy, imposter syndrome and the power of gratitude.

From her pioneering work in designing products for underserved populations to her impassioned plea for global solidarity in the fight against poverty, Zubaida's wisdom resonates deeply with audiences seeking to effect meaningful change in their own spheres of influence.

A moving interview with an inspirational leader. Happy listening! 


You can find out more about Zubaida and her work on her website: https://www.zubaidabai.com/

Discover the work of the Grameen Foundation here: https://grameenfoundation.org/

Donate to Grameen safely via this online link: https://grameenfoundation.org/take-action/donate

Ayzh - https://www.ayzh.com/

A couple of Zubaida's favorite books: 

There is Nothing Micro about a Billion Women, by Mary Ellen

Chup, by Deepa Narayan



Episode Transcription

[00:00:00] Anne V Muhlethaler: Hi, hello, bonjour and namaste. This is Out of the Clouds, a podcast at the crossroads between business and mindfulness. And I'm your host, Anne Mühlethaler, a former fashion executive, turned brand consultant, coach, mindfulness teacher, and writer. And I'm here to bring you what I hope to be another insightful discussion.

[00:00:32] Today I have the incredible honor to have Zubaida Bai, the president and CEO of the Grameen Foundation. Zubaida's journey from her childhood to becoming an engineer before evolving into a prominent leader in the social sector is nothing short of inspiring. With a passion for lifting women and girls and focus on finding solutions and designing products for the last mile, Zubaida has been instrumental in driving positive change.

[00:01:07] Throughout our discussion, she tells me about many topics from imposter syndrome to becoming an advocate for women and girls, to talking about what success means to her and how feminism about fighting for a cause. As the founder of Eyes, a pioneering social enterprise based in India, Zubaida has dedicated herself to designing vital healthcare products that enhance the well being of women and girls throughout their reproductive journeys.

[00:01:41] Throughout her career, Zubaida has garnered numerous accolades for her visionary leadership and her tireless commitment to social change. She was recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Maternal Health Champion by Ashoka, and a TED Fellow and Speaker. Now Zubaida's influence extends far beyond the realms of entrepreneurship and advocacy.

[00:02:06] She has been named a United Nations SDG3 Pioneer by the United Nations Global Compact, UNGC, highlighting her instrumental role in advancing sustainable development goals. Additionally, Zubaida serves as a visiting social innovator with Harvard University's Social Innovative Change Initiative and sits on the governing body at SEMA.

[00:02:31] Shaping equitable market access for reproductive health. I am thrilled. To be bringing you this interview of an amazing, amazing woman and to be shining a light both on her work and the work done by her teams, both at eyes and at the Grameen Foundation. And I hope that you will be as moved as I am to join her.

[00:02:55] and becoming an advocate or a champion for women and girls. Now to my interview with Subeda Bai. Dear Subeda, it's so nice to see you. Welcome to Out of the Clouds. 

[00:03:11] Zubaida Bai: Thank you, Anne. I really appreciate you having me. 

[00:03:15] Anne V Muhlethaler: So it's been a little bit under a year since we met for the first time. What have you meet up to since we last had a chat face to face in Geneva?

[00:03:27] Zubaida Bai: When I met you in Geneva, I think it was probably April, May, June of last year, which was the second meeting of ours. There was very busy times at Grameen Foundation. I had not been at the foundation for a full year at that point in time. I completed my one year, I think, in November of 2023. So there's a lot happening in terms of our new strategic direction being launched, in terms of travel, positioning Grameen's new strategy out in the world, and meeting a lot of women that we serve in refugee settings in different parts of the world.

[00:04:06] And understanding the hurdles that they face as entrepreneurs and how Grameen as a global grassroots organization can support them. So it's a lot that has been happening since we met. 

[00:04:19] Anne V Muhlethaler: That's what I, that's what I imagined. So first, before we get any further, I wanted to tell you that I love to start like when we met actually by asking my guest and you in this case to tell our audience your story.

[00:04:36] And really the goal here is to talk about who you are. were as a child who you were as a teenager and what brought you to become the woman that you are today? And I know that it's a tall order to start to ask someone to tell their story, but if that's okay with you, Zubaida, would you tell us your 

[00:04:55] Zubaida Bai: story?

[00:04:56] I'd be happy to. It's a core part of who I am and what I have become today. I would say where do I start? I think for me, the beginning was a fact that I grew up in Chennai, India. And that was probably where I lived my entire life through my undergraduate degree. That I graduated in mechanical engineering and my first job in a fasteners and bolts company was there as well.

[00:05:20] So as a child, really my goal was to not be a girl or a woman that I was seeing around me. I think it was very frustrating for me to see that woman did not have a voice. A lot of what I would feel growing up was women were invisible. And unfortunately, I am seeing that even today, and we can talk more about that.

[00:05:40] I had a desperate need to, like I said, not be who I was around, and a desperate need to figure out a way for myself and my family out of poverty. And becoming an engineer was definitely a core part of that. And mechanical engineering for me as a child was I can build fancy cars and own a lot of them and that'll make me rich.

[00:06:03] So that was who I am, who I was growing up. I would say from there I ended up wanting to specialize in engineering and ended up through a long journey, which can be a podcast in itself to Sweden where I did my master's in mechanical engineering specifically focused on product development and design.

[00:06:24] I came back to India, had a dream job that I wanted, that would do everything that I wanted to, which was walk my family out of poverty, but then again, through serendipity, ended up in a job for designing agriculture and healthcare products at the last mile. Which seemed to resonate very deeply with me and to everyone's shock and surprise, I left my corporate job to take up this opportunity, which paid less than one fourth of my corporate salary at that point in time.

[00:06:53] And for me, the big aha moment designing products at the last mile was how do women use these products? Where is gender in this, right? So both in agriculture and healthcare. Way ahead of my times, asking that question. And we designed more and more products, but the big challenge was how do these products go to market?

[00:07:13] And so from there, I ended up becoming an investor in early stage high impact technologies. From there, again, way ahead of my times, moved on to become an entrepreneur. And we built and sold products in women's reproductive health. Very specifically reducing infections through maternal health, newborn care, postpartum hygiene.

[00:07:33] That company led to being very successful and I led that over 13 years, which really the big question that was, am I building a company or am I building, am I fixing systems for the company to be successful? And I think my passion for gender and building systems is what I do in my current role at Grameen Foundation.

[00:07:53] That's the entire history from childhood to where I am. To answer your question. 

[00:07:59] Anne V Muhlethaler: You talked, first of all, thank you so much. What a journey. But then I would say, I'd love to hear from you what attracted you to engineering in the first place. There are several routes that I can imagine would have led you to bring your family out of poverty and to establish yourself as a very visible woman.

[00:08:19] What led you to 

[00:08:20] Zubaida Bai: engineering? I don't necessarily recall what led to my decision of becoming an engineer other than you can be rich and famous. But I do believe now in hindsight that I've always been a problem solver, and I believe engineers are problem solvers, right? And I, I do believe in hindsight, that's what prompted me to become one.

[00:08:42] Anne V Muhlethaler: Outside of all of what you described, you're also a wife and a mother of three. How old are your kids? 

[00:08:48] Zubaida Bai: My kiddos are 18, 13 and 10. And I'm not going to tell you the age of my husband. 

[00:08:57] Anne V Muhlethaler: I don't need to know. I don't need to know. How did he feel about the work that you do? 

[00:09:04] Zubaida Bai: I think he knew. What he was getting into when he got married for sure.

[00:09:08] And I think he, he's a genuine hardcore supporter and a feminist that's standing behind me. And I do believe that it's, you need stronger men to stand besides stronger women. And so definitely position him as one of those. And how 

[00:09:24] Anne V Muhlethaler: about your kids? How do they feel about the work you 

[00:09:27] Zubaida Bai: do? I'm not very certain.

[00:09:29] But I'm pretty certain that they learn a lot. They are growing up to be feminists. Hopefully that's the desire and it's not by intention or design. It's by default of the lives that they live and the mother that they have. Thank you so 

[00:09:45] Anne V Muhlethaler: much. It's it's really interesting to hear your childhood and how you positioned yourself as someone who desperately wanted not to be like the women who were around you.

[00:09:58] That I, even though I was in different circumstances, there's an element also of deciding of your own path by. what you don't want to be 

[00:10:09] Zubaida Bai: like. Exactly. And it's out of disrespect to those women, right? They were champions, an amazing woman, empathetic, loving, caring. There was something that they were going through in their lives that that made their lives what it was.

[00:10:25] And that's not what I wanted. Not in any way to disrespect them as individuals or human beings, but more them being victims of their circumstance. Yeah. 

[00:10:37] Anne V Muhlethaler: Now, I'd like to go back to the moment when you went from that cushy corporate job into working on that last mile product. And for anyone in our audience who doesn't really know much about what that means, could you describe what those products were and what those products were?

[00:10:56] Yeah. And. And what attracted you to that work in the first 

[00:11:01] Zubaida Bai: place? A cushy corporate job was great. That's exactly what I wanted. And I was not very much into my job, but I saw a newspaper ad that said product development engineer needed for rural women. I think that's what it was. It just fascinated my my interest at that point, but there was also a tickle in terms of how can I help these women, right?

[00:11:21] Is there an engineering degree that can go back into helping others? Again, I was Pretty naive at that point. But when I got onto the floor, I was the only woman engineer on the floor. And the first product I think that I designed was actually a sugarcane detrasher, which is primarily a very man owned or a And highly male employed industry, women were not necessarily employed, primarily because the tools were heavy.

[00:11:47] It didn't allow them to use the tools in a way that a man could use. So redesigning it to be a much lighter version to be used by women, redesigning it to be more convenient for them at a much lower cost, thinking of materials ensuring that the position in which women could stand with the clothes that they wore.

[00:12:07] To detrash a single cane of sugar cane, right? Thinking about how do, how can you increase employment of women in this industry by actually designing a tool that is conducive for them to use and be successful in their jobs? That's one of the examples, right? And there were. There were many more products like insect traps to brick making machines, which a very heavy industrial machines to milking machines that were used to milk cows and had health child that kind of post health challenges for women in terms of the inability for them to interact with the machine with ease.

[00:12:41] So those are some examples of agricultural that I used again. Very very, I would say, very male dominated industries, very heavily designed for men to use. And thinking about how do women use it? Which wasn't even the intention, but it was the lens with which I was going into these.

[00:13:02] Anne V Muhlethaler: Thank you so much for that example, because it feels very vivid for me now. Suddenly, I now understand somehow what led you into the following steps? So for people who have not done the background research on you that I have done, could you kindly share what happened next? 

[00:13:21] Zubaida Bai: Like I said, we were designing these products that were very successful, like the last mile user loved it.

[00:13:26] But how do these products go to market, right? Definitely, there was this huge piece, a peak of interest in business plans, IP transfer, tech transfer, how do you manufacture these products at scale, and so at that point in time, I got an opportunity to do some early stage investment in these technologies, which was great for me as an as an engineer to learn about investments.

[00:13:49] But again, I believe I was way ahead of my times because nobody was doing it. And then eventually I found. Myself a tribe at MIT design lab, but globally, a lot of engineers were thinking about it, right? And so that's that the trajectory went and then became the face of my, then came the face of my life that I wanted to kill the engineer in me for a little bit to start thinking.

[00:14:12] Look at problems, not solutions, right? So that's the transition that happened because yes, we were creating products, but are these products actually meeting the need? Are we starting with the customer, right? How do you start with what the. What the most needed products for women are and how do you go backwards and design them rather than start designing products that were given to me to design and introducing a gender lens in it.

[00:14:37] There was nothing wrong with it, but I thought that was the disconnect in terms of starting with the customer and the customer voice to starting with an engineering problem in designing 

[00:14:47] Anne V Muhlethaler: that is. Suddenly, I feel like you're piecing things together for me. That's wonderful. Now, 

[00:14:53] at which point did you meet that woman who opened your eyes as to some of the most immediate needs of those women in rural India? 

[00:15:05] Zubaida Bai: I would say it was a point in time that I had started the company and again, the engineer and me were still alive. So we were taking a lot of products, trying to sell them to customers and looking for customers.

[00:15:17] But there was an aha moment there to say I think I should stop taking these products to market and even trying. Let's start with the customer and find out what do they want and I think that journey led to me traveling meeting organizations that were working with women that were serving woman women in various capacities and Listening to that customer voice and again that was one of the travels that I was on a nine month travels three where I met a midwife and who I struck a conversation with, and she was not necessarily describing a problem, but she was describing her service to woman where she was using grass cutting tools to cut the umbilical cord during childbirth, because that's all she had access to.

[00:16:01] And that was again, one of the big moments for me to say how are. We're using agricultural tools to conduct childbirth and why are we doing it and what would that lead to and that led to opening the doors for maternal health and newborn care and identifying an issue that millions of women were dying because of access to basic tools during childbirth and that led to the creation of product that became the flagship product of the company.

[00:16:33] Anne V Muhlethaler: Yeah. And if I'm not mistaken, Yeah. This echoed with you on a very personal level

[00:16:39] Zubaida Bai: am I correct? So when I had my first child, I suffered an infection for a year post childbirth because the gynecologist forgot to put me on antibiotics, right?

[00:16:50] So that kind of was like, it made me relate to the issue of infection, but not because of lack of access to tools because of an oversight. But still, it was an infection that led to that led to me struggling for over a year. So I think that. That definitely resonated with if somebody like me with access to best care and because of oversight suffered so much, would there be a possibility of infection with using crude tools during childbirth?

[00:17:18] And that's what led me to exploring the maternal health world further. And of course, there was a problem right there. 

[00:17:25] Anne V Muhlethaler: So one of the one of the products that you came to market with was a clean birth kit. Could you describe for our listeners what makes up the clean birth kit?

[00:17:34] Zubaida Bai: It? 

[00:17:35] So the Clean Birth Kit was built on a WHO protocol, a World Health Organization protocol that was in place for infection reduction during childbirth and the basic tools that were needed to reduce infections during childbirth.

[00:17:48] So it was primarily taking a protocol, incorporating the voice of the customer and incorporating the voice of the consumer, which is the woman, the healthcare sector. And the protocol and bringing it together as a product. What was even more fascinating about the design was that we created an advocacy component to it and an environmentally friendly component to it, where the whole kit was packaged in a biodegradable purse that served as an advocacy conversation.

[00:18:20] between women, between health care workers. So there was a lot of thought put into that. It wasn't necessarily sold to the consumer or the woman. It was sold to the health care sector because what we realized was that infection during childbirth was not just a situation. that occurred during home births, but also in institutional births because of lack of electricity because of lack of access to tools.

[00:18:44] So having a kit per childbirth allowed reduction in infection in meaningful ways, even in institutional settings.

[00:18:52] Anne V Muhlethaler: That's amazing. That really feels so special. I have to ask you, to me, it sounds like such a huge achievement to be able to create something that, can be life altering for so many women and for children coming into the world, how does it feel to you and your team to be at the forefront of tools that should be available everywhere?

[00:19:16] Zubaida Bai: It was very humbling. And I think it was what kept the entire team and the organization going even in the hardest of times, right? For us, it was never. It was never a question of should we do it or not? It was a, it was always a question of how do we make it happen and how do we move forward?

[00:19:32] So I think it was definitely the importance of the issue. And the life altering change that was bringing about to women that kept us going and enabled our success in many ways. 

[00:19:44] Anne V Muhlethaler: Now, before we speak about Grameen, I'd love for you to tell me what else is ayzh providing to women nowadays, because you've expanded the products that you're offering.

[00:19:53] I 

[00:19:53] Zubaida Bai: would say that we are more into education now. So, Mm hmm. ayzh ended up publishing a book for girls aged eight to 13 on reproductive health. We do a lot of training for healthcare workers and have curriculum for that. And a lot of our work now is to ensure that the that young women have access to the reproductive health education and tools that they need as they as they grow up to be mothers if they choose to do so in the future. 

[00:20:21] Anne V Muhlethaler: I really appreciate you telling me more about this. Now, you are, as you mentioned earlier, the president and the CEO of the Grameen Foundation. And I wanted to ask you, how did you find Grameen or how did Grameen find you? 

[00:20:36] Zubaida Bai: I think it was through a search firm that Grameen ended up finding me.

[00:20:41] And of course, as I would say, the majority of people in the social sector or beyond, I have heard of Grameen and have been a huge fan of the work Grameen did and Dr. Yunus did for it. for the two decades I was in the sector. So definitely, from my perspective, it was more a fan following. 

[00:21:03] Anne V Muhlethaler: I love that, a fan following.

[00:21:05] Now, you are the first woman and the first South Asian person to lead the foundation. I was wondering, what does that mean to you? 

[00:21:14] Zubaida Bai: I think for me it, I don't know what it means to lead it as a woman or of a South Asian person, but I do believe that a lot of my personal passion and what I have done in my career and the people at Grameen and the mission and vision and Grameen are hugely in alignment.

[00:21:33] And so I believe that it's a happenstance that I'm a woman and that I'm a South, I'm of South Asian origin here. But there is a lot more. In terms of synergies that that go deep rooted into who Grameen is and who I am. And I think that's what makes it more meaningful and special.

[00:21:51] Thank 

[00:21:52] Anne V Muhlethaler: you. Now, I actually have a connection to the Grameen Foundation because my previous employer Christian Louboutin became fascinated by the work of Dr. Yunus and ended up supporting the Grameen Foundation on a couple of occasions in 2009 and 11 and 2013, I think.

[00:22:17] And so I know what the foundation used to do then, but it has changed quite a lot since its inception. Would you give us a little bit of an overview to what the Grameen Foundation is doing today? 

[00:22:34] Zubaida Bai: Grameen Foundation is probably, as we represent ourselves today, we represent ourselves in the world as a systems transformation agent.

[00:22:43] And I don't believe that anything that we do today is revolutionary. It's an evolution and how we've evolved as an organization over the last 25 years. So we are strong advocates of transforming systems for women by investing in their power, which is also the change in narrative that intentionally as a global Grameen team, we've taken upon is that the word empowerment seems very demeaning as we talk about.

[00:23:10] Let's empower them. But who are we to do that? These women survive in situations and live a life that we cannot even fathom for a second of our lives. And we've moved into this new narrative of we're transforming systems for women by investing in their power. And we do that very specifically with entrepreneurs, smallholder farmers and young women.

[00:23:32] And our role in the world is to ensure that we transform systems so women are successful and show up with their full potential. Primarily, we also create male champions to make that happen.

[00:23:48] Anne V Muhlethaler: And am I correct in saying that Grameen Foundation did merge with another organization a few years ago and that you do have a particular stake in ending ending hunger? 

[00:23:59] Zubaida Bai: That's right. So we did merge with another nonprofit called Freedom from Hunger, and that's where our focus on smallholder farmers climate comes in as well.

[00:24:07] But again, with Grameen's focus on financial inclusion, gender, there was a huge alignment in both those organizations when they came together. 

[00:24:18] Anne V Muhlethaler: I'd love to understand a little bit better, how do you guys work on the ground and support and create these new environments to empower these women to invest in their power?

[00:24:30] Zubaida Bai: Thank you. So I'll correct myself. That's absolutely fine. So when we, and thank you for doing it, when we talk about transforming systems for women, that's a very loaded word. And we. We do that by actually actually ensuring that we dismantle gender at the household level which means that we start with household conversations where we dismantle gender and power within various stakeholders in the household.

[00:24:56] From there on, we create male champions who stand by these women who are no longer threatened. By women being successful who are no longer threatened by the society of being the male sole providers to the family. And so they welcome the woman to support them. They also enable communities to work in favor of women and help them become successful.

[00:25:22] The next vertical of our work is in terms of ensuring that these women are trained, whether they are entrepreneurs where we train them in ensuring that they can run a successful business. If they are smallholder farmers, we work with them in understanding climate smart agriculture practices and ensuring that after this, they understand technology, they understand finance, and they understand gender, and they understand their own power.

[00:25:47] Once these three things happen, we work with financial institutions. And at this point, we do so beyond microfinance, which has been Rameen's flagship initiative. And we ensure that we dismantle gender and power and enable financial institutions to create newer loan products that service women. And finally, we also go to the extent of guaranteeing these loans so that the interest rates are lower and they can move faster to women.

[00:26:14] And that entire process is what's transforming systems for women, so we don't just give them access to capital or connect them to capital. We dismantle gender, we create male champions, we train them, we work with financial institutions, and we ensure that the financial institutions are taking risk. on these women and moving capital faster to them.

[00:26:35] And once these things happen, we, this we believe and we have data to show that increases resilience of women, increases the agency of women and increases their income, thereby helping them to walk out of poverty forever. 

[00:26:52] Anne V Muhlethaler: It's so impressive and I am so grateful that you just walked us through these steps 

[00:26:57] and in terms of holistically looking at all of the things that are needed to lift them up, as you were saying, and investing in their power. Now, in which countries is Grameen currently investing their efforts? 

[00:27:14] Zubaida Bai: So we have so our headquarters is actually in DC, but we have offices in India, Philippines.

[00:27:20] Ghana, Uganda we have a small office in Kenya and probably a one person office in Ecuador, but really our on the ground operations depend on local partnerships. So at any given point in time we have operational projects in over 14 countries because we work with local partners to ensure that the programs live beyond us.

[00:27:41] So we don't necessarily need a country presence for us to be operating. In serving different countries around the world. 

[00:27:48] It, the need is global but our our entry point depends on our strong partnerships on the ground. Now, 

[00:27:54] Anne V Muhlethaler: I feel very inspired when I hear you talk about this and I hope that other people listening to us and listening to these amazing projects are going to feel the same. What do you need today from Anyone who wants to get involved, who wants to support Grameen, what are the options out there?

[00:28:16] Zubaida Bai: We are always on the lookout for feminist champions, people who can advocate what we're doing, people who can amplify our work, and people who can help us position ourselves as stronger grassroots partners and organizations around the world. So Anybody who is willing to be a champion, a feminist champion, doesn't need to be a man or a woman.

[00:28:39] It can be anyone who identifies as a feminist. We are always on the lookout for those champions to come. In fact, we will be starting a 100 day, 100 champion initiative on Women's Day. So we are looking, actively looking for champions who can who can help us amplify our work. So people should definitely reach out to us.

[00:28:59] Anne V Muhlethaler: That's wonderful. And that gives me a very specific date to launch this podcast by. So I'll make sure we send out the message before the 8th of March. That's wonderful. Are you seeking further helps and volunteers? How, what other ways can we get 

[00:29:16] Zubaida Bai: involved? We have an in house volunteering initiative called Bankers Without Borders.

[00:29:22] We have over 30, 000 volunteers signed up that get matched with various initiatives around the world, even beyond Grameen. So definitely always looking for like minded people who have their heart in the right place and want to support programs that that enable ending poverty in the world. 

[00:29:43] Anne V Muhlethaler: That's wonderful.

[00:29:44] Now, how, what is the relationship between the work of Dr. Yunus and the Grameen Foundation today? 

[00:29:53] Zubaida Bai: So the Grameen Foundation's shares the vision of Dr. Yunus, which is to put poverty in museums. And we do that by investing in the power of women. So he created Grameen Foundation about 25 years ago to take his work global, to take his work outside of Bangladesh. So all his anti poverty efforts were meant to go global through us. And that's why we were created.

[00:30:15] So he is the visionary and the founder. And all we do is is ensure that we live up to his vision and make sure that his vision comes true. 

[00:30:26] Anne V Muhlethaler: Yeah, it's a really amazing vision. Now, I think that we should talk about the fact that Dr. Yunus was imprisoned at the beginning of the year, and that must weigh incredibly heavily on the work that you and the rest of your teams and the affiliates of Grameen Foundation.

[00:30:43] Is there anything you'd like to share about the current situation? 

[00:30:47] Zubaida Bai: I think this is the time that Dr. Yunus needs a global collective voice that stands by him. For sure, it is very clear and evident that he's being targeted and a lifetime of his work is at risk. Which is very unfair and I do believe that the global attention and support is what's keeping him strong.

[00:31:06] And so the more voices that can stand with Dr. Yunus and the more voices that can be raised in his support I think is what is the most needed at this point. So anyone and everyone is welcome to To post with the #IstandwithYunus and show their support globally on. I think it reaches him and gives him the strength on at 83 if he still believes in his vision and stands by everything that he has done.

[00:31:32] And I have traveled countries after joining Grameen and it is heartening and humbling to hear so many people say I know him. He's done amazing work. It's an honor to just witness the support that he has globally. And this is the time that we as a global community can stand by and express his support, express our support for him and stand up for him.

[00:31:59] Anne V Muhlethaler: Thank you. But so may I ask, cause I'm a bit of a fangirl of Dr. myself. When did you meet him for the first time and what was it like? 

[00:32:09] Zubaida Bai: I met him for the first time in person in June of 2023. So a few months after I had joined Grameen.

[00:32:16] I would say I was definitely fan struck for what it was worth, but again, very touched by his humility, his sense of humor, his passion for the work that he does. And I think it's an extreme privilege and honor. To work under a vision that he has for the world and under his brand. Yeah, 

[00:32:35] Anne V Muhlethaler: I do hope that the situation gets reversed very soon and I hope that one day I get to meet him. For sure. Now, one of the things that came to my mind as you were sharing the work that you do is what do you think young Zubaida would feel about the work that you're doing today?

[00:33:00] Zubaida Bai: I feel young Zubaida would want to have arrested the imposter syndrome I had for a long time in questioning myself in terms of who are you to solve this problem? These big problems in the world and why? And I think that questioning did slow me down a lot and lead to lead to a slower growth.

[00:33:20] I believe if I could tell myself my younger self, something was to have dealt with it in a much more professional way and have had grace with myself. As I move through this journey, but nevertheless, I think things happen for a reason and being a voice for women and girls around the world and being a voice for the feminist strong men around the world, I think is an extreme honor and privilege and I'm humbled to be in a position and a place that I am to be able to contribute in a way that I am.

[00:33:51] Anne V Muhlethaler: But I do think she'd be very proud of you. 

[00:33:55] Zubaida Bai: Maybe. I think I feel honored and humbled is a much better term that makes me feel more comfortable. I understand. There's a lot more to be achieved than to be proud of at this moment. 

[00:34:10] Anne V Muhlethaler: Yeah. . When I was reading the list of your accomplishments and reading your biography on your website, looking at your wonderful TED talk, I was feeling major imposter syndrome. And I must say that I am incredibly honored to be interviewing you, Zubaida. 

[00:34:28] Zubaida Bai: I should say that the imposter syndrome is a very is a very global phenomena.

[00:34:32] I think that was a message that I was trying to give you. 

[00:34:37] Anne V Muhlethaler: Absolutely. It's it's funny that this is where we would land. Exactly. Now,

[00:34:46] one of the things that I read that really struck me is you said a transformative leader has a vision of success beyond oneself. And First, I stayed with the sentence, and I didn't know what I wanted to ask you around that. But perhaps after talking about imposter syndrome, could I ask you, what does success mean to you today?

[00:35:14] Zubaida Bai: For me, success today means that I stick to the big vision that I have, and I'm able to enable people to stick to visions and goals that are larger than themselves, because I think the world needs people who can who can contribute to goals that are much larger than themselves and imposter syndrome holds many people back.

[00:35:38] And to be able to even ensure that one person is being, is able to contribute beyond what they believe that they can is success. And if I can do it on an everyday basis, I think that would be very meaningful.

[00:35:53] Anne V Muhlethaler: May I ask you, at which point in time do you feel that you became aware that's how you were?

[00:36:00] Behaving in the world, 

[00:36:03] Zubaida Bai: I was a very reluctant. I was very reluctant at one point in my life to even call myself a feminist. I was like, Oh no, I'm not right. And I think that realization that feminist was not necessarily a word where you describing yourself, but it was more a word where you were fighting for a cause that was much bigger than yourself.

[00:36:25] I think that was the realization. And I think a mentor of mine said, Sabella, there's no way that you're not a feminist. And that made me think about my statement many times because I. I've been on many stages where I've said, I'm not a feminist. I'm just doing this because I identified a problem. I'm an engineer.

[00:36:42] I want to solve the issue, right? Like I was stuck in the moment. And I think a self realization from a reluctant feminist to actually believing that feminism is a larger movement that the world needs and an honest and a holistic understanding of that, as I think. Is what enables me to do what I do today.

[00:37:05] Anne V Muhlethaler: It's fascinating what each of us bring to the world with the notions that we attached to a word and how that word is or not compliant with the sense of identity we have. I've felt like I was a feminist since a young age And I don't understand why not everyone in the world is, genuinely. It just, it puzzles me.

[00:37:30] But I think that I've heard you speak on several occasions about how bringing men into the feminist realm is so important. And I would love to hear how you have done that in the past. 

[00:37:46] Zubaida Bai: I think I, I don't think I've done it in the past. I think I've been just by being just by the virtue of who I am and how I show up.

[00:37:54] I think I've been able to convince men that that women are different and think different. I do believe that men who are around stronger women and are able to accept stronger women need to be much stronger., Then how regular men are raised and I don't mean it I don't mean it as a disrespect when I say regular men, I think there is a whole patriarchal world that we live in that tells men, this is who you have to be, and that doesn't give them the strength to support strong women.

[00:38:24] I think that's where I'm going. And I think in our work at Grameen is where we are doing this intentionally is where we dismantle gender. We understand where men come from, but they are threatened with the fact that they can no longer be sole providers and how will the society look at them if they don't provide for their families or if they allow their woman to contribute alongside them, right?

[00:38:48] So understanding where the men are coming from, which is also a societal pressure on them and enabling them through a process that Grameen has to dismantle those myths and support their women, I think is a very core part of what we do at Grameen. And I would say a lot of what I have learned, seen, experienced is coming into action, because of the way Grameen creates male champions. 

[00:39:16] Anne V Muhlethaler: That's super inspiring. Thank you so much. Now, one of the things I wanted to talk about is that you are a very fluent public speaker, and I've read that you have a particular communication style that was described as empathetic communication. And I am someone who has been fascinating, fascinated by communication, but for a long time.

[00:39:40] First, because I've had my hiccups with communication. Also, I was global head of communication at Christian Louboutin. I am studying conscious and mindful communication. So I'd love to hear from you. What is empathetic communication?

[00:39:59] Zubaida Bai: I don't know how that word got coined. But I don't think I've ever described, self described myself as that. Maybe I have. I don't know at this point. But I do believe that I am not trying to tell people what to do. I am merely communicating the facts. From people around the world and their lived experience in a way that I'm educating people and building a bridge between what they know to be true and what the reality on the ground is.

[00:40:32] And I think that's where the empathy translation piece comes in because it's not my job to tell you what is right or what's wrong, but it is my role, which could be self imposed or which could be the direction that I have taken is to communicate what I see so that you can build empathy for people and for situations that you will never come across in your lives.

[00:40:58] Anne V Muhlethaler: It's interesting because as you describe yourself as a bridge, indeed, you tell people's stories of what you see on the ground and that creates the bridge between one part of the world and another, for example,

[00:41:15] . Now. I read somewhere, and I don't know whether this is correct now, that you speak eight languages fluently. 

[00:41:24] Zubaida Bai: I do speak a lot of Indian languages, yes, which is the, which is by default of where I was born, where I lived, what my mother tongue is, what my friends spoke.

[00:41:34] And I think India has hundreds of languages. 

[00:41:38] Anne V Muhlethaler: Oh, I understand. Because I was very curious about how many, are they very close in terms of the vocabulary or the grammar or is it quite varied? It is a 

[00:41:48] Zubaida Bai: lot of languages, but I do believe it's, again, it's the way that you build a bridge of communicating and understanding.

[00:41:58] And I've had, again, the privilege and honor of interacting with many people. That are different from who I am. And that's that's again the beauty of being from India and the cultures and the languages and the religions and the secular way that I was brought up. And I think it comes by just a default of my upbringing.

[00:42:22] Anne V Muhlethaler: Now, at which point did you decide to, or did you decide to become a public speaker? Because while you described your communication style, And clearly your affinity for building bridges and creating connections and languages, it feels like it's a natural step for you to be on a stage and speak about what when did that journey happen for you or start? 

[00:42:49] Zubaida Bai: I would say it was more a default of the career that I chose, the career path that I chose. Everything I was doing was about. communicating to the world why this needs to be done, right? Talk about integrating gender into products or, when gender lens, I don't think was a word when I was doing, I think gender lens was more recent in the last decade to communication was key.

[00:43:15] I think public speaking probably evolved because as the work that I was doing was growing in many different aspects my role became a person who was communicating, who was raising capital for this work. My role became a champion for others who were raising capital and did not have a voice.

[00:43:37] So effectively became a default of the career choices that I made. It became increasingly important that I was communicating the work to larger and larger groups of people.

[00:43:52] Anne V Muhlethaler: You do it beautifully. So I'm grateful that you're sharing this with us. I was thinking of a friend of mine in particular who is, working on a community platform, although in a very different industry. Do you have any thoughts, messages, or advice that you'd want to transmit to any woman, young or older, who are putting themselves out in the world on behalf of your community and trying to build products to lift others up.

[00:44:20] Zubaida Bai: The biggest message I will say is that each of us can do so much more than we believe that we can do. And it's all about showing up and contributing in ways that we can, big or small, right? For someone I know is deeply passionate, but. She cannot necessarily be out of her house and so the only thing she can do is write a 10 dollar check every month, right?

[00:44:45] That does not mean that she's doing anything less than you or I. It just means that she is doing so in her own meaningful way. To her fullest ability, right? And when we talk in Grameen about investing in the power of women, we say we do that because we want every woman to show up with her full potential, whatever that is, and that nothing is holding her back and we're dismantling systems.

[00:45:09] So no, no amount of effort is big or small, meaningful or not. I think every inch that we move. In whatever we are capable of doing to our fullest potential is success and needs to be celebrated by ourselves. And that doesn't need to be speaking on a global platform, doesn't need to be being a CEO of a company.

[00:45:31] It just is what you can do and what you believe. is the maximum that you can contribute.

[00:45:40] And as women, we always forget to be proud of what we can do. Which, is very reflective, even in the conversation you and I are having, but being intentional about stepping out of that zone and. And having gratitude and grace even with ourselves is very important. 

[00:45:58] Anne V Muhlethaler: Yeah, I was reading not long ago, and I unfortunately cannot remember the source, but there was an interesting study that shared that human beings, have a tendency to forget the work that was done the day before yesterday.

[00:46:11] So we have an inherent sense of we're not doing enough. We're not doing well enough. Because it's almost like we've wiped the slate clean of everything that came before the day before And it's interesting, I am trying to remind myself of all of the wins, large and small, because I too feel sadly unproductive and very unsuccessful at times.

[00:46:34] Because we just wipe away the slate as if whatever came before didn't matter. 

[00:46:41] Zubaida Bai: Success at the moment is taking rest if you need to, right? Oh, God, yes. And knowing that you need to do it, exactly. 

[00:46:50] Anne V Muhlethaler: Yes, and allowing yourself to take a nap, wink!. Now, as the podcast is at the crossroads between business and mindfulness.

[00:47:02] And I use the word mindfulness broadly because mindfulness is as much a practice as it's a trait or also a lens for the work that we do and who we are and how we show up in the world. And I like to ask my guests to share what practices keep them grounded. keep them feeling good in themselves, whether it's in regular times or in difficult times.

[00:47:30] It doesn't need to be a ritual or a particular practice, but just, it's a general inquiry at what makes you feel good in you, in yourself and with the world around you. So would you kindly share what those could be for 

[00:47:45] Zubaida Bai: you? I think it's a good segue from the conversation we were just having a few seconds ago, which is the ability to step back and being thankful and expressing gratitude, both for yourself and for those around you and for everything that you achieve, right?

[00:48:00] And I think for me, it's been very intentional and spiritual to take a step back and be grateful for everything around and knowing you. Your priorities, I think, is also important, right? It's sometimes people are like you're a successful woman. You have three children. You have a husband and, all that stuff.

[00:48:18] But I'm like, Deep within me, if I were to ground myself and be thankful for everything that I have and if you were to ask me today, what is more important to you your family or your work? I would definitely say family, right? And so I'm like being grounded in who you are, what you believe in, what your needs are, and being thankful for that.

[00:48:43] For that opportunity to be grounded is very core to who I am and I think that in in times of stress allows me to be a little bit more rational in terms of the decisions that I make. So I am known to operate the same, be it in stress or in regular times. And I think that grounding and gratitude is what allows me to be the same, no matter what the situation is.

[00:49:09] Anne V Muhlethaler: That's fantastic. I would love for you to tell me how do you practice this? Is there, and I ask you just because there are as many ways that one can practice gratitude that I know of, but how do you do it? 

[00:49:24] Zubaida Bai: For me, it's more taking a few moments of self reflection every day. It's primarily When things are going wrong, just to step out of what that is and taking a few moments again to ground myself in that gratitude and thankfulness.

[00:49:39] It's not necessarily a set in stone practice, but it's a practice that I'm very intentional about.

[00:49:48] Anne V Muhlethaler: I love how you frame it as well, because sometimes we get too involved and identified with the difficulties around us and just that stepping back, that change of perspective, that suddenly seeing the wood from the trees, right? That makes such a huge difference. It is certainly a very mindful practice.

[00:50:09] Now we've come to the end of my questions and we're about to step into the unknown with my, with my , closing questions. Is there anything else that you would like to share with our audience that we haven't covered or something that you want, a point you want to. I 

[00:50:28] Zubaida Bai: think for me, it's very meaningful to be a part of Grameen's journey in transforming systems for women.

[00:50:34] And by that, we really mean that an individual solution is not a solution to ending poverty in the world. And that we really need to look at a comprehensive way that when we do walk even one person out of poverty, it is forever. And my call to action to everyone listening is to think about gender in a holistic way, to think about to think about being a feminist and to ensure that they they back holistic solutions that can enable us to end poverty in the world.

[00:51:05] So I think I would end at that note. 

[00:51:09] Anne V Muhlethaler: Thank you. It's a great call to action. It's very clear. I hope everyone listens. Okay, so now hoping that you're ready for my closing questions. Here we go. Now, what's Your favorite word. And when I say favorite, not just a word that you love or but one that you could live with.

[00:51:29] Imagine that you would tattoo it on yourself. 

[00:51:32] Zubaida Bai: Gratitude. 

[00:51:35] Anne V Muhlethaler: I felt it coming. Okay, that feels very on point. What does connection mean to you?

[00:51:45] Zubaida Bai: Empathy, being able to feel the other person, even if you cannot help the person, but just being there.

[00:51:58] Anne V Muhlethaler: What is the sweetest thing that has ever happened to you? 

[00:52:05] Zubaida Bai: Motherhood. 

[00:52:07] Anne V Muhlethaler: what is a secret superpower that you have? And when I say secret is not something that you've already shared with us. 

[00:52:15] Zubaida Bai: Secret superpower, I think my spirituality. And faith are my superpower.

[00:52:30] Anne V Muhlethaler: What is a favorite book that you can share with us? 

[00:52:34] Zubaida Bai: I have two from this year. One of them is by Mary Ellen, who's the founder of Women's World, who's the CEO of Women's World Banking, and her book is called There's Nothing Micro About a Billion Women. And there is another book by Deepa Narayan who's an Indian author called Chup, which means silence.

[00:52:53] And it's about how women have been silenced through the systems around them and still continue to be silenced. 

[00:53:02] Anne V Muhlethaler: Wow. They sound amazing. Thank you so much. Powerful titles as 

[00:53:05] Zubaida Bai: well. Of course they are. 

[00:53:07] These are my two recent favorites.

[00:53:11] Anne V Muhlethaler: That's fantastic. Thank you. Now, where is somewhere that you visited that you feel really had an impact on who you are today? 

[00:53:23] Zubaida Bai: I think my life in Sweden, where I spent two years as a student. It was my first time in my life away from family as an individual. And it shaped that experience of the feminist culture actually shaped me to be who I am, I would say.

[00:53:43] Anne V Muhlethaler: Yeah, I remember you mentioned that this could be a whole podcast on its own. I am keeping note. Now, imagining that you can step into a future version of yourself, what do you think is the most important advice that future you could give to present state you? So what do you need to hear today?

[00:54:11] Zubaida Bai: That success is temporary in any different way, shape or form. And that and that being grounded and understanding that every step you make towards a larger goal is success. And I think as much as I know it, I feel like I need my future self to keep reminding me of it.

[00:54:33] Anne V Muhlethaler: And now to my favorite and last question, what brings you happiness? 

[00:54:40] Zubaida Bai: My family.

[00:54:41] Anne V Muhlethaler: Thank you so much. It was such a pleasure to speak to you today. Where can people reach you if they would like to connect or hear more about the work that you do? 

[00:54:54] Zubaida Bai: My email is Zee Bai, at Grameenfoundation. org.

[00:54:59] Anne V Muhlethaler: I am thrilled that we had the opportunity to meet through TED and thank you so much for making the time to answer my questions and to share your journey, your passion, your vision for what is possible for women and girls. I will be a champion, for the years to come and I hope that I can support you and support the Grameen Foundation.

[00:55:23] From whatever means that I have at my disposal, I will invite everyone who is listening to us to watch your TED talk and go find out more about your work and the work of the Grameen Foundation, and hopefully we will meet again soon, perhaps again at TED in Vancouver if we both decide to attend.

[00:55:45] Thank you so much for everything Zubaida. I hope I'll see you very soon. 

[00:55:50] Zubaida Bai: Same here.

[00:56:21] Anne V Muhlethaler: So friends and listeners, thanks again for joining me today. If you'd like to hear more, you can subscribe to the show on the platform of your choice. And if you'd like to connect with me, you can find me @Annvi on threads, on Instagram, Anne V Muhlethaler on LinkedIn. If you don't know how to spell it, the link is in the notes or on Instagram at underscore out the clouds, where I also share daily musings about mindfulness.

[00:56:49] You can find all of the episodes of the podcast and much more on the website. Out of the clouds. com. If you'd like to find out more from me, I invite you also to subscribe to the Metta View, my weekly newsletter, where I explore coaching, brand development, conscious communication, and the future of work.

[00:57:10] That's the Metta View with two T's, themettaview. com. So that's it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening to Out of the Clouds. I hope that you will join me again next time. Until then be well Be safe and take care.