Reethika Azariah Kuruvilla: Empowering Women and Children, One Smile at a Time

10 Most Leading Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2024

Reethika Azariah Kuruvilla | The Ashoka Tree

The future of a nation rests on the well-being of its women and children. Across the globe, organizations tirelessly work to ensure their rights are protected, their voices are heard, and their potential is nurtured. The landscape of entrepreneurship extends beyond the realm of for-profit ventures. Today, we have the privilege of meeting a visionary leader at the forefront of this critical mission: Reethika Azariah Kuruvilla, the founder of The Ashoka Tree. Social entrepreneurs like Reethika Azariah Kuruvilla dedicate themselves to creating positive change, tackling societal challenges, and empowering those in need.
Established in 2015, The Ashoka Tree, a nonprofit organization (a Registered Charitable Trust), has blossomed into a beacon of hope for countless underprivileged women and children in India. Their primary focus on early childhood education has yielded remarkable results, transforming lives in unseen corners of India over the past decade.
Working in collaboration with the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme, The Ashoka Tree works through Anganwadis across the country, building libraries, identifying and dealing with children with disabilities, providing better parenting and hygiene workshops with awareness on menstrual, prenatal, and maternal healthcare, creating women’s self-help groups, and more.
Today, we’re featuring Reethika Azariah Kuruvilla, a remarkable leader profiled in our esteemed edition of “10 Most Leading Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2024.” In this exclusive interview, we delve into her inspiring journey, explore the impactful work of The Ashoka Tree, and glean valuable insights into empowering the vulnerable segments of society. Get ready to be touched by their dedication and discover the transformative power of social change.

Prime Insights: Brief us on the inception story of the company. How did the Ashoka Tree first take root?

What began as just a few conversations ultimately ended up with a greater idea of how we could ‘believe in better’—given that charity begins at home—to “spread more smiles”. The Ashoka Tree was founded to aid the way pre-school education is handled across India, one child at a time.
The Ashoka Tree has been a dream that finally took root in an endeavor to ensure every child has equal opportunities to read, play, and smile.
Here is where we have found ‘every crayon counts’—every crayon that gets thrown away unused could be used elsewhere by a child who doesn’t own even one.
It does take a village, and The Ashoka Tree would not be able to reach out to the over 80,000 children (and counting) in unaided play schools across India today without the backing of our fascinating team.
An enthusiastic group of volunteers and interns contributes to the number of children we are able to reach every day.

Prime Insights: How have you kept a balance between your personal life and your professional one?

I do have strict work hours where family comes first, regardless. This is because the lines between professional and personal lives can sometimes get blurred. While we do work over some weekends, with The Ashoka Tree being an NGO that works with children, this is the perfect opportunity for the whole family to chip in and help “spread more smiles.”

Prime Insights: Leading a non-profit can be a unique kind of challenge. What are some of the unexpected hurdles you’ve faced as CEO of The Ashoka Tree?

I’m sure everyone has a unique story, but heading “The Ashoka Tree” has been one of my greatest joys and yet one of my greatest challenges. Learning to keep believing in the power of kindness and giving has kept the Ashoka Tree growing. Getting through red tape and actually reaching the people who need help has sometimes been trying but never impossible.

Prime Insights: The Ashoka Tree works with some incredible individuals. Can you tell us a bit about the kind of clients you serve? Any special mentions?

The Ashoka Tree, operating in the early childhood education sphere for almost a decade, bridges the gap between those who have resources and those who have none. We work with women and children across the country, aiming to reach a part of India that remains unseen.

Prime Insights: The Ashoka Tree is constantly innovating its approach to empowering women and children. Do you see research and development as a key part of your organization’s growth?

Absolutely. Staying up-to-date with changing policies and technology is imperative, especially in an economy that is constantly growing. The only way to consistently have a positive impact is to stay on top of changes in your industry so capacity building and innovation continue in the right direction.

Prime Insights: At The Ashoka Tree, you’re surrounded by such a dedicated team. Keeping everyone motivated and feeling valued can’t be easy! What are some ways you create a positive work environment for your employees?

Being a non-profit organization, most of our team remains volunteers who work with us out of passion and a common aim to work towards a better society. The best thing about The Ashoka Tree has always been the fact that while it may seem that we are helping a lot of women and children, it’s often us who gain more, and our job satisfaction at The Ashoka Tree has always been more than 100%.

Prime Insights: Who’s your inspiration? And what are some words of wisdom for those who look up to you as inspiration?

Everyone we meet, whether an older lady or a young child, has shared a part of their story that makes us who we are today. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this past decade, it’s that everyone you meet has a story to tell. The power of listening without judgement goes a long way because there’s always a reason behind every reaction. Kindness and compassion go a long way in a world where being a good human seems to be a dwindling priority.

Prime Insights: What message do you want to give to those CEOs who give up on their dreams because of some stereotypes?

Never give up. While the road is never easy, there are good days and bad no matter where you are, but holding on to your dreams and seeing them come true are worth all the heartache you go through to get to the finish line.

Prime Insights: What are the company’s future plans and goals?

The Ashoka Tree aims to continue to grow and reach out to more women and children every year. As we continue to increase our presence across the country, reaching out to more people, we hope to double our team and presence over the next five years.

Prime Insights: What milestones and achievements does the company boast of?

Just three months into 2024, we have already won an NGO Leadership Award from World CSR Day (held in Mumbai in February 2024) and the Kerala Leadership Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Social Consciousness (held in Kochi in March 2024).

Prime Insights: Lastly, is there a message you would like to give to Prime Insights readers?

There is no greater power than the recognition of shared experiences and stories. Always take time to listen or offer a smile; you never know who needs it the most. The power of creating change lies in you; if you choose to help, you can, and you will be the change you want to see in the world.


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