Great leaders in the world did not wake up one day with the attributes to excel. The world they experienced and their successes and failures in it trained them to adeptly analyse situations and become astute decision-makers. Our actions and interactions with our surroundings shape our reality and determine what we perceive as possible.

However, these experiences that make us who we are and give us the self-confidence to succeed – role models, mentors, inspirational peers, stability, and good quality teaching – are inextricably tied to class and wealth in the society we live in. I founded Vahani, a scholarship foundation, as I saw this inequality and realised my life experiences put me in a somewhat unique position to address it.

My parents left India for the West in their early twenties, my dad after receiving a full scholarship to study at the University of Pennsylvania and my mother shortly after to study at Columbia University. I have been brought up in the UK, with a close connection to Indian culture, and with the mantra to never doubt my ability. Therefore, I recognise the importance of my upbringing in equipping me with the tools to realise my dreams, irrespective of their scale.

During my gap year in India in 2014, I founded Vahani with the vision to create an India where the most gifted children flourish, regardless of their socioeconomic background, religion or gender. Vahani provides exceptionally bright undergraduate students from underserved communities with the resources to grow into leaders who will excel above and beyond what we foresee, spreading positive change in their chosen field and home communities.

We provide fully funded scholarships to the chosen students for their undergraduate degree. More importantly, we provide the scholars with role models and an exposure to a diverse range of environments from intimate dinners with some of the most successful entrepreneurs in India, summer internships, museum visits, creative workshops, psychological support, and public speaking training.

If our interaction with the world determines how we perceive reality, then it is up to us to step up and, as Gandhi famously said, “be the change that [we] wish to see in the world.”

Reeva is Founder and CEO of Vahani. She also works at BenevolentAI in London and focuses on how technology can be used for social good. She has obtained a BA in Experimental Psychology from Oxford University and a MA from the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. In between her education, she spent time in India working on human rights issues. Reeva is a certified yoga instructor and enjoys going on retreats and being in nature.

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