Marissa Bronfman

An explosion of tweeted expletives welcomed Justin Reeves to our Women in Media panel at Social Media Week Bangalore last week, sent by a clique of self-appointed feminist defenders from around the world.

“Get f***ed. Seriously, is irony lost on you people?”, tweeted one such crusader from Sydney, Australia, “WTF?! Is this a joke?”, asked another from “suffragette city”.

Reeves is the Director of NGO Partnerships at Girl Rising , a powerful global movement that works for the education and empowerment of girls and women, whose central message is that “educating girls can transform societies” and that girls and women must be united with boys and men to effect change.

What better way to illustrate their message and set a strong example than by having Justin talk about the compelling work of Girl Rising on Women in Media? Though our audience at Social Media Week Bangalore (SMWB) agreed with us, many women on Twitter didn’t, so Moxie Media reached out to them to better understand what the brouhaha was all about.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON MOXIE MEDIA’S BLOG MOXIE INSIDER AND FIRSTPOST.

MY HUFFINGTON POST ARTICLE, MORARI BAPU: THE PATH OF LIGHT IN A TIME OF DARKNESS, TRANSLATED INTO GUJARATI AND PUBLISHED IN PHULCHHAB NEWSPAPER.

08.20.13

MORARI BAPU | THE PATH OF LIGHT IN A TIME OF DARKNESS

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In these turbulent times, waking up day after day to news of war and strife, death, despair and disaster – not a corner of the globe untouched – it is more important yet harder than ever to find a sense of peace within. Governments fail to act, religion provides no safe haven and the Earth appears to be destroying itself and us with every passing environmental calamity.

As everything becomes undone, how do we find our way?

More than one hundred million people around the world would answer with a name, a person, a faith: Morari Bapu. And Morari Bapu would answer: with Truth, Love and Compassion.

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Born in 1947 in a small village in Gujrat, India, spiritual leader Morari Bapu spent his earliest years learning the Ram Charit Manas from his Grandfather and Guru, Tribhovandas Dada. Remarkably, he memorized the scriptures by the time he was twelve and two years later, sat under the canopy of an old tree in the village of Talgajarda reciting the Ramayana to his first three followers. Today, his teachings have reached more than one hundred million people around the world.

Truth, Love and Compassion

Reverently referred to as Bapu by his followers, this humble man’s teachings are startlingly simple: to live in adherence with Truth, Love and Compassion. For over fifty years, Bapu has been holding nine-day spiritual gatherings – known as kathas - during which he selects a couplet from the Ramayana and expounds upon its meaning, explaining its relevance for modern day life. In half a century of sharing this wisdom he has held over 700 kathas all around the world, from India to America, Bali to Brazil. Two years ago, at the foothills of the sacred Mount Kailas in Tibet, Bapu held one of the most profound kathas to date.

Morari Bapu and the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala

Love Is The Prayer

Although Bapu is Hindu and uses ancient Hindu texts to illustrate his teachings, he insists there is nothing religious about his beliefs and calls for acceptance of all faiths. He is refreshingly practical, denouncing religious conversions and complicated rituals, instead urging followers to be open, in head and heart. His openness towards others and their faith is evident in each and every katha, during which he may use an analogy from Christianity, recite lines of Urdu poetry or quote a lesson from Buddhism.

Spiritual lessons are fundamentally inclusive and it’s this open, practical approach to living a life rooted in the foundation of Truth, Love and Compassion that millions around the world find so compelling. As today’s youth abandon the mantle of religion, disillusioned with illogical decrees and gratuitous righteousness, it’s no surprise that Bapu has so many devout, young followers. Free from the binds of religion, Bapu’s teachings allow them to soar.

In person Bapu is very quiet and incredibly serene, yet in katha, on stage in front of thousands, an extraordinarily exuberant man appears. In his quest to make the lessons of the Ramayana relevant and modern, he will at times use a humorous analogy or anecdote, causing ripples of laughter in the sea of people sitting at his feet. Throughout katha he will spontaneously break into song, his traveling musicians accompanying him and his followers rising to dance, their arms in the air, smiles on their faces. This ability to simultaneously share profound wisdom and ebullient joy is a rare and special gift. In essence, katha teaches you to love and that love is the prayer.

The Business of Spirituality

Given India’s long and complicated relationship with spirituality and enterprising Gurus, it is important to note that there exists no Business of Bapu. While it would be effortless to build a brand and business around Truth, Love and Compassion – as a handful of infamous Gurus have done for themselves – Bapu has not and is adamant that he will never. As other Gurus court the press, whipping up spectacles of spirituality and funnelling millions of donation dollars into business empires, Bapu remains steadfastly quiet, nearly absent from the media and resolute in his refusal of donations, instead urging followers to do good in their own way.

On his own terms, Bapu finds myriad ways to give back. He quietly provides free education to young students and free healthcare to thousands in Talgajarda, and is a proud and passionate supporter of Indian art, literature and culture, giving away dozens of awards each year to artists and scholars in Gujarat. Bapu considers himself a simple man, with only wisdom and love to share, and while many of his followers speak of his divinity, it is his actions that exemplify his humanity.

Life’s Pendulum

When Bapu is not in katha, he can almost always be found swaying gently back and forth on a swing, whether indoors or out. While he admits the feeling itself is pleasant, he explains that the swing acts as a constant reminder that life moves forward and back in equal measure, the inescapable pendulum between hardship and success, love and loss. Freedom is found through Truth, says Bapu, and knowing that life will always oscillate in this way is, in fact, incredibly freeing.

The world is an increasingly unstable place, the future uncertain, both gain and loss in life assured but if we can strive to live each day with a dedication to these three fundamental principles – Truth, Love and Compassion – for ourselves, for each other, for the Earth – what more could ever be asked from us? These principles are, in fact, the only everlasting guide we have on this journey called life.

LEARN MORE AT MORARIBAPU.ORG

READ THIS ARTICLE ON THE HUFFINGTON POST.

07.27.13

THE FINAL FRONTIER | ASHISH J THAKKAR EMPOWERS AFRICA’S YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS

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It’s fitting that I first met African entrepreneur Ashish J. Thakkar on Twitter. After all, he’s revolutionizing the mobile and social communication landscape in Africa. It’s equally appropriate that when I meet him again, this time in person, he’s sitting across from me in a simple cotton, Indian kurta. “This is all I had for the last three weeks,” says Thakkar, pointing to a small, nondescript, black trolley bag containing the extent of belongings required for a three week, around-the-world trip with his spiritual guru, Morari Bapu, the man he says the Dalai Lama calls, “boss.”

Though he’s a devout follower of Bapu and his teachings of truth, love and compassion, you would be foolish to think Thakkar became Africa’s Youngest Billionaire by following the path of least resistance, for his is an irresistible tale of passionate perseverance and indefatigable drive. The founder of Mara Group, a pan-African, multi-sector business conglomerate with operations in 26 different countries, has been hard at work since he was only 15 years old, buying and selling computers to friends and locals in Uganda after obtaining a $6000 loan.

It is not this self-made, serial entrepreneur’s many business accomplishments that first moved me — though they are undeniably impressive — but his commitment to empowering Africa’s young men and women through the Mara Foundation, an organization that provides mentorship to fledgling businesses in East Africa. “In Sub-Saharan Africa, 75 percent of our population is under 35,” Thakkar tells me, “we’ve got a very young population, how do you enableempowerinspire them?” In their first year, the Mara Foundation mentored 120 businesses. Today, it’s more than 130,000.

The latest buzz in philanthropy is making a charitable organization self-sustainable and if there were ever a poster child for this formidable endeavour, then Mara Online is it. To exponentially increase the number of young entrepreneurs Thakkar could help, he took the work of the Mara Foundation online and created Mara Mentor, which was expensive to both build and run. To make it self-sustainable, he created Mara Online, an ecosystem of apps and digital platforms — including the ‘African Skype’ and a rival to PayPal. “It’s become a very sexy business,” says Thakkar of Mara Online. Forbes recently listed it as one of Africa’s hottest tech startups and Thakkar tells me it’s expected to go public in a few years at half a billion dollars. It would have been all too easy to donate a small portion of the profits from Mara Online to Mara Mentor and the Mara Foundation but that’s not Thakkar’s style — instead, he granted ownership to the Foundation. “That was a way to make the Foundation self-sustainable for life,” he says with a smile.

I ask Thakkar what his next goal for the Mara Foundation is and a huge grin spreads across his youthful face, “one million,” he says without skipping a beat. Until then, he’s focused on launching his latest project, Mara Women, the female-focused chapter of the Mara Foundation. He’s already got a cadre of talented, successful women on board to help lead the charge and though they’re not ready to reveal the identity of their top ambassador just yet, she will, no doubt, inspire millions of young women throughout Africa and the world.

As Thakkar likes to say, “it is time for Africa,” and indeed, thanks to the Mara Foundation, there’s never been a better time to be a young entrepreneur on the continent. Welcome to the final frontier.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE HUFFINGTON POST.

05.03.13

MARIE CLAIRE INDIA | BRAVE NEW WORLD

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Moscow, Stockholm, Hong Kong and Istanbul have eclipsed New York and London as the world’s hottest destinations for stylish jet-setters. Miroslava Duma, Elin Kling, Sarah Rutson, Lian Kebudi and Ezgi Kiramer epitomize the unique fashion sensibilities of their respective cities.

BRAVE NEW WORLD. MARIE CLAIRE INDIA. MAY 2013.

04.04.13

HARPER’S BAZAAR | FOLLOW SUIT

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FOLLOW SUIT. HARPER’S BAZAAR INDIA. APRIL 2013.

04.03.13

VOGUE INDIA | JUST THE TICKET

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JUST THE TICKET. VOGUE INDIA. APRIL 2013.

02.06.13

YEAR OF THE YOUNG DESIGNER

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MY HARPER’S BAZAAR INDIA PROFILE OF INDIA’S MOST PROMISING YOUNG DESIGNERS, INCLUDING NUPUR KANOI, YOGESH CHAUDHARY, NIMISH SHAH, OUTHOUSE, PAYAL KHANDWALA, RICHA AGGARWAL, SNEHA ARORA, ANUSHKA KHANNA AND AARTIVIJAY GUPTA.

THE YEAR OF THE YOUNG DESIGNER. HARPER’S BAZAAR INDIA. JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2013.