Rohini Nilekani, an accomplished Indian writer and devoted philanthropist, has dedicated her life to making a significant impact in critical areas such as water and sanitation, education, and environmental sustainability. Her inspiring journey reflects a deep commitment to social causes and a relentless pursuit of positive change.
Born in 1960, Rohini Nilekani's upbringing in a middle-class family in Mumbai, India, laid the foundation for her passion for social causes. Her father's background as an engineer and her mother's role as a homemaker instilled in her a sense of purpose and compassion from an early age. She pursued her higher education and holds a degree in French literature from Elphinstone College.
Rohini embarked on her professional journey in the field of journalism. In 1980, she began her career as a reporter at Bombay Magazine and later worked for Sunday magazine in Bangalore. Her experiences as a journalist sharpened her writing skills and provided her with insights into the issues that would later become central to her philanthropic work.
In 1998, Rohini Nilekani ventured into the world of literature with the publication of her first novel, "Stillborn," under the banner of Penguin Books. The book, a medical thriller, received acclaim from readers and critics alike. Her literary talents extended to children's literature as well. She co-founded Pratham Books, a non-profit publisher of children's books, in 2004 and authored the "Sringeri Series," a collection of her own children's stories.
Her second book, "Uncommon Ground," published by Penguin Books in 2011, delved into nonfiction, drawing on her experiences as an anchor of the 2008 Indian TV program of the same name.
Rohini Nilekani's philanthropic journey began with the establishment of the Arghyam Foundation in 2001. This non-profit organisation focuses on addressing critical water and sanitation issues in India and is funded by her personal endowment. Under her leadership, Arghyam has made significant strides in improving access to clean water and sanitation facilities for underserved communities.
In addition to Arghyam, Nilekani chairs the Akshara Foundation, which is dedicated to enhancing elementary education in India. Her commitment to education doesn't stop there; she serves as the co-founder and director of EkStep, a non-profit education platform that seeks to revolutionise learning opportunities.
Rohini Nilekani's philanthropic influence extends to various organisations and boards. She is a trustee of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) and a member of the Audit Advisory Board of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, among other roles.
Rohini Nilekani's philanthropic endeavours have earned her recognition and awards. Forbes Magazine named her one of Asia's Heroes Of Philanthropy in both 2010 and 2014. Her support extends to approximately 80 civil society organisations working across various sectors, including climate change, gender equity, independent media, governance, and animal welfare.
In March 2022, she received the prestigious Best Grassroots Philanthropist award at the Forbes India Leadership Awards. Additionally, she was honoured with the Philanthropist of the Year 2020-21 Award by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM).
In October 2022, Rohini Nilekani topped the EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List 2022 among women philanthropists. Her significant donation of ₹120 crores during the fiscal year 2022 primarily focused on education and environmental sustainability.
Her commitment to philanthropy extends to crucial areas of mental health as well. In April 2023, through the Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies Foundation, she made a generous donation of ₹100 crore to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru. This contribution aims to support and accelerate research and treatment in mental health, addressing a pressing societal need.
Rohini Nilekani is married to Nandan Nilekani, and their enduring partnership has been instrumental in their collective philanthropic efforts. The couple has two children, Janhavi and Nihar, with their daughter Janhavi Nilekani also actively engaged in philanthropic work through her foundation, Aastrika Foundation, focused on maternal health.
Rohini Nilekani's remarkable journey from a writer and journalist to a trailblazing philanthropist reflects her unwavering commitment to making a positive impact on society. Her work continues to inspire change and create a better future for countless individuals and communities across India.