Two Women & a Village Story

I went to India for the first time on the invitation of two women. One is Niki Gomez, a functional medicine health coach for high-achieving executives based in Mumbai, India’s business capital. The other is Bindu Thomas, the founder of a digital marketing agency that helps women restart their careers located in India’s south, Kerala.

Why was it so easy for me to say yes to the invitation of these women and visit a country I had never been to before?

It goes back to my story. When I describe myself to people, I call myself a village girl turned global citizen. I grew up in the 1970s in a remote village in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. These were pivotal years in the struggle for freedom for South Africa against apartheid, a regime that legalised racism and white supremacy.

In such a system women of colour were at the bottom of the social and economic ladder. With limited opportunities, my single parent mum de to leave me and my two older siblings in South Africa as she moved to the UK to seek out a better life. I was 3 years old at the time.

I don’t remember missing my mum. My earliest memories were of being surrounded by women in the village who became grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and sisters to me. Men were present but peripheral characters as many spent long periods away in cities to make money to send back to their families. It felt like the women were the heart and soul of village life.

As youngsters, we lived in this cocoon of women’s unity and strength. The village women worked the land and raised children, often at the same time. When a woman fell on hard times, they united around her. When a woman celebrated, they gathered around her also. I experienced South Africa’s gift to the world from villagers – UBUNTU – the connectedness of our humanity.

My life changed forever when I was uprooted from this community to grow up in London, at 8 years old. I left the village oblivious to the political context I was being freed from to live in one of the most urban cities in the world at the peak of its winter. I felt a cold loneliness I had never experienced before.

Navigating the contrasts of my upbringing has been a life-long journey. Who am I? Why am I here? These are questions I ask myself constantly. Nowhere is home. But then everywhere is home as well. In all this, women have been a constant theme and source of inspiration, courage, and strength from the local to the global village. So that’s why I said yes to Niki and Bindu.

Discovering India

I realised I knew very little about India before I came. My mental moodboard would have had pictures of the Taj Mahal, Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi (are they related?), some Bollywood movie stars, a few cricket players, spicy curries, and beautiful saris.

As soon as you arrive in India, you are mesmirised by it. From flying over Mumbai with its contrasting urban landscape to driving through Kerala to its backwaters, India is a journey of discovery. I had this naive ambition that our team would hire a car and discover India by ourselves. I parked this idea as soon as I saw what our Volvo-driving host had to do to maneuver the diverse forms of traffic coming at us from every angle. As a Westerner you need another type of license to drive safely in India.

1.4 billion people call India home making it the most populated country in the world. It’s also one of the most culturally diverse with many different types of ethnicities, religions, languages, traditions, celebrations, and cuisines. Bindu informed us that something as universal as a curry from the south will be different to the north, starting with the oil that is used, even before adding the local spices.

There’s also a buzz about the place. India feels like it’s in a rush to unleash its growth and entrepreneurial spirit on the world stage. There is construction everywhere, new high rises and roads being built or expanded adding to its rhythm, pace, and sound. Billboards of Narendra Modi serving as India’s 14th prime minister stand tall with the strong sense that he will have his third election victory.

Like any politician, he polarises but there seems no other contender with the vision to take India from the 5th largest to the 3rd largest global economy. India was the host of the G-20 in 2023 under the banner of One Earth. One Family. One Future. Essentially, the theme affirms the value of all life – human, animal, plant, and microbial – and their interconnectedness on planet Earth and the universe. I couldn’t help but be reminded of UBUNTU

According to the Economic Times, India is now the fastest growing economy among G-20 nations in 2024. The world can take a leaf out of India’s book. But what is that leaf?

India’s Gift to the World

To learn about any nation, you must spend time with its people. The people we met in India were business leaders rather than a cross-section of the broader society, but they were still some of the most hospitable people we have ever met.

Looking at our social media posts, you’d think we went to India on a holiday, not to work. We were welcomed by our hosts into their homes and to eat with their families like celebrities. Over the most delicious curries, we shared stories of purpose, family, business, and life.

I believe NAMASTE is India’s gift to the world. It’s a traditional greeting that is accompanied by folded hands, a nod, or a bow and means, “I greet the divine within you.” Imagine if every human interaction had the promise of encountering the divine. Wouldn’t our world be a better place?

We did meet divine leaders in India like Stafano Funari, founder of I was a Sari. He shared his purpose of enabling the second chance. An Italian by background with a fascinating Milan to Mumbai story, India has given him a second chance that now sees him empowering women artisans to repurpose saris to sell to a global audience, working with the likes of Gucci.

We also spent time with Anshul Singhal, one of the most charismatic leaders we have ever met. He chose real estate to make his mark on the world and was appointed a CEO at the age of 25. He has achieved unprecedented success in India’s real estate market, and attributes this to mentors who have been a significant part of his leadership journey, starting with his father. He now wants to give back by sharing his wealth of leadership and life experience to inspire the next generation of young CEOs.

We held a talk at the Ministry of New in Mumbai, a coworking space thanks to Marlies Bloemendaal and her amazing team. We invited business leaders to have a thought-provoking conversation about purpose in India. We encountered diverse stories including that of Ivy Roy, a music therapist and motivational speaker. She tried to rescue her mum in a terrible fire and not only lost her mum but the will to live. Purpose led her out of ICU as a burns victim into music therapy and healing herself, and now others.

Diverse stories of leadership and purpose from the heart of India. And there are many more.

One Human Family

The other leaf we must take out of India is how the nation values family. When you marry in India, you are not marrying your partner but their whole family. That’s why everyone has to get involved. To the people we spoke to, it felt like the couple had the least amount of say in the whole affair.

Nowhere other than India does the idea of a match made in heaven ring truer than true. When a match works for the families and the couple, this is something worth celebrating. The largest billboards are of wedding saris and elaborate jewelry, making marriage seem the dream of every man, woman, and child in India, expenses aside.

Our hosts took us to one of the biggest sari retailers in Kochi, Jayalakshmi. To be dressed in a sari by Indian women was so much fun and a global village experience I will never forget.

Above all, marriage unites families with the promise of a new family as its fruit. It’s no surprise that the concept of the one human family was at the core of the G-20 summit. This concept translates into business. Every leader we met treated their employees like family. If you’re a Westerner wanting to be successful in business in India, know that you must visit like family.

What India can learn from the world

It’s undeniable that India is beautiful and rich in human and cultural diversity. However, like any nation it has domestic challenges in health care, education, gender, and economic inequality. According to Time, India’s income inequality is worse than under British rule with the top 1% of billionaires holding over 22% of the country’s wealth.

It’s challenging for the government alone to provide all the solutions to the redistribution of wealth in India. Successful business leaders can step up and take the lead in closing this gap and it doesn’t have to be in the form of hand outs but hand ups. We saw this in the business models of Stefano and Anshul designed to empower the next generation of Indian leaders, including women.

The other opportunity for India connects to my village story.

India’s family values are key to its current and future success but listening to the stories of many women, they feel societal pressure limiting their roles to housewives and homemakers. According to the World Bank, the participation of unmarried women in the workforce is 60% dropping to 20% among their married counterparts, despite similar education levels. These low rates persist despite more flexible working conditions and the rise of the gig economy in India.

With India’s growing and dynamic economy, it came up in many conversations that women want to be partakers and not just observers in the country’s economic growth. They have innovative ideas, are willing to work around their home and family life to build their communities, gain financial independence, and contribute to rebalancing the country’s wealth. They want freedom and support to make their own money and their own path.

We saw it in the wonderful example of Bindu who is an absolute pioneer in her community. Bindu has proved that she can be a successful wife, mother, and business owner. But none of this would have been possible without her husband and family’s support. Her purpose to empower women in her community to create the flexible conditions and environment for their economic success is one of the most remarkable stories of our India visit.

Wrapping up

Purpose is the Principal P.

In trying to find answers to my story, I became a seeker of purpose. From a village girl to a global citizen, it has propelled me forward in business and life. Purpose can be found in a moment, a day, a life, and even a nation. It’s a divine treasure that we must constantly seek to give meaning to our lives and everything we do.

In the last 5 years, I have made a career and now a company Markd Global, helping leaders find and activate their purpose. The very thing I felt I lacked has become the platform for my leadership and growth. But isn’t that the irony of life? What creates the most pressure turns to gold and even diamonds in time and under the right conditions.

I was seeking purpose in India. But I was also seeking purpose for India. I spent two weeks being fully immersed in the culture, guided by Bindu and Niki. I invited a younger woman from our team in Australia to join me. We were like sponges – watching, listening, eating, and feeling India and its people. They say India is a full sensory experience. It’s an understatement. You will never leave India the same person as you came.

If India can keep its gifts of NAMASTE and family values in a way that liberates the divine potential in every woman, India will be the most unstoppable nation on Earth in the decade to come.

If you found this thought-provoking, are a business leader in India (and beyond), and would like to work with us to unlock your purpose and make your mark on the world, reach out to me at

Sibon Schouten - Markd Global

Sibon Schouten

CEO and Founder Markd Global