When one looks upon all of India's people with an eye of equal regard, one will find women leaders everywhere. Many are imagining India’s future and building it, inspiring others to do the same. These women know their purpose; they have found it, forged it, and are laying the tracks for a new narrative, which is being written across a complex social landscape of the most populous democracy in the world of over 1.2 billion people.

    In a society where inequality, injustice, and disrespect toward women and girls often prevails, these intrepid individuals are demonstrating in simple terms and through bold actions that there can be no meaningful development in India without the full participation of all its people. These women refuse to stop imagining life differently, and they work mindfully and tirelessly for the growth and development of themselves, their communities, and their country. Through them, India is realizing herself and shaping her future, as each woman leader imbues this great nation with a vibrant and vital force that will not be restrained.

    Still, it is only when we make women leaders visible that their contributions can be recognized, their efforts supported, and their indispensable role in peace-making and nation-building properly understood. It is for this reason that we seek to bring these women into focus here. 

    The Poetry of Purpose offers a portrait of fifteen such leaders: women across India who—often in the face of their own social, political, familial, and economic challenges—are scaling the heights of the human spirit and improving the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary ways. 

    What depth and height and vastness their accomplishments offer to the country and to humanity, as they celebrate selfhood through sport; use business as an act of compassion; recognize women farmers as entrusted land stewards; use education to build moral imagination; spread the values of social justice and human rights through song and slogans; promote girls’ education as a pathway out of poverty and toward equality; accelerate rural development through radio; inspire collective action through film; restore dignity by providing affordable healthcare; and enrich people's lands and lives through cooperative, door-step banking. And the list goes on. 

    Through photographic portraits of each woman, accompanied by personal reflections on her life and work, a picture emerges of what the path to leadership looks like, not just for women in India, but for people everywhere—from the earliest stages of self-discovery to an enduring desire to strive in the service of others.

    To embark upon this path, each of these women has first had to overcome barriers within herself—battling hesitancy and doubt, and surmounting circumscribed perceptions of her own potential and that of the world around her. In many cases, the distance a woman travels from her starting point to a position of efficacy and leadership is commensurate with the intensity of her devotion to improving the life chances of her children, her community members, and her fellow citizens—especially those of the most vulnerable; women and girls. 

    This is the kind of woman found in the pages of this book: one who is creating the conditions for which all people have the opportunity to realize their higher selves, even as she continues to realize her own. Hers is a mindful pursuit aimed at an enduring outcome; not to perfect society, but to improve it, with an emphasis on finding meaning and value everywhere—even in suffering—and to dedicate her life to something greater than herself.

    The essential value of each of these leaders’ contributions to Indian society is not, we believe, confined solely to her primary area of influence, where the results are tangible. Rather, it lies also in the degree to which her wonder, vision, and courage call forth in her family, community, and larger social networks a broadening of consciousness and comprehension—demonstrating a simple and enduring truth: that a sense of purpose brings beauty and fulfillment not only to the individual soul, but also to the lives of all it touches.

    It is the poetry of purpose. The lighthouse of the human spirit. 

Mick Minard // Wawonaissa Farm, USA // January 2015