We had the good fortune of connecting with Rachna Khare and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rachna, what do you attribute your success to?
Leaning on, learning from, and listening to others. My dear friend Sonya Passi who leads Freefrom.org introduced me to the book Decolonizing Wealth where author Edgar Villanueva explains that “when birds fly together they cut the wind for each other – all except for the one at the front. That one has the bear the full force of the wind….that one has to lead the way forward despite the discomfort. At the same time, one of the greatest lessons of migrating birds is that they take turns occupying that tough position at the front, which allows for greater resilience for the whole group…. The lesson is that thriving is not actually about the leader, it’s about the whole flock. Everyone has the potential to lead and leadership is about listening and being attuned to everyone else. It’s about flexibility. It’s about humility. It’s about trust. It’s about having fun along the way. It is more about holding space for others’ brilliance than being the sole source of answers…”
Before reading this book, I felt internal pressure to be the classic “leader” – the way we hear about corporate CEO’s. I knew this wasn’t me. I read this passage and felt incredibly validated. Leadership is all about using my privilege to uplift the brilliance of the incredible people (team members, volunteers, clients, community partners) around me. It’s astonishing how much smarter and effective we are in breaking down systemic, longstanding societal problems once we tear down the traditional hierarchal systems that were never designed for authentic and intersectional humans.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As the Executive Director of Daya, I have the privilege of leading a team of staff, board members, and volunteers who are deeply committed to ending gender-based violence. Our mission is to empower survivors of domestic and sexual violence with culturally specific services and to educate the community to end the cycle of abuse. While our services are geared toward the South Asian community, no one is ever turned away. It’s a bit of a full circle when I think about it. As a kid, I was very interested in philanthropic work and helping others. My Biology degree from the University of Texas at Austin wouldn’t naturally lend itself to nonprofit leadership, in fact I started my career in a research lab! However, over time, I had multiple bosses who encouraged me to stretch beyond my written job description. I quickly moved into program management, grant writing, and strategic planning. I went from a lab at the University of Texas, to clinical trials at Mount Sinai in NYC, to global health at Rice University, spending significant time in Malawi. Each position brought me closer to my love for leading teams to make our world a better place. I found my home at Daya because I always asked to stretch more in each one of my positions and I worked under incredible leaders who were invested in my growth. My hope is to give this gift of trust, abundance, and growth to the team I lead as well.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
In my 20’s I did the thing many Houstonians do – leave! I lived all over from Austin, to New York City, Los Angeles, and even Arkansas. It was this exploration that showed me that Houston is definitely home. I came back to Houston permanently in 2013 and have been a die hard Houston fan since! Some of my favorite places in Houston are: Taking in the art at The Menil Collection, The Contemporary Art Museum, or the Art League
Breathing at The Rothko Chapel
Feeling fancy at Trelis Spa at the Houstonian (splurge and stay all day)
Wine at Boheme, cocktails at Anvil, and patio nights at Under the Volcano
Fish and chips with whiskey and darts at Rudyards (Rudz to Houstonians)
Cooking classes at Well Done Cooking
Readings and plays at Ensemble Theatre or Studio 101 (Spring Street Studios)
Eating food from any and every culture just outside the loop
Taking walks with my dog around West U and Braeswood (especially around the holidays)
And, an opinion that most people don’t admit, spending the day staring at the ocean in Galveston (fun fact: the brown water is sediment from The Mississippi!)
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My mom is pretty much the reason I continue to be a functioning 40 year old! As a child she modeled independence and autonomy, but also showed me the importance of having friends, family, and coworkers that you can count on. She doesn’t compartmentalize her personality – everyone gets the authentic version of her and I try to live this boldly as well. She’s taught me to rely on myself, while also leaning on others; to have a thick skin, while always responding with kindness; and to not waste time being anyone other than who I am. As an adult, I value the balance she demonstrated. She worked, spent tons of time with us, and had friendships that matter deeply to her. While she’s the life of the party and full of energy, I’m more of a nap queen, but ultimately that’s part of the balance I’ve learned from her as well.
Rochelle Abante FreeFrom