Very rarely do people proffer genuine ‘pearls of wisdom’. The phrase itself is as hackneyed and clichéd as the words of supposed ‘inspiration’ it invariably introduces: ‘Follow your dreams’, ‘Reach for the stars’, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’…The list goes on. However, when Dr. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw was asked if she had any pearls of wisdom to share in a recent interview with Quartz one could not help but be intrigued. Her answer? “Knowledge doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender. A woman can achieve anything if she puts her mind to it.”
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is one of the most powerful people the world. She is the founder, CEO and chairman of Biocon, the largest biotech company in India and Asia’s biggest producer of insulin. Mazumdar-Shaw pioneered India’s biotechnology industry when she launched Biocon out of a rented garage in 1978. The multinational company now employs more than 7,000 people and is forecast to reap over $1 billion in revenue this year alone. Statistics aside, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw has dedicated her life to providing as many people as possible with affordable, high-quality healthcare. As she said to Quartz: “My work has been focused on building a new model of innovation that adds the condition of affordability to ensure accessibility… At Biocon, we focus on leveraging the power of ‘affordable innovation’ to develop blockbuster drugs that are not about a billion dollars, but about expanding access to a billion patients. It’s a business model that goes to the core of ensuring a global right to healthcare through affordable biopharmaceuticals.”
Countless improvements and developments in India’s public healthcare system can be attributed to the tireless work ethic and undisputable genius of Mazumdar-Shaw. Through the Biocon Foundation she has implemented a series of initiatives that integrate healthcare, education and civil infrastructure. One of these initiatives is called the ‘Micro Insurance Program,’ which offers clinical care, testing, and medicine to rural communities within 6 miles of Biocon’s base in Bangalore. Another is the ‘Diabetes and Hypertension Community Outreach’ which has significantly raised levels of awareness about the importance of managing these illnesses in less privileged rural and urban areas of India. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s philanthropic efforts have earned her a plethora of awards and accolades. In 2014, she received the Othmer Gold Medal for her outstanding contributions to the progress of science and chemistry, and less than two years later was conferred with the highest French distinction – The Legion of Honour.
When reflecting upon her career thus far, Mazumdar-Shaw recalls with both horror and humour the sexism and ageism she encountered in her initial days as an entrepreneur: “I was totally unprepared for the gender bias that a young woman had to face for daring to start a business in the male-dominated society of India in the 1970s,” she said to Quarter. “Banks were very fearful of lending to a woman because I was considered high risk!” Mazumdar-Shaw’s success attests her earlier statement – that a woman really can do anything she puts her mind to.