Women in Business Q&A: Shivani Garg Patel, Co-founder, Samahope

05/12/2015 10:00 am ET | Updated May 12, 2016

Shivani Garg Patel is Co-founder of Samahope, a crowdfunding site for doctors providing critical medical treatments for the world's poorest. Shivani is a former Microsoft product manager, McKinsey consultant turned social entrepreneur. Her technology-driven social innovation work spans the Grameen Foundation, World Bank, and World Health Organization. She holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a B.A. in Cognitive Science from the University of California, Berkeley and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
The importance of giving back was instilled in me at an early age. We often traveled to visit family in India where I saw firsthand the severe poverty and disparity that existed. There, I saw my grandparents dedicate their time to serve others. Because it's a family value, serving others was always something I was passionate about and something I knew I wanted to pursue within my career.

Another defining experience was when I was in college and helped run a clinic that provided free services to low income men and women in the community. That experience was incredibly rewarding as I was able to actually see the change and effect I was able to have on another person's life. At Samahope, the organization I co-founded, the patient stories we share on our website aren't just stories to me; they really hit home because I've seen it. I've seen that if you can give a person access to basic care, their life can turn a 180. To see that transformation is really something special and has certainly affected my leadership style.

I always strive to have empathy for my team, for our medical partners, and especially for our beneficiaries. I try to apply that lens to my path as a leader.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Samahope?
I am fortunate to have had a diverse work experience across the corporate and social sectors. Having been trained in engineering, computer science and cognitive science as an undergrad in college, I am drawn to solving tough problems and translating ambiguity into concrete outcomes. Early in my career, I felt at home working on the business side of technology at companies like Microsoft and McKinsey. I loved thinking about technology as a change agent within those organizations and the clients we served. My work at the Grameen Foundation allowed me to begin to leverage my skill set and passion for technology directly towards poverty alleviation.

Today, I directly translate those experiences at Samahope where it's all about the power of technology; the power of the internet to fuel the work of our doctors. My professional background has given me an understanding of different business models and how to succeed in a fast paced environment, which is the kind of organization that Samahope is. My experience has also taught me to never settle for the status quo - a mentality I encourage my team to adopt and incorporate into our work every day.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Samahope?
Co-founding and leading a startup certainly comes with its own set of challenges. For example, in the beginning I was the only full time person (and a first time entrepreneur!) with limited resources. Not only did I have to be scrappy and creative, but dogged in my pursuit of our mission at Samahope. Thinking back to the very early days is humbling and makes me appreciate of how far we've come. A tough thing about working in the nonprofit space is constantly trying to convince others of the merit of your work. We spend a lot of time thinking about creative experiences that will connect more people to Samahope in a meaningful way.

There have also been plenty of highlights. Getting up every morning and knowing that the work we're doing is changing lives each day is incredibly rewarding and far exceeds the challenges we face. To date, we've treated over 1,250 patients, changing their lives so that women can heal and earn an income once more and so that children can return to school and live productive lives. That number exceeds where we originally thought we'd be at this stage, so the growth is exciting.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking to start their own charitable business?
Pick something that you're passionate about because there will be challenges. You have to be deeply committed to the cause. It helps when it closely aligns with what matters the most to you in your own life. As a new mom, the work I do at Samahope has taken on new meaning; I do this so the world is a better place for my daughter and so other mothers don't have to be without access to care.

Another piece of advice is to stick with it. Once you know you're passionate and deeply committed to your cause, stick with it and when things get tough, surround yourself with the people who are your biggest champions because they will help you get through those tough times.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
My attempt to maintain balance is all about prioritizing. There's no end to the amount of things I could be doing at any given moment as an entrepreneur, and I have had to understand and come to terms with the fact that I can't have it all, all the time or all at once. Prioritizing and knowing where my time is best spent -- where it really matters -- is key so I can make time to be with my family and friends.

I also find that learning to laugh at myself more is essential to not taking things so seriously. The arrival of my daughter last year has helped me find more laughter in life.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
There aren't enough female role models at the top in the highest positions, (C-level, corporate boards, investors) so it can be hard as a female to envision what your professional future can be or who/what you aspire to be like.

Childcare is another. We need more innovative childcare solutions so we make it possible for talented parents to thrive in the workforce.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have benefited from mentorship as both the mentee and mentor. Having a mentor has been crucial to my survival as an entrepreneur. My mentors have served as sounding boards and have offered me guidance to help me navigate (and balance!) both my personal and professional journey. Knowing that someone believes in your abilities is extremely valuable, especially during tough times when you have those moments of self doubt.

I also thoroughly enjoy mentoring others. There's so much talent out there and when I meet with aspiring social entrepreneurs, it makes me hopeful and excited about what the future holds for us as a sector.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Megan Smith, the CTO of the US government, is someone I admire because she's always been authentic to herself throughout her career. From entrepreneur to executive to government leader, I like that she's constantly reinventing herself while being able to balance family life.