W Power 2024

Flip the pages of the 2024 W-Power Self-Made Women issue

The Forbes India W-Power list of Self-Made Women has achievers of all hues: Business founders, professionals who've worked their way to the top; authors; bureaucrats bringing change via technology and infrastructure-creation; those driving social good and social change as well as those standing up for the oppressed and the underdog, and a few underdogs themselves

Brian Carvalho
Published: Mar 21, 2024 11:29:46 AM IST
Updated: Mar 21, 2024 11:42:39 AM IST



How does one earn the self-made title? One of the achievers on this edition’s list of ‘Self-Made Women’ reckoned that it wasn’t possible for most mortals to be that. Her short point: To reach where she has, her family, friends, mentors, peers, among others, played key roles. So, she didn’t quite qualify as ‘self-made’.

That’s a fair argument. Yet, it’s with good reason that Forbes India persisted with ‘self-made women’—which arguably today makes more sense than ‘self-made men’. Let me explain.

Centuries ago, there were no self-made persons, only self-made men. Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States’ founding fathers, is considered the first. His rise from the working class to a successful inventor (of the lightning rod and bifocals, among others), businessman and politician are what make him self-made.

Typically, self-made persons are from less privileged backgrounds who through their perseverance—rather than privileges of inheritance and lineage—reach positions of financial or political power.

The ‘Self-Made Man’ has his origins as an American construct with the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford being anointed with the label. More recently, it has largely come down to entrepreneurial success, and self-made (mostly) men are seen as the world’s biggest wealth creators.

When, in 2011, US Senator Elizabeth Warren challenged the self-made concept in a video that went viral, it seemed targeted at two aspects of American business that needed fixing: One, capitalism (markets need to work for everybody, not just the rich) and, two, the male dominance in business and entrepreneurship.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody,” thundered the US’s first female senator from Massachusetts. “You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate…”

Yes, you can get ‘made’ along your journey by investors, workers, consumers. But it’s at the beginning that many don’t have a launchpad—deep pockets, fathers, godfathers and status that open doors. It’s the classic outsider syndrome. If you succeed, that’s because you chose to break in. That’s self-made—when your initial resolve gets you started and gets you going.

Nely Galan, a first-gen American immigrant from Santa Clara, Cuba, is a successful media mogul who the media christened the ‘Tropical Tycoon’. In 2016, Galan’s book that would go on to become a bestseller hit the shelves: Self Made: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant and Rich in Every Way. Here’s how the book begins (the introduction): “I am Self-Made. What a powerful thing to be able to say. Especially as a woman and as one who was not born in this country, who was not (until recently) a college graduate...” Galan doesn’t belong, in more ways than one.

In almost every sphere—from entrepreneurship to sports—along with (lack of) pedigree, status and wealth, gender too has proved a barrier to progress and success. That is changing, and it’s the self-made—with dollops of support from mentors and mavens—that are at the vanguard of that change. As Galan writes: “To be self-made is a new way of defining success for women.”

The Forbes India W-Power list of Self-Made Women has achievers of all hues: Business founders, professionals who’ve worked their way to the top; authors; bureaucrats bringing change via technology and infrastructure-creation; those driving social good and social change as well as those standing up for the oppressed and the underdog, and a few underdogs themselves. Do read their stories.

Best,
Brian Carvalho
Editor, Forbes India
Email: Brian.Carvalho@nw18.com
Twitter ID: @Brianc_Ed

(This story appears in the 22 March, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)