Janel Dyan

Women Crushing It Wednesday

#WCIW: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw

Fierce Determination. Outstanding Entrepreneur. Philanthropic Heart.

“World's 25 Most Influential People in Biopharma.” Forbes magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women.” Fortune’s “Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Asia-Pacific.” The only Indian on Forbes' list of “World's Self-Made Women Billionaires.” While she may not be a household name in the United States, the accomplishments of Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw are numerous and are recognized around the world.

A pioneer of the biotechnology industry in India and the founder of the country’s leading biotechnology enterprise, Biocon, Mazumdar-Shaw is one of the most successful and prominent business leaders in India. Born on March 23, 1953 in Bangalore, India, Kiran attended Bishop’s Cotton Girl’s High School where she graduated in 1968.

She graduated with Honors with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology at Mount Carmel College of the Bangalore University, and went on to post-graduate work at Ballarat College, Melbourne University to become a certified Master Brewer. After four years in the beverage industry, she suddenly switched paths and joined Biocon Biochemicals Limited in Ireland.

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Kiran enjoyed the work and saw the potential for establishing a Biocon sector in India. The venture was not an easy one, however. She started Biocon India with only 10,000 rupees ($150USD!) and faced serious adversity. Banks were hesitant to loan money because biochemicals were not established in India, and she was a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated society. 

Initially, she found it difficult to even find people willing to work for a woman. Mazumdar-Shaw, however, was never deterred. She was resilient and worked hard to establish not only her company, but herself, as a power-player in the industry. As the business began to take hold in India and in 2004, the company went public.

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Seemingly overnight, Mazumdar-Shaw became the richest woman in India. With her success, however, Kiran wanted her legacy to become more than wealth and good business sense. She wanted to make a major impact on the availability and affordability of healthcare itself in India.

In 2004 she founded the Biocon Foundation which serves to promote social and economic inclusion by ensuring that marginalized communities have equal access to healthcare services and educational opportunities. Biocon Foundation brings effective primary healthcare services to the doorstep of less privileged rural and urban sectors of India.

By establishing primary healthcare centres, actively creating awareness about disease prevention, public health and sanitation, building civic infrastructure and initiating education programs, the foundation aims to empower under-served communities.

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In 2002, Kiran’s best friend was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. Mazumdar-Shaw watched for years as her friend, from a prominent and well-to-do family, struggled with medical bills, doctor’s visits, and international travel for treatment. Later, when Kiran’s husband was diagnosed with the same cancer in 2007, she had seen enough.

She was determined to establish a cancer treatment center in India where the best treatments and technology were not only available, but affordable. In that same year, the Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Center was founded. It not only provides state-of-the-art treatment at an affordable price, but also some of the most well-trained staff and doctors in the world and counseling for patients and their families.

Kiran’s philanthropic efforts have been featured in the Forbes’ List of “Heroes of Philanthropy” and recently she became the second Indian to join the Giving Pledge global initiative created by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates that encourages billionaires to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

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For her fierce determination, her outstanding business sense, and her philanthropic heart, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is this week’s #WCIW.

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