By Priya Iyer
Anita Datar, a mother, daughter, sister, and a close friend and founding board member of the Tulalens team was killed in the Bamako, Mali terrorist attacks on Nov. 20. After the news was made public, dozens of reporters contacted us to talk about her involvement with our organization. Trying to encapsulate everything she was to us while we were in shock was impossible. When we were ready to talk, the news cycle was over. That's why this week, the week of Anita’s birthday, I want to take a moment to explain how Anita shaped me and Tulalens.
I met Anita when I was working at Futures Group (now Palladium), an international development consulting firm. I was immediately drawn to her smarts, warmth and quirky sense of humor. When I found out that she'd be the team lead on a health economics project I was working on in Guyana, I was ecstatic. During our first trip to Guyana, we braved bumpy boat rides, shared meals together, and discovered many parallels in our lives including our views on international development, our upbringing as children of immigrant parents, a love for books, and a lesser known goofy side.
On this project, my role was to focus on the data collection and analysis. Early on, I mentioned to Anita that I became paralyzed with fear when I spoke in public. As an introvert, I was convinced I’d never be able to overcome this. Anita, a fellow introvert, shared with me that she'd once been the same way. When I watched Anita speak in public she was so eloquent that it was difficult to believe this was ever true. She told me that after ten years of intention and practice, she'd accomplished what she thought was impossible. She inspired me to do the same. By sharing her previous vulnerability, she broke down barriers between us. On top of that, Anita found opportunities for me to speak in public including within the project we were working on. Each time I spoke, she gave me honest feedback until I learned to manage my fear. She helped me find confidence in myself that I was previously incapable of seeing.
I knew that she was a go-to mentor at our office, but didn't realize the depth and reach of her impact until her memorial this past weekend. I'm still baffled by how she had time to guide so many of us. It was this same attitude that she brought to her most important role as a mother, and to her role as a global health expert. She felt and enacted the idea that when you equipped people with resources, rather than controlled them, they would find ways to improve their own lives.
When I structured Tulalens this year as a non-profit, I initially sought advice on how to find board members. Some people advised me to seek out high-profile board members simply because of their status. This seemed inauthentic. I thought through my network and immediately realized I wanted to ask Anita. She believed in Tulalens and in me. She was honest and insightful when it came to examining the work we were doing and advising on how to improve it. All of this coupled with her deep belief in our mission, which was so obvious when she pitched our work, made her a truly remarkable board member. But it’s limiting to call her a board member because of the depth of her commitment to our work. She was willing to do whatever it took to support Tulalens.
To share one of many examples, she reached out to all her friends and family members to help us win our first innovation challenge. She emailed and called me almost every day during those two weeks to give me status updates or keep my spirits up with a joke. Right before we'd won, I was about to run out of all of my savings and Tulalens had very little money left in the bank account. Anita knew how important winning the challenge was to us, and did everything in her power to make sure our work continued.
I move between sadness, anger and disbelief because Anita is gone. I recognize, though, that I can't allow my pain to create negativity. Instead, I hope that each of you who didn't get to meet Anita is fortunate enough to find someone as rare as her in your own life. I hope that each of us who knew Anita will channel the many qualities we admired in her to make the world a bit more beautiful. We at Tulalens will certainly be doing so.
Thanks to Kathleen Pointer for reading a draft of this blog.