Radha graduated from College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), Chennai, India, in 1971. Highly independent even at a young age, she charted her own path, to study engineering, and later moving to the USA for higher studies, barreling through strong societal concerns of family and friends. Innovation is a constant theme that runs throughout Radha’s life. She spearheaded the entry of Hewlett Packard into the then virgin Indian Information technology space of 1988; went on to head a startup, Support.com, and take it through its listing in NASDAQ and beyond; created the Frugal Innovation Lab at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley; and is now on her next entrepreneurial chapter of founding and heading iMerit Technology Services. Radha epitomizes resiliency in the face of unthinkable tragedies, including losing her talented daughter and only child, Jhumki, who had immense promise as an educator, and turning all her love for Jhumki into the passion of running the Jhumki Basu Foundation. Her story is truly inspirational for everyone who dreams of great achievements in the technology-driven world of tomorrow.
Radha was born in Madras (Chennai) in 1950 in a family of three daughters. Her father V.S. Ramaswami was a mechanical engineer and held positions of General Manager in Indian Railways, TELCO and TI Cycles in Madras. He built the first railway system in Assam as the GM of North East Frontier Railways. Radha remembers traveling alone for three days to get from Chennai to Guwahati by train and crossing Ganges and Brahmaputra by boat. Her mother Kalyani was a homemaker.
Radha studied at Good Shepherd Convent, Chennai, and completed her SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) in 1965. She went on to complete the Pre-University Course (PUC) at Stella Maris College.
All through her student years, Radha excelled in debating, and one could say she honed her power of persuasion through those years of winning many debate tournaments. Starting at the age of three, she was a longtime student of the classical Bharatanatyam dance and performed in many programs.
Radha was passionately interested in studying engineering. Without her parents’ knowledge, she applied for admission at CEG, aced the entrance exam, and received admission. There were a lot of discussions with her father who was not sure Radha would practice in the field, but over the summer, before the classes started, Radha wore him down with her arguments and convinced him that she was going to be a lifelong engineer.
Radha entered CEG in 1966 as an undergraduate student.
Radha was one of eight girls in her class. This was double the number of girls in the previous batch. CEG reinforced her independence, promoted self-learning, and gave her the determination to succeed in a field that had very few women. During those days, she never really thought about what she was doing as anything but natural. In CEG, she learned how to have fun and laugh at herself, thanks to all the good-natured ribbing from her friends. Radha credits the several male friends she made in CEG, who became her lifelong friends, for her openness to trust. These friends and their spouses have fun traveling together even today. Radha says these friendships provided a strong foundation to approach male colleagues as allies in the workplace.
Radha’s CEG classmate Ravi Koka, Founder & CEO, Stocksnips Inc., who has been a friend for over forty years says:
“Radha’s determination and hard work with a purpose make her successful in everything she does. She does not give up easily even under trying circumstances. I am always surprised at the energy and courage she demonstrates in challenging situations. A great role model and inspiration for everyone.”
Radha graduated in 1971 with a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering.
Higher Studies and Career
In 1972, Radha came to the USA for graduate studies at the University Of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles. During her graduate studies, Radha worked as a research fellow at the Martin Luther King Hospital in the troubled section of Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, infamous for riots in 1968. It required her to take two public buses to commute to the area which was generally considered unsafe. As part of the graduate studies co-op program, she worked in Xerox’s research facility in El Segundo. She obtained her master’s degree in computer engineering with a minor in biomedical engineering in 1974. Her research involved computerization of ECG and developing algorithms.
In 1977, Radha received an offer to work as a Research and Development (R&D) Engineer on ultrasound imaging at Hewlett Packard (HP) Laboratories. At HP, Radha moved steadily up the corporate ladder, holding management positions in R&D, sales, and general management in various US locations such as Atlanta and Boston. In 1983 she moved to Germany as HP’s European Sales & Marketing Manager of diagnostic medical products. In 1985, this broad experience propelled her to take on a very risky assignment in HP, that of establishing a software business in India which was a virgin territory for software development and business.
The first HP office in India was Radha’s dining room at her New Delhi house. Later, she set up HP’s national sales and R&D operations as well as the India Software Operation. The HP software center with its groundbreaking first satellite datalink was started in Bangalore in 1987, and a joint venture with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) was started in Chennai. In 1989, Radha moved back to the USA to become General Manager of HP’s International Software Organization. Her responsibility spanned eight software centers around the world. When Radha left HP in 1998, she had grown its electronic business software division into a $1.2 billion operation. In 1992, Radha participated in the Stanford Executive program where her fellow classmates were executives from all over the world, and it gave her a very good perspective and knowledge of globalization.
Radha’s next entrepreneurial chapter began in 1999 when she became the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Support.com. She led the company through initial and secondary public offerings in 2000 and 2003 and built it into a worldwide market leader in support automation software. Support.com’s customers included General Electric, Cisco Systems, Bank of America, Comcast, British Telecom, BellSouth, Procter & Gamble, Verizon, IBM and Bharti Telecom.
In 2006, Radha made a transition from the corporate world to become a social entrepreneur. She and her husband Dipak launched Anudip Foundation, a social enterprise in India, to address critical livelihood needs of youth and young women of rural and urban India through information technology. The foundation was based on a study that identified that the economies of desperately poor and marginalized people can be dramatically impacted by local employment. Anudip began establishing training centers with three locations in the Sundarbans region in the Ganges delta of eastern India. Today, Anudip is proud of more than eighty thousand students who have been trained with 75% placement success since the operations began. Anudip graduates have found jobs in government and private sectors and set up small businesses.
In 2007, Radha became the Regis and Diane McKenna Professor (School of Engineering), Center for Science, Technology and Society, at Santa Clara University (SCU), and founded the Frugal Innovation Lab (now called the Frugal Innovation Hub) with the goal to educate and train engineers to design affordable and accessible solutions under severe resource constraints. She taught several engineering courses supporting the frugal innovation initiative. Radha has co-authored a book, Frugal Innovation, New Models of Innovation and Theoretical Development that will be published by Cambridge University Press in March 2018. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University has featured videos with Radha talking about Social Entrepreneurship and Mobile Technology and Social Media.
In 2012, Radha founded iMerit Technology Services, an on-demand digital data services company that delivers data, content, and machine learning services to global companies. When started, it was a bold experiment in training young men and women from low economic backgrounds to deliver cutting edge technology solutions in the world. The venture has proven to be very successful, and now iMerit employs a distributed team of twelve hundred youth who come from India’s rural areas as well as from tribal groups. Women form fifty-four percent of the workforce. For these young women, iMerit is not only a place to earn a living that provides five to fifteen times what their families earn, but a very strong sense of being able to think and fend for themselves. In an environment where young women are not used to voicing their opinions, these young women have learned to do so, and are highly respected in their families. They feel proud of being able to work with the latest technologies and contribute to the economy. iMerit also employs previously insurgent young men and they are some of the most fiercely loyal iMerit employees. The average age of an iMerit employee is 24.6. As many as a thousand employees are Anudip Foundation graduates.
The company reflects iMerit CEO Radha’s strong belief in women as expressed in the article Solving for India: Five startups tackling social problems in Forbes India:
“I have fundamentally one belief: That is in the power of youth and young women, particularly rural, marginalized and minority folks”
It is very inspirational for entrepreneurially-oriented young people to see Radha talk about iMerit in videos such as Rich Data Summit: Radha Basu (iMerit) – Human-Empowered Data and Risk-taking and creating lasting social impact with iMerit.
Radha’s mentee, Hallie Noble, Sector Manager at Village Capital, says:
“From leading at HP at a time when women, especially brown women were not normally at the table, to leading a company to IPO, to her dedication to creating opportunities for women in West Bengal Radha has been an idol for a lot of women, especially me. There is nothing more inspiring than having someone who has accomplished so much believe in you and fight for you to succeed. Radha does that for me and so many women all over the world.”
Radha has always found time in her busy life to mentor and inspire women in engineering and technology, and this has garnered praise and several awards including Silicon Valley Business Journal Women of Influence Award, the UN Women-ITU Gender-Equality Mainstreaming Technology Award, Top25 Women of the Web, CEO of the Year 2000, and the Global Thinker 2017 award for Excellence in Youth Development. She has been featured in Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Upside Magazine and Economic Times. Radha has delivered guest speeches at the Wharton School, the Stanford Business School, Santa Clara University, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and the Forbes Executive Summit. She had served as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Simmons School of Management and has served on the boards of ReSurge International, MIT Global Climate Change Consortium, Center for Science Technology and Society, and C.E.O. Women. Currently, Radha serves on the boards of NetHope, Jhumki Basu Foundation, and Santa Clara University’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
In March 2018, CEG will honor Radha with its Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Radha’s father passed away in 1978 and her mother in 1997. She also lost her sister Shanti, a mathematics teacher at Delhi’s Carmel Convent, in 1998 in tragic circumstances, and her older sister Vijayalakshmi in 2008. These losses have been tremendous since the three sisters were very close.
Radha met her future husband Dipak Basu at an electronics conference at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). They got married in 1975. Dipak is a graduate of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, and has a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from USC. After holding senior positions in Cisco in product management and professional services for a number of years, Dipak focuses his energy in social entrepreneurship. He is the Founding Executive Director of NetHope, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Jhumki Basu Foundation, and Founder and CEO of Anudip Foundation. Dipak, an avid sports fan, also serves on the board of Olympic Gold Quest.
Radha and Dipak’s only daughter Jhumki was born in 1977. She was a brilliant scholar. She attended Stanford University, where she received a B.A. in Human Biology in 1998 and completed her doctorate in Science Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, in 2006. At the time of her tragic death due to breast cancer at age thirty-one in 2008, she was associate professor of Science Education at New York University. Called by many a soldier of the oppressed, her legacy to encourage at-risk urban minority students to succeed through the study of science lives on through the Jhumki Basu foundation that Radha and Dipak established. The book on Jhumki, Mission to Teach: The Life and Legacy of a Revolutionary Educator, authored by Dipak, has won two Indie awards.
Radha and Dipak have close-knit circles of friends and a loving extended family, and they enjoy spending time with them. They also spend a considerable amount of time on travels between India and their home base in California. Radha delights in sneaking some time away from her busy working life to have some fun, such as, attending the December music festival season at Chennai, or as supporting spouse, a cricket match in South Africa as a detour on one of her Kolkata-California trips.
Youngsters in her circle of family and friends look up to Radha and adore her. Her niece Aparna Bawa, SVP, General Counsel, Magento Commerce, had this to say about her aunt:
“Radha is a force of nature. Incredibly strong, incredibly brilliant…and incredibly loving. What truly amazes me is her ability to scale, from micro to macro, family to work, friend to leader. She is both my inspiration and my solace – someone I can go to for career advice or just a hug when I have had a bad day. I love that dichotomy about her. It’s fascinating.”
High altitude trekking has been a lifelong hobby of Radha and Dipak. They have reached base camps of Mount Everest on the Tibet and Nepal sides and have hiked the Inca Trail in the Andes to Machu Picchu. These extreme-effort experiences serve Radha well in being resilient and taking risks to achieve success in her life.
Trailblazing Technical and Social Entrepreneur
Radha is a trailblazer, a globally celebrated technical woman. She pursued an education in engineering when not many women were doing so and became a wildly successful technical entrepreneur, and then went on to make her mark as a social entrepreneur. Radha endured many personal tragedies, including losing her only daughter who was at the prime of her life to cancer, and her resilience in the face of these tragedies is awe inspiring. She is learning something new and inspiring from the young people she works with and has this to say:
“I am passionately optimistic in the power of youth and young women from underserved backgrounds. They have innate abilities of resilience, risk-taking, moving on from failures and can-do spirit – critical qualities for entrepreneurial success.”
Radha and Dipak are extremely busy individuals. Yet, Radha found the time to talk to me and exchange multiple emails about her life. Dipak provided me the pictures included in this article and helped with input and edits. My sincere thanks to them for the same.
My appreciation goes to Ravi Koka (CEG 1971), Hallie, and Aparna who provided me their personal points of view on Radha to be included in this article.
This is story number twenty-six in my ambitious journey of chronicling the life and work of the early CEG alumnae. If you like what you read, please “like” and share.
My goal is to encourage more girls to study engineering and science, enter the workforce and be equal partners with men in shaping the future of our world. Women face a lot of critical moments in their lives that make them want to leave the workforce. I am hoping the stories of the CEG women will inspire them to stay in it.
I will be writing more such posts and collecting them into a book for publishing.