International Women's Day Interview: Usha Sundar, Co-Founder, Hi5 Youth Foundation - Startup Terminal

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day Interview: Usha Sundar, Co-Founder, Hi5 Youth Foundation

Name: Usha Sundar
Age: 54
City: Mumbai, India
Occupation: Co-Founder, Hi5 Youth Foundation (

ST: Please tell us briefly about you:

Usha: Just like most women, I have worn many hats in my entire life. Having had lot of experience as a fulltime mother, homemaker I can definitely say giving attention to your children when they are young is an absolute sacrifice one has to make. Slowly and steadily, I returned back to graduate school in USA when my husband was doing his stint with his company’s overseas operations and few startups there. When graduate school ended, started work as a curriculum designer and instructor  - again with flexible hours, so that I could see myself spending quality time with my boys. As parents, we did our best to see them blossom into responsible world-class citizens and let our children follow their dream.

However, our life was always centered on sports. Our boys while they were young tried all sports and finally settled with playing basketball during their school years. Over the years, my husband and I took up golf and played a lot when children left the nest. Besides academics, it was driving them to tournaments, games and school related activities. Also, all our birthdays were centered on watching NBA games in the stadium as a family.

There are many valuable lessons I learnt from volunteering at the community level. Started off as a classroom volunteer when the children were young in Elementary school to basketball games during their high school years. Moved on to spear heading bone marrow drive at the community level. At every step, there was phenomenal learning before moving back to Mumbai and starting Hi5.

Now at Hi5, we are able to nurture and build enough basketball talent in Mumbai and vicinity especially girls who otherwise would have been deprived of their opportunity. Basketball is mostly played in private schools and clubs and these underprivileged children may not have the resources or ability to compete if Hi5 had not existed. Giving them this edge energizes me to scale further and give many more opportunities.

ST: Who is the woman who inspires you the most and why?

Usha: Serena Williams. She is from a humble African-American background, her father raised her tough, she broke all barriers in the conservative white tennis circuit and she emerged the best. She is a perfect role model to all girls.  A young mother now, she is back in tennis in full force. Girls playing sports are the most confident, have huge self-esteem, and they become leaders in their own career or space.
At home, I admire Sania Mirza, Sania Nehwal and PV Sindhu. They have broken the barriers in their own conservative cultural community and have emerged leaders in sports.

ST: How are you celebrating this year International Day?
Usha: Our organization has few women employees. We are trying our best to raise this ratio soon. However, we are in equal numbers when it comes to recruiting children in our basketball program.

Therefore, every year I honor the women employees with a small gift, personal hand written notes on how they are so special in this organization and the women have the power to take the organization to the next level

Since Hi5 is spread all over Mumbai and vicinity (14 centers), though I may visit few centers to see my Hi5 children but not all – the Hi5 sports coordinators do a good job of praising girls on how valuable they are to the society and to the basketball community.

ST: What is the most important message you want to send out to all women around the world on this occasion?

Usha: Volunteer! Volunteer! Volunteer! Women can make huge impact in all social causes. Women have empathy and power to make change. Make a difference in the life of every underprivileged child. More than just writing check, get involved in a child’s life and see them smile when you made a difference. There is nothing more valuable than seeing a child smile. After all, they are the future citizens of the world.

Research says, if a woman plays sports, she emerges as a leader. Today’s top Women CEO’s in the world have played sports in their lifetime. I would encourage all parents to give their girls an opportunity to play competitive sports; this will definitely allow them to follow their dream.

ST: What according to you is ‘woman empowerment’?

Usha: Woman empowerment is all about giving girls/ women in your community to move away from gender biases and make them feel and sense equality in whatever they do.

In a recent Hi5 Annual Tournament (only girls day), there were 200 girls in the stadium playing basketball for 10 hours of the day competing – every girl showed her confidence, grit, and above all their talent. The crowd was getting excited as few games were going over time, the girls were real fighters on the field. For me, this is “women empowerment”.

ST: What would you say are the main challenges facing woman at present in India?
Fear of walking alone
Not getting equal opportunities in all sectors
Sports not encouraged at all especially with girls

ST: Where do you want to see yourself in the next 5 years?

Usha: I want to see that we scale up the Hi5 model first to interior Maharashtra to 7-8 districts and then to other parts of India (about 5-6 states), so that many children around the country get this opportunity to play and succeed in life. I see talent in most tribal children - therefore whatever expansion we do we will cater to the tribal community. They are still left behind and more alternative paths are needed to bring them on par with the rest of the population. In sports, they can definitely fill the void. Tribal girls need sports more than anybody. To spread Hi5 and get more girls involved in basketball in the country is my current goal.

Usha Sundar