Connecting the dots

Mercy Corps needed someone who could take chances, instill confidence in donors, and help build something where nothing existed. Anita Ramachandran (‘02, ‘07) was the ideal candidate. She had recently left the corporate world to search for ways to have a more meaningful impact. Mercy Corps was ready to grow a new social enterprise called MicroMentor, an online platform that connects mentors and entrepreneurs. “This job is the perfect combination for my business skills and passion for relationship building,” Ramachandran says. “I want to inspire trust, forge partnerships, and find solutions to problems.”
 

After working with the program, Ramachandran took over as MicroMentor’s Executive Director three years ago. Success stories fuel her excitement. For example, a town in Guinea now has its first-ever dental care because a young dentist gained the business skills and confidence he needed to open his own dental practice there. “He’s improving the health of so many people,” Ramachandran affirms. “This is how technology should be used. It’s amazing work that’s changing lives on a daily basis.”

A non-traditional path

Ramachandran came to the U.S. from India at age 18 as part of an arranged marriage. She soon became pregnant which put her higher education goals on pause. Looking back on her life, Ramachandran says, “I feel very fortunate. This path taught me so many things, and every bit of my life experience contributed to all the things I’ve done.”

A prime example of her unique experience began when a woman in her daughter’s playgroup described a friend’s struggle with domestic violence. The group saw that South Asian women faced unique challenges to assistance in the U.S. and they decided to help. Nine women co-founded SAWERA (South Asian Women's Empowerment & Resource Alliance). Over the next 15 years, Ramachandran served on SAWERA’s board of directors, deeply involved at multiple levels. “It was incredibly eye-opening and it exposed me to the level of impact that I was ready to do,” she says.

A force for change

When her husband took a job in Portland, Ramachandran started college part-time and eventually transferred to PSU. “I absolutely loved being a student and felt that everyone at PSU was so invested in the process,” Ramachandran recalls. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, Ramachandran completed the MBA Plus program. “It was led by Carolyn McKnight, and she became a real force for change in my life.”

Ramachandran’s MBA skills helped expand the MicroMentor program from a local platform into one that serves participants in nearly 200 countries. “I’m trying to fly a plane while building it,” she laughs. As one of Portland Business Journals’ 2019 Women of Influence, her hard work is clearly celebrated. “I love endless possibilities, and the ability to have impact at scale really energizes me. It’s been a very rewarding process to go through the journey of my own growth and the growth of program.”