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Approaching Life Intuitively, Creatively and From a Place of Love: Honoring Priya Haji

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Please join us in remembering a truly inspiring woman of the Women 2.0 community who was an amazing entrepreneur, mom, mentor and friend.

By Shaherose Charania (Founder & CEO, Women 2.0)

It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the devastating news of the sudden passing of Priya Haji earlier last week.

She was an amazing and generous woman who touched everyone she met. She was also deeply involved in the Women 2.0 community. She spoke at our conference and at our San Francisco City Meetup, in fact she hosted a Founder Friday at her startup, SaveUp’s office in San Francisco. Priya was contributor to our blog and a big supporter of women in technology.

I first “met” Priya before I got to know her in person. In 2006 or 2007, I first heard about her social venture, World of Good and was instantly inspired by her work — she truly defined the work of what social entrepreneurs do. World of Good was a pioneer in promoting Fair Trade, a difficult model to make a sustainable business, but with creative approaches and strong intuition, Priya built what many couldn’t. I thought to myself, “When I grow up, I want to be just like Priya.” I knew our paths would cross one day.

Over the years, I followed Priya’s work with World of Good, its subsequent sale to eBay and other leaps she was making in defining what it meant to make money and to do good. She spoke to my core, my purpose in life. She was operating from a place of love and these businesses were being launched from her creative approaches and sustained through her strong intuition.

In 2011, I was scouting for executive team members for Women 2.0. While in New York City, I met Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething, who was also changing the world through social impact. She told me Priya and I NEEDED to meet each other.

I calmly accepted Nancy’s offer to introduce us, but inside, I was literally jumping up and down! I’d get to meet someone I truly connected with who had the same values as I did — making money and doing good.

When we met, Priya was probably nine months pregnant and just getting started with SaveUp, her newest venture. She told me she couldn’t wait to find a partner so she was doing it on her own. What?! She was founding yet another company and having a baby on her own?

As I’m sure many of you reading this know, founder life is hard. It’s hard to make sure even the little things are covered — the household chores, the cooking of meals, the making time for friends and family. But Priya was doing all that and more. When I expressed my admiration, she told me this: “You are ready to have a child when you are ready for your world to be about something more than yourself.”

Yup, she nailed it.

After that first meeting, Priya gave her time generously to Women 2.0. Her advice was concrete, business driven and honest. She spoke at a City Meetup, hosted a Founder Friday in the SaveUp offices and wrote for us, all the while sharing her social entrepreneur visions with the entire Women 2.0 community.

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Anything I asked, Priya responded to, thoughtfully, gracefully. She made time, she made energy. As I got to know her more I observed that she lived her life with strong intuition, abundant creativity and from a place of love. These traits were clear in all her ventures, all her decisions and all her interactions with others.

This past year I got a call from Good World Solutions (a spin out from the non-profit arm of World of Good, which Priya also started) asking to join the board to serve Priya’s mission of fair wages, fair working conditions and more opportunity in emerging markets by leveraging mobile technology. Of course my answer was instantly yes.

Priya and I had lunch just two months ago and talked about concrete ideas for Women 2.0, men and our love lives (well the absence of) and above all how we should always take care of our own selves, because founder life was hard. Priya, I did take your advice. Thank you.

Months after we first met in 2011, I rushed home when my father, also young, also an entrepreneur and also someone who worked in the service of his community suddenly passed of a heart attack at age 56. The only thing I could make sense of then, was that God (however you understand it, a greater force of sorts) takes the good ones early sometimes. At 44, Priya also (as we’ve been told) passed of a heart attack.

The Good Priya Brought to the World

The above is all my personal experience with Priya, but I want to make sure the whole community is aware of this amazing woman and all that she brought to the world – how she embodied a life of strong intuition, abundant creativity and authentic love.

She was truly an inspiration. She was driven by changing the world, and every startup or organization she founded made the world a better place. She wasn’t afraid to try crazy ideas — often those innovative ideas worked and she found a way to solve a real problem for people with technology. In 2011, she co-founded SaveUp, a financial rewards program that makes saving money and reducing debt easier and fun.

Prior to SaveUp, she was the founder and CEO of World of Good. There, Priya was dedicated to building ethical shopping experiences with mainstream retail partners and brought together a team of do-gooders to address global poverty. The company was acquired by eBay in 2010. From World of Good’s non profit arm spun out the non-profit Good World Solutions — dedicated to supporting and protecting workers in emerging markets. She touched the entire supply chain of ethically sourced goods!

She was also the co-founder and executive director of Free at Last, a national model for substance abuse treatment and HIV/AIDS intervention. For her work with Free at Last, Priya was recognized by the DoSomething Foundation, MTV and Mademoiselle Magazine as one of America’s Ten Most Outstanding Young Leaders.

In an interview with Forbes several years ago, Priya shared this advice:

I think the best ideas to solve the biggest problems are still out there to be done – and someone reading this article might have one. If that is you – trust yourself, and go for it!  The worst thing that can happen is that it will not work, and who knows you might create something even better than you imagined. 

I want to end with one last quote that fully embodies Priya’s legacy. It’s from Firoz Rasul, the President Emeritus of Aga Khan University at his convocation speech at Simon Fraser University, Canada in 2001.

In your lives, you will meet people who are either givers or takers. Giving or sharing is not just giving of money, but also of time, ideas and knowledge, of opportunity, credit and hope, of respect and dignity, of care, comfort and protection, and of benefit of the doubt. And you will also meet people who take credit, take your time, and take away opportunity or respect. Givers do so for no personal gain or reward. They have no expectation of a return or a reciprocal gesture. Their giving is unconditional.

Priya was a Giver.

May Priya’s short but impactful life grounded in intuition, creativity and love be a source of inspiration for us all. Creating profits while leaving the world in a better place is a challenge but we now know, not impossible.

Please keep Priya’s family in your thoughts, especially her two children.

 In the above video, Priya shares her thoughts on our High Impact Leadership panel at our Spring 2014 Conference in San Francisco. 

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Shaherose is currently the President and CEO of Women 2.0. At heart she is a mobile and telephony junkie. She’s led new consumer products at Ribbit (BT). Previously, she was Director of Product Management at Talenthouse and JAJAH (sold to Telefonica/O2). Follow her on Twitter at @shaherose.