Swathy Prithivi, an Interintellect host and a pioneering woman herself, shares her thoughts on her upcoming SuperSalon with Jyoti Thottam — author and senior opinion editor at The New York Times. The salon Pioneering Women discusses Jyoti’s recent book, Sisters of Mokama, exploring themes of building as a woman and an outsider.The book tells the inspiring story of six determined nuns from Appalachia who braved unimaginable odds to build a hospital in India that continues to transform lives even today!
In this interview, Swathy talks about how being an immigrant has shaped her own experience and shares some of the questions she’s looking forward to unpack with Jyoti. She explores how the lessons in this book are relevant for founders intent on forging their role in another society.
On Building as an Outsider
“Being an immigrant fundamentally shapes you whether you realize it or not, as the ultimate outsider. It has indelibly shaped me in many ways, the most obvious being that this has increased my ceiling on what I thought possible,” Swathy says, talking about her own experience of building her company Found.
She references Peter Thiel’s famous Stanford class where he talks about how founders are extreme insiders and extreme outsiders at the same time. It’s this duality that makes the book universally appealing. There’s a strange heroic arc of going from outsider to insider that all builders and creators face.
On Themes She’s Looking to Explore
Sisters of Mokama is a story of trailblazing women who succeeded against all odds during the tumult and trauma of World War II and the India-Pakistan partition to build something of enduring value. This is the major theme that Swathy is hoping to unpack, with questions like: What does it mean to build as a woman and circumvent the gender norms of the larger context you’re coming from? and, How do outsiders become insiders and how do they navigate change in the community?
Anyone trying to build something has something to learn from these nuns, Swathy says. “Talk about the immense faith and dedication to the cause the nuns must have faced to set up the nursing school Jyoti talks about — they’re the ultimate founders!”
She believes that there are advantages to being an outsider — a fresh perspective and distance from familiar social norms and limitations can allow you to dream bigger and create something that you didn’t think was possible before.
On Her Upcoming ii Salon
When asked about her upcoming ii salon, Swathy says her goal is to talk to the wonderful author who brought this story to life and to learn more about the story and the context. She is also looking to tease out broader themes for anyone building or creating something new in the face of daunting odds as an outsider and hopefully arrive at answers for how such outsiders can go on to create an institution or movement that endures for decades.
Like anyone educated in a convent in India, I knew about the Sisters of Mokama. However, the conversations were more focused on the good that they did rather than the struggles and pain they had to endure. I am very much looking forward to attending this salon and exploring these themes with Swathy and Jyoti, whose personal connection to this story makes it a promising conversation.
Hope to see you there!