Anu Sehgal: Spreading the Love of Culture and Heritage
Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only Interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Anu Sehgal, founder of The Culture Tree. Let’s see what she is doing to make a positive and contribute to UN SDG 4: Quality Education. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: I’m delighted to finally have the chance to chat with you, Anu! Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me what challenge you’re addressing?
Anu: Namaste, Spiffy! Thanks so much for having me. My company, The Culture Tree, promotes cultural literacy about South Asia through language and educational and cultural programs. Our goal is to create empathy, respect, and understanding towards all different cultures, and further inclusivity while still helping address questions about identity with heritage cultures.
Spiffy: This sounds like a big undertaking! What exactly at motivated you to do this?
Anu: Great question, Spiffy. My biggest motivation is seeing my two boys (ages 12 and 9) love and be proud of their heritage. I also love it when I see children and their families learn about other cultures and other ways of life. I strongly believe that once we teach children about all the cultural diversity, we offer them new experiences which helps build empathy and responsibility.
Spiffy: I love to learn about new cultures too! Can you talk a bit about how are you are working to create a more equitable world?
Anu: Well, Spiffy, every aspect of our business is to make the world more equitable. Last Sunday we hosted our first in-person event since COVID, called Color For India. It was a platform to raise funds for COVID relief in India while celebrating Holi, the Indian spring festival of colors. Not only did we make other children and families experience a new culture, but our fundraising effort was headed by Indian-American children. They raised funds for underprivileged children in India who have been impacted due to school closures. We have several initiatives like this—we want children to think beyond their lives and their little worlds.
Spiffy: It’s a vast and beautiful world, Anu, that’s for sure. Has The Culture Tree achieved any milestones that you’re particularly proud of?
Anu: The New York Public Library recently asked us to create programs for their acclaimed World Literature Festival! We curated 10 books from South Asian authors and created virtual programs that were extremely exciting and successful—one featured kite festivals and the other was about foods and spices. Mayor De Blasio recently honored us on our 5th Year Anniversary by declaring June 20, 2021 "Culture Tree Day" in New York City. All these initiatives help us represent our culture to more and more children and their families. I would love to invite you and your friends to some of these events, Spiffy.
Anu Sehgal, engaging with children at a museum and sharing about India. (Image courtesy of Anu Sehgal)
Spiffy: I’m always curious to find out how entrepreneurs handle failure. What about you? Can you tell us about a time when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn?
Anu: Four years ago I started working with the Children's Museum of Manhattan to set up an exhibit on India—my dream project! We went from concept development to implementation within three months. However, our project was moved to the back burner due to a lack of funds. At first, I was very sad since my team and I had worked so hard on this. But soon I realized that finding funds is one of the most difficult and critical steps. I have since been working with other organizations that have been successful in raising funds. I have also continued to work on cultural programs that don't require millions of dollars in investment.
Spiffy: Well done! Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our readers?
Anu: Spiffy, I really believe that, in life, you have to take the plunge and do what you are passionate about. You can start in any capacity, big or small, but the key is to follow your passion and start somewhere. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”
Spiffy: I think we all need that push to go for it. Thank you for sharing about how you went for it—I think the world will be a better place because of your ideas. It’s been an honor.
Anu Sehgal, founder and CEO of The Culture Tree, worked with NYU's bilingual STARTALK program to develop the program and curriculum for The Culture Tree. She is a marketer and educator by profession and worked in the corporate sector for nearly 15 years. Anu grew up in India, is a native Hindi speaker, and has an MBA from Yale University. (First published on the Ladderworks website on July 12, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.