Shiksha Mahtani’s instinct is to step into a leader role and act when she hears about a problem. Take the famine in Somalia.

“I read an article in The New York Times about the famine and how 750,000 people were dying every few months because they didn’t have food to eat,” says Mahtani, ’14. “I realized I could be doing something about it.”

She started an aid organization during her sophomore year called Fight the Famine and raised nearly $3,500 by selling blue wristbands with a single star representing the Somalian flag to donate to The African Future, an aid organization that directly serves Somalis.

“It was a shock when I realized that the money I was spending on coffee each day could feed a starving Somali for two weeks,” says Mahtani.

She created a promotional video to put on YouTube, started a Facebook page for the organization and spread the word on campus. People from around the world purchased the wristband to contribute to the cause.

“Leading the project and seeing how people were willing to help these people who were dying gave me hope for the future,” says Mahtani, who graduated with a double major in leadership studies and political science.

“I definitely evolved as a person and as a leader during my four years here,” she says.

Born in Chile and raised in “a traditional Indian household” in Tennessee, she used her time at Richmond to become immersed in international issues.  

“I’m a second generation Indian American, so I wanted to bring a little bit of the Indian culture to campus. Especially since I have had three different cultures play a major part in my life,” she says.

She became a leader for the South Asian Student Alliance and started dance group Bollywood Jhatkas on campus. She also conducted research through the Jepson School on the differences in rape laws in the U.S. and India and Indian American women’s perceptions of women’s issues.

Although Mahtani is currently weighing job offers in multiple fields, she eventually plans to go to graduate school. She is also working to make Fight the Famine a tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

“I’m not done with this project,” says Mahtani. “Hopefully it will be something that I work on for the rest of my life. I feel that strongly about it.”