Extraordinary Lives: Reena Borwankar

Parental expectations can weigh heavily on even the biggest dreamers. My own father kept a list of eligible dukes for my sister and I to marry in his desk drawer.

We had other ideas.

I hear the stories of the heavy weight of predetermined prospects from so many of the women I meet in my travels—women who followed the path laid out for them until they were about to burst if they didn’t do something for themselves.

Which is one of the reasons why Reena Borwankar’s story is so intriguing.

When she was a teenager in Bombay her parents encouraged her to head for the United States and pursue an undecided education rather than stay for university in India where most students are working toward careers in medicine or engineering.

“My father in particular urged me to find myself by pursuing a liberal arts undergraduate education,” Reena says.

So she did, leaving parents Jawahar and Chithra and siblings Nikhil and Shibani back home in the busy city for a small women’s liberal arts college in sleepy Frederick, Maryland.

She found her direction there, just as her father had hoped. And maybe because she was surrounded by a welcoming community of supportive women from both neighboring states and all over the world, or maybe because empowered women empower women, Reena found her way to the field of international development and public health, focusing on women’s issues.

She says, “ I work on a lot of projects where we’re trying to integrate gender to improve development outcomes.”

At home, too, her focus is on the future of women. Reena and her husband Jay have two daughters, Maya and Mira. The couple met in India and reconnected while studying here in the U.S.

Reena and Jay are the American dream. Through hard work and relentless determination, they have a built a life that is far different than the bustling city of their teenage years, but brilliant in its own way.

And she makes it look easy. Of course being a mother with a high profile career is never easy. Add in doing it all an adopted country while also traveling to various spots around the globe and surely Reena must feel a sense of struggle at times?

“Honestly, life as a first generation immigrant comes with its fair share of struggles. You have no choice but to grow up quickly and find ways to make it work,” Reena says.

She adds, “I think the hardest part for me was feeling pulled in so many directions – not being able to focus on or really enjoy one thing at a time.”

To remedy that, Reena, who is now a U.S. citizen after 20 years as a permanent resident, decided the time was right to indulge the love of design she inherited from her mother by becoming an India Hicks Ambassador. Our community of women supporting one another appealed to her as much as the chance to flex her creative side. “It’s time to stop, smell the English Rose and have some fun,” she says. “I have my spark back.”

I doubt very much her spark ever left, but I’m pleased to hear it.