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It's hard to pin Shilpa Rao down. One minute she holds a engineering degree and Masters in marketing; the next, she’s heading a start-up for Artificial Intelligence products, within an IT company. Blink, and she's one of the finalists of Haut Monde Mrs. India Worldwide — a platform that recognises the exemplary strength and personality of married women. Clearly she's a lady on a mission. In conversation with the Chennai-based lady as she preps to unleash her potential at the International pageant in Greece.


Shilpa, you were heading a start-up within a IT company for Artificial Intelligence products in the realm of fashion and grocery. And then you took up the cause of saving lakes. What was the nature of work you were doing?


I'm currently heading a start-up within a reputed IT company for artificial intelligence- based products for Fashion and groceries. My role is similar to that of a CEO of the startup- responsible right from conceptualisation of the product to implementation for customers and to drive the revenue targets. We have over 25+ patents applied for the product. I'm co-inventor of many. Growing it from a mere concept to a Rs.500 crore business, it has been an enriching journey for me. My role often requires me to travel worldwide, meet CXOs of grocery and fashion retail and help them understand how our AI powered software product can help them in their strategic decision- making to drive sales growth and margins. This also requires deep understanding of their business and processes and the industry in general. The attention to detail in Fashion really fascinates me. I find the entire process creatively motivating!!


As a start up within the company we had to always find creative ways of doing things.  When we started, we didn't have a lot of funding for operations, let alone marketing. CXO in a multi billion dollar US retailer is not easy. We did not have a budget for a sales team. We just knew we have to sell our innovation, else we had to shut down. While researching the retailer we came across a hackathon that retailer was conducting and it had audiences from the departments we were trying to reach. We worked day and night to get  get the best version of the product out and were successful at the event, which led us to the meeting with the CXO we were targeting. This meeting helped us crack our first deal. Since then we have constantly identified creative ways of making our product better and reaching out to clients. My professional experience has taught me that with vision, belief, focus and action, great things are possible. I want to apply this experience to do greater things. If we, as resourceful citizens, don't take up the causes that impact us, then who will?


Water has been a perennial problem in Tamil Nadu and many states of India. This is something which affects all of us. I can choose to feel sorry about it or do something about it and I choose the latter. While I'm part of smaller initiatives such as planting trees and cleaning the areas as part of various groups, the rate at which the lakes are disappearing, the impact of these initiatives though very positive, is not enough. T'hats where the thought of competing in a pageant came to my mind. I saw beauty pageant winners such as Marushi Chillar and others getting great momentum for their cause. I would like to garner similar or greater attention for this cause, because it impacts all of us. Note: This pageant does not require me to leave my current responsibilities at work!!


So, how did you initially hear about this pageant and what attracted you to participate?


When I was researching beauty pageants, I came across this one through an Instagram advertisement. I recollected that one of my colleague's wife had participated, so I knew it was genuine.I researched past winners and discovered that they had succeeded in their respective fields. Moreover, the transformation that they had gone through was mind boggling — improved communication, confidence and a platform which gave voice to your vision. The pageant was International with celebrity groomers and the quality of the output was phenomenal.


What does the pageant signify to you?


When I signed up for this, I didn't have a clue that it will be so life changing. It signified to me, self discovery and growth. But it has significantly helped me improve the quality of my interactions with a wider set of audiences. The bonds that I formed with other contestants in such a short time is amazing. It is driving me to apply life skills which I have learnt earlier and helping me to explore avenues which I have not, before. I'm looking forward to a better version of me, taking my cause forward.


How did your husband and kids react to news of participation, being finalist and representing India overseas?


My family was thrilled. Both my husband and father are supportive and infact they have turned into Instagram husband and father- helping to click pictures and videos for my online profiles. I have two canine daughters and they are with me through the process; you can see them in some of my videos online. As a married women when you participate in such a pageant, it's not just you who participates, it's your family, friends and social circle which participates. I'm really grateful to all of them for so much love and support.


Tell us about how you trained for the pageant. What was the drill? What were the challenges?


When I participated in the auditions, I was 73 kgs, about 20 kgs over the ideal body weight. While height is not a criteria for selection, the pageant does encourage a healthy fit body. This was also my motivation to get healthy. I'm a hardcore foodie and staying away from the food I like makes me hun-angry. So losing weight had always been a challenge!! The Haut Monde team provided us with a personalised celebrity nutritionist - Dr. Ruchika Sodhi and we have a weekly healthy and easy meal plan. She does not starve us and infact recommends parantha with a dollop of butter on it! I'm already almost half way to the ideal weight journey in about four months.


We had a three- day orientation program in Agra in April where we underwent rigorous training on ramp walk, posing for the camera, make up and beauty tips, verbal and non verbal communication, nutrition, health and fitness, meditation, inner beauty, social media presence and more. From April till October, we have been given daily tasks which are pushing us to practice what we learnt at the orientation. I'm already experiencing a lot of changes in myself.  Including a more confident, positive outlook. I'm doing so many new exciting things which I've never done before, despite a busy schedule and travel. It's an amazing journey. I'm truly loving it.


How do you feel being a finalist in the pageant and participating in Mrs. India Worldwide will help draw attention to the causes you support?


I believe in "We are the change that we seek". In Chennai, where I live, we have been facing drought- like situation for years. I have lakes both near my workplace and my home which are both reserved bird sanctuaries; we get flamingoes and over two hundred species of birds. These lakes support about three hundred species of flora and fauna and I see them dying in front of my eyes. If revived, they could be a potential water source for many people.I can choose to feel sorry about it everyday or choose to save it. I have chosen the latter. Saving lakes needs collaboration from residents, local bodies, government, companies, technology and funding. Getting it all together requires you to articulate the message in the right way and a far reaching voice. I truly believe that Haut Monde Mrs. India Worldwide is a platform which will give a voice to my vision.


Looking back at your experience... how would you advise contestants to gear up for the pageant? What should they focus on?


When I was filling up that form, I knew it was going to be good. But I didn't know it was going to be life changing. For all the girls out there, I would say, 'don't hold back, thinking I'm not good enough. This is the best thing that can happen to you.' My father always told me, "Standing at the foothills gazing at the sky, you won't reach out there if you don't even try." So I would encourage all married women to participate irrespective of age, how you look, your weight, what you do, your marital status. This is a journey of self discovery and transformation to maximise your potential. Be yourself, love your flaws. Keep smiling and don't forget to have fun!!


Are there any tips you would like to share with them to calm last minute nerves... from your experience?


As preparation, visualize the event in your head in detail and then visualize that you have already won. This helps you to get prepared. Once you are prepared, you feel less nervous. While backstage, waiting for your turn, instead of engaging in nervous chatter, get into your zone and mediate on what you will be doing. Do not focus on what others are doing, focus on how you will do your best. Smile, it tells the nervous veins to calm down.


What are you looking forward to the most about Mrs India Worldwide- and how are you preparing for it?


I'm really looking forward to a better version of myself at the end of the pageant, being groomed by all the wonderful celebrity groomers. Also, at the orientation, having made such wonderful friends, I looking forward to meeting all of them at Greece. My work takes me to different parts of the world all the time, but this will be a completely different experience of shooting, bonding and at the same time competing in Greece. I'm looking forward to the experience.

Haute Monde Mrs India Worldwide
Shilpa Rao, Finalist, Haute Monde Mrs India Worldwide
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15-MAY-2019 Shilpa Rao
Thanks so much Jasmeen for this interview!!
15-MAY-2019 Velhankar Vinayak.
All the best Shilpa
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