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Sharanya Rao



Sharanya is the Program Manager at Atoot, a sport-for-development nonprofit which uses football, educational classes and life-skills workshops to help educate and empower girls in rural Nepal.
Sharanya is a teacher, football coach and mentor to hundreds of young girls, as well as a guide and mentor to the young female staff at Atoot. Her goal is to help empower underprivileged, marginalized girls who are beaten down daily (physically, socially, psychologically, emotionally) to find their own voices and make their own choices for their own futures. Sharanya looks forward to using the skills, knowledge and experience she gains through the WLW fellowship to help in the sustainable growth of Atoot. She is also excited that this fellowship will help connect her with a diverse group of strong, independent women world-over who could be positive role-models for the girls she works with.

Sharanya Rao


What is your story?

What drives your work?

My current chosen profession stems from the amalgamation of 2 critical aspects of my life.

First, I am an ex-national level athlete from India, and have been an avid sports person throughout my school and college days, having been a part of various school and college girls teams in addition to athletics - football, field hockey, handball, cricket. In hindsight, sports helped shape so much of who I am today.

Second, I have always been very fond of children and always wanted to work with them in some capacity. I decided to pursue my post-graduation in Education, as that was something I felt passionate about. It was during the course of my studies that I realized that I can combine the 2 of my passions together - sports + education! This led me to finding one of my first jobs in the sports-for-development (S4D) field. During my work as a teacher at an S4D organization called Yuwa in India, I realized my passion for using the power of sports to help bring about gender equity. This led me to support the founding of Atoot in 2019.

Describe your biggest strength as a leader

1. The ability to remain calm and collected, especially in crisis situations. This I believe is one of my greatest strengths as an individual, and as a leader. It enables me to take swift and decisive action and direct others towards appropriate/necessary actions in a calm manner as well.
2. Patience. This is again one of my character strengths which I believe help me be a good leader. I am a patient listener and do not easily lose my cool. This ensures that I always take all perspectives into account and am fair when making any decisions for our beneficiaries, the team and the organization.
3. Communication skills. I am a good listener and convey my thoughts to others clearly and in a timely manner. Effective communication is a key professional skill to have, as a leader even more so.

Describe your biggest challenge as a leader

My role involves managing Atoot staff, and this, I would say is one of the biggest challenges I have faced so far as a leader. I have earlier worked mainly with children, and the skills and temperament required to lead a team of adults is entirely different (In all honesty I think I prefer working with children!). My current and future role at the organization will involve increasing amounts of managing adults, with bigger teams and staff members in various capacities and locations. This is something I would like to be better at.

Consistently following up with my colleagues and ensuring quality work from them is another challenge I face as a leader. While I delegate work and responsibilities amongst the team, ensuring that each of them completes quality work is something I struggle with. Oftentimes they submit substandard work, which I then take upon myself to improve and submit before the deadline. This unnecessarily increases my workload and is not an effective way to lead. I would like to learn to be more firm and assertive as a leader so as to ensure quality results/outputs and a smoother workflow for the organization overall.

Applying to this Fellowship is a step I am taking to overcome these challenges, as I believe this program will help develop my leadership competencies and help consolidate my leadership style.

About the
and the Project.



Vision & Mission

Vision: Her Voice. Her Choice.

Mission: To avail equal sporting and educational opportunities for marginalized girls.

Year Founded


No. of Employees


Years in the Organization

4 years

Annual Budget (USD)


Geographical Area Served

Villages in Shuddhodhan Gaunpalika (Rural Municipality), Kapilvastu district, Nepal. The Southern Terai region of Nepal, along the Nepal-India border.

Organizational /

Project Description

Atoot's ongoing long-term sport-for-development project will be the focus over the course of the fellowship.

Project goals:
a) Empower girls to break free from vicious cycles they are trapped in, enabling them to make their own life choices.
b) Provide diverse platforms for girls to build confidence and nurture empowering, emboldening relationships.
c) Establish safe spaces where girls can gather in a safe and supportive environment to play, learn and be surrounded by positive peers.

Through Atoot’s daily program, we envision girls discovering their inner self worth, own voice, independence and confidence, plus building their educational and personal capacity. Also, we aim to achieve reduction in child marriage, gender based violence, discrimination against girls and women and early school dropout, thus increasing the social status of the girls in their communities. Through our program, we would like to see a new generation of young female leaders who become strong role models, decision makers, family breadwinners and leaders in their communities."

Why is this project important and timely?

What is the target population of your project? 

The project will serve 200+ girls belonging to various castes, ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse and minority agricultural communities (Hindus, Muslims, Madhesis, Dalits, Janjatis, Buddhists and other minorities). The populations the project will work with have multiple, intersectional identities, all of which are marginalized and disadvantaged. The girls and their families belong to the Madhesi community of Nepal - politically and socially disadvantaged, always viewed derogatorily as being ‘migrants’ of Indian origin (untrue, they are indigenous to the land), and therefore not purely ‘Nepali’. The Terai region (southern plains of Nepal), where these communities are based, has always been sidelined economically, politically, socially, developmentally, and has been deemed to be ‘backward’ and the people ‘incapable of growth and development’. As a result, there is very little development work carried out in this region, with these communities - both by the government, as well as other international and national development agencies, NGOs/non-profits and other grassroots organizations. Some of the key constituencies our beneficiaries and their families fall under are - Dalit, Minority and socially vulnerable groups, Survivors of GBV, Rural poor, Young women.

The project will serve to help build awareness on gender equality, girls' rights, as well as the capacities of the girls and young women so they gain confidence, self-esteem and have a voice in their own lives, so that they can make decisions for their own lives for their own futures.

How will you know that you have achieved that impact? What data will you use to assess your impact?

All Atoot staff collect real time, in the field assessments during daily programming, which is then analyzed and written out in our monthly programming reports. At the end of the year qualitative and quantitative data is collected by Atoot staff to monitor and evaluate the success of our project. We distribute Impact Assessment Surveys to our beneficiaries and community stakeholders, which allows us to collect quantifiable data to monitor program success. Lastly, we conduct video interviews with our beneficiaries and community stakeholders to hear first hand accounts of change/impact. Furthermore, experiences & learnings from the field are continuously shared among the staff & incorporated into our organization’s work. Results & learnings from in-class assessments are immediately taken into consideration & used to help plan/design further lessons for the beneficiaries based on their current levels on a weekly and even daily basis.
All these M&E measures are in place which helps us continuously monitor the growth of our girls and the mindsets of their communities which helps us assess the impact our project is having.

How do you anticipate this unique leadership education impacting you personally? What new skills are you hoping too develop & grow through this experience?

Growing as a leader is incomplete without growing overall as a person, which I believe this Fellowship will help me do. Currently, being part of a very small team running a grassroots non-profit organization, the main leadership team has to wear multiple hats and juggle multiple responsibilities, which may sometimes feel overwhelming. While we as a team support each other as best we can, I feel a more concrete support system which can guide me as I grow in my role and responsibilities is the need of the hour. I believe that this unique leadership education will help put me in touch with a larger network of a diverse and much more experienced set of strong women who can advise/guide me, and help solidify my own leadership style.

Where would you like to see yourself professionally in the next 3 years?

My professional growth and development are linked to the growth and development of Atoot, where I am currently Program Manager. Over the next few years, I envision playing a major role in helping establish and grow Atoot’s operations in Nepal. In order to do so, I will need to take on leadership roles and responsibilities that are completely new to me, and I believe that the WLW Fellowship will give me a strong foundation to be able to do so.

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