Kirthi Jayakumar (born 15 December 1987) is an Indian women’s rights activist, a social entrepreneur, a peace activist, artist, lawyer and writer. She is a Commonwealth Scholar, a Vital Voices (VV) Lead Fellow, a VV Engage Fellow, a Local Pathways Fellow, and a World Pulse Impact Leader. Kirthi is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
She founded The Red Elephant Foundation, an initiative built on storytelling, civilian peace-building and activism for gender equality. She also founded The Gender Security Project, an initiative aimed at expanding the global understanding of gender at the policy, legal, and institutional levels. She is the author of Stories of Hope, a collection of short stories; The Dove’s Lament, also a collection of short stories and Doodlers of Dimashq – A Heart Wrenching Tale of Hope From Syria’s Rubble. She received the US Presidential Services Medal in 2011 and two United Nations’ Online Volunteering Awards in 2012 and 2013.
She earned her MA in Sustainable Peace in a Contemporary World from UPeace, Costa Rica, and an MA in Peace and conflict studies from the Centre for Trust, Peace, and Security at Coventry University, on a Commonwealth Scholarship. She has worked as a UN Online Volunteer.
Gender-based violence advocacy and peace activism
Kirthi is an activist on women’s rights issues and peace and conflict. She runs The Red Elephant Foundation. She has worked in voluntary capacities with “16 civil societies and UN agencies” through the UN Online Volunteering program. She is a columnist for the Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age.
Kirthi coded and created Saahas, a mobile app that supports survivors of gender-based violence world over to find support, and that facilitates active bystander intervention. Saahas was listed on the Global Innovation Exchange. The app received recognition from DEF India under the SM4E Awards. For her work with Saahas, Kirthi was listed on the shortlist for the WATC 100 Women in Tech List. Saahas supports access to information and helplines through a mobile app, Facebook Chatbot, and Telegram Chatbot.
In 2013, Kirthi founded her own initiative, The Red Elephant Foundation. She produced two e-Books on entrepreneurship in Africa with the AAE and headed a team that worked for the opening of the first ever school in Okoijorogu, Nigeria, a village that had never had a school for its children until 2013.
Kirthi is an artist, working on pen and ink to curate “Zen doodles.” She uses doodling as a means to express her activism for gender equality and peace education.
She runs an Instagram based project called Femcyclopaedia where she doodles portraits of inspiring women through the ages and from across the world and curates their stories under these portraits. The story of Femcyclopaedia won a Story Award from World Pulse in February 2017.
Kirthi curated an exhibit for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month at the US Consulate General in Chennai as part of Femcyclopaedia.
Stories of Hope is Kirthi’s first solo book, comprising a collection of short stories. She co-authored a book titled Love Me Mama: The Unfavoured Child, along with Elsie Ijorogu-Reed, the founder of Delta Women NGO. She is also the author of The Dove’s Lament, published by Readomania. The book was nominated for the Muse India Young Author’s Award in 2015. A review by Femina of The Dove’s Lament suggests that, “Kirthi embroiders a tapestry of unvanquished human spirit in words.”
The Times of India reviewed The Dove’s Lament, with its critic opining that “…The Dove’s Lament takes the reader to several such places with a compassion that shakes you to your very core.”
Kirthi wrote a play, Frankly Speaking, which, essentially starts off from where The Diary of Anne Frank ends. The play channels the voices of eight young women from conflict zones in different parts of the world, and is interspersed with passages from The Diary of Anne Frank.
She also wrote and acted in HerStory, which brings twelve women from history alive through poetry, performed through contemporary dance in sync with spoken word poetry. Kirthi wrote a monologue and performed it as part of Dolls, by Crea-Shakthi.
Kirthi also lent her voice to the audiobook version of “Like A Girl” by Aparna Jain, where she narrated the stories of Justice Leila Seth, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, Dipa Karmakar, Shah Bano Begum, Tessy Thomas, and Gauri Sawant.
Awards and recognition
Kirthi is the recipient of the United States Presidential Service Award from US Consul General Jennifer McIntyre. She won the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. She received two United Nations Online Volunteering Awards, in 2012 and 2013, for her work with Delta Women and the Association for African Entrepreneurs.
In 2015, Kirthi was nominated for the Digital Women Awards 2015, presented by She The People TV.[
In March 2016, she was one of the EU top 200 Women in the World of Development Wall of Fame. She was also one of the nominated changemakers for the United State of Women 2016. She is a two-time story award winner with World Pulse, and her work has been picked up and published by Time Magazine.
Kirthi has been acknowledged by India Today as one of the “Game changers” in the city of Chennai, “who are transforming the city with inspiring thought and hard work.”
She was the youngest speaker to address a gathering at FICCI FLO, Chennai.
In September 2016, Kirthi was a shortlistee for the Rising Stars Award 2016 by We are the City India, which she went onto win. In October 2016, she was recognized as one of the “52 Feminists” by 52Feminists.com.
In October 2016, Kirthi was recognized as a Burgundy Achiever at the Digital Women Awards 2016, presented by She The People TV. She received the Peace Award from the Global Peace Initiative in November 2016. She was selected as an Impact Leader at World Pulse in November 2016. She won the Orange Flower Award for Video Blogging, awarded by Women’s Web. Kirthi was featured in Sarah Brown‘s Better Angels Podcast alongside UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Harriet Lamb, and Jakaya Kikwete.
Kirthi was featured on Google’s WomenWill Landing page on International Women’s Day, 2017, as part of a five-women-stories feature by World Pulse. She was declared as one of “eleven of India’s feminist bloggers who are making a difference to women’s lives” by Women’s Web. She was featured on Show of Force: Social Good. She was awarded Outstanding Social Entrepreneur (NGO) of the Year, by FICCI FLO Chennai (2018) Kirthi received the Heroes of Chennai Award in the Social Good category in November 2018. She also served as a member of the youth council as part of the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education). She was nominated for the Better India’s COVID Soldiers award in September 2020, and the We are the City TechWomen100 Awards for Global Achievement.
List of awards received
- US Presidential Services Medal (Gold, Silver and Bronze) 2011–2012
- UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (Delta Women) 2012
- UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (Association of African Entrepreneurs) 2012
- UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (Delta Women) 2013
- UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (Association of African Entrepreneurs) 2013
- Finalist, Muse IndiaYoung Author’s Award in 2015
- Rising Stars of India Award (We Are The City India) 2016
- The Peace Award (Global Peace Initiative) 2016
- Orange Flower Award for Video Blogging, Orange Flower Awards, (Women’s Web), 2016
- Local Pathways Fellow (UN SDSN), 2017
- Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2017 (Brew Magazine)
- Young Achiever (Entrepreneurship) MOP Yuva Samman (2017–2018)
- Outstanding Social Entrepreneur (NGO) of the Year, FICCI FLO Chennai (2018)
- Nominee, True Honour Awards, 2018
- Outstanding Woman Achiever Award 2018, FICCI FLO, Jaipur (2018)
- Vital Voices VV Engage Fellow (2018)
- Heroes of Chennai – Social Good (Rising) (2018)
- HerStory Woman on a Mission Award (March 2019)
- Web Wonder Woman (Ministry of Women and Child Development, Twitter India and Breakthrough India) (March 2019)
- CII-IWN Award for Unsung Heroes, March 2019
- Best Feminist Voice, The Lifestyle Journal Awards, August 2019
- The TIAW World of a Difference Award, October 2020
- Game Changers: Untold Stories Of Indian Feminists From The Past And The Present(Hay House India, 2020)
- The Doodler of Dimashq(Readomania, 2017)
- The Dove’s Lament(Readomania, 2015)
- Stories of Hope(Maitreya, 2013)
- Mother of the Nations(Demeter Press, Contributor, 2015)
- Routledge Handbook of South Asian Criminology(Routledge, Contributor, 2019)