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Malini Gowrishankar, the dynamic entrepreneur behind F5Escapes, dreams of an India where women can travel freely. And she’s helping to make it happen!
“The Delhi rape case was what pushed me to do something in the women travel and safety space,” says Malini Gowrishankar, one of the winners of the Women’s Web instituted Orange Flower PayU Inspiring Woman Entrepreneur Awards in 2017. Malini, Founder of F5Escapes, a travel company with a focus on crafting and executing all-women travel experiences, started the company in 2013 to make India “an amazing place for women to travel”.
Malini was a software engineer for seven years and a voice-over artist for four years before starting F5 Escapes; interestingly, that is how she came up with the name F5 Escapes. “I used to be a techie. F5 sounded apt for a venture that wanted to bring about a refreshing touch to the way women travelled.”
Malini, on being asked about her journey so far, tells me that her four year journey at F5 Escapes has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. “There have many difficulties, just like any fledgling business and it would be very unfair to say that I overcame it all by myself”, she adds, talking about her partner and the Co-Founder of F5 Escapes, Akanksha Bumb, “it was a matter of team work rather than individual effort”. She further says that when they were acknowledged as one of the positive businesses around the globe in the ‘Positive Business Project’ by the University of Michigan, it was one of the best moments of her business career as in her words, “being acknowledged for other traits as a business is nice, but being acknowledged for our values is an incredible feeling”.
An ardent traveller herself, Malini believes that travelling has made her a better person. “Over the years, I have met some amazing people through my travels – people who are social changemakers, entrepreneurs, travellers, nomads and more. I have also met a few difficult people along the way. I have also seen beautiful places and sometimes witnessed the reality of the place beyond the touristy facade”, she reveals.
“Travel lends a kind of perspective like no other. It can make a woman confident in her own self and give her the necessary strength to face the world and her daily struggles back home”, is Malini’s ardent belief. The infamous Delhi rape case of 2012 that shook the country is what influenced Malini to set-up F5 Escapes, as she felt the need to give women a wider canvas than shut them up. She says, “I believed the idea should be sustainable in the long run and the best way to work that out is to set-up a business with a focus on impact.”
F5 Escapes, besides providing women with enriching tours initiated by the company, also provides customized tours or travel itineraries for women who wish to travel alone. At times, they have even helped in convincing the families to let women travel alone or with a group. “There are quite a few families who get involved in the decision making process, especially in the case of their daughter travelling”, she further says, although, “Things are changing and definitely more women are opening up to the idea of travelling on their own. Very rarely, do we find it tough to convince the family”.
A working mother, Malini tells me that she and her son have travelled a lot with each other, without each other and also come back to share their experiences with one another. She believes that it is a good idea to let the child travel with other members of the family or close friends too, right from early childhood, so that they understand how to travel on their own and more importantly, for the mother to let go of the child for his/her own growth, once in a while. According to her, “That taste of freedom will let them respect their mother’s space and choices too and a secure relationship between a parent and a child, where both know that they will still be okay in each other’s absence is a good thing to aim for”. She adds, “The anticipation of the reunion, the stories and the excitement make it all worthwhile!”
In the end she sums her journey up saying, “ The previous generations saw the fight against female infanticide, sati etc. and later on, for educating women (we still are fighting this fight too). Our generation is trying to put more women in the workplace. The future generations will see more and more women claiming their personal space, freedom to travel etc. A large number of women being able to safely travel definitely also paints a better picture of the country itself – as a safe, preferable travel destination for women, which is something I’d like my country to be known for, in my lifetime.”
Malini’s dream is one we would all like to see come true in our lifetimes!
Image courtesy Malini Gowrishankar