Rina Madhani is the co-founder and executive director of Start Lighthouse, a non-profit dedicated to narrowing the nation’s literacy gap by building equitable and inclusive literacy experiences for children and their families.
As a Bronx-based educator, Madhani was moved by seeing her students’ families struggle when conversations arose about their child being held back a grade. So, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the help of her co-founders, she launched Start Lighthouse, hosting pop-up community events to distribute customized literacy toolkits. Just two years later, Madhani and her team have successfully delivered more than 500 hours of programming to schools and families, distributed more than 21,000 brand-new multicultural and culturally responsive books, trained 105 volunteers, and kickstarted more than 5,000 home libraries in the Bronx.
What's the first thing you did when you found out you were chosen as a Women of Worth 2022 honoree?
My jaw dropped — this honor and recognition is something that I dreamed about but never realized would become my reality. I immediately called Alison, my board member who has been mine and Start Lighthouse’s biggest supporter and she immediately reminded me of how deserving I was to be in this moment. Later that evening, I wrote the news in my gratitude journal to celebrate and remind myself of how far I’ve come to be who I am today.
What does this Women of Worth honor mean for you personally and for your organization?
For me the Women of Worth honor is a reminder that I can and should take up space at any table at which I’m seated. As the daughter of South Asian immigrants, I have found a sisterhood where I feel seen, heard, and celebrated. Being in a community with a group of strong women who show up for their communities day in and day out is so inspirational. Start Lighthouse is also women led and women founded. We have reached more than 5,000 students and there are many more students who we seek to support and uplift in our community — now with L’Oréal Paris’ mentorship and platform, it’s possible.
What can this national platform do for your cause?
At Start Lighthouse, we believe that literacy and destiny should not be defined by race or zip code. Thousands of students will grow up illiterate in our city, state, and nation. As a nation, it is important for us to understand the root causes of illiteracy and advocate for ways that this gap can be addressed. With a national platform, Start Lighthouse can share the innovative ways in which we have approached this issue within our community. We actively ensure that age- and culturally-relevant books for our students are readily accessible. By doing so, we ensure our students enjoy and see themselves in what they read, remain engaged in the reading process, and improve rapidly. They know that their history and perspective matters.