Shared from Romford Recorder, written by Chantelle Billson, in print and online. Digital article here.

A mother-of-two from Havering has been singled out by US president Joe Biden for her dedication to volunteering globally.

Rita Kakati-Shah grew up in Hornchurch, but moved to New York in 2011 where she lives with her husband, Rushin Shah, their eight-year-old son Raahi and seven-year-old daughter Reia.

Her parents, Dinesh Chandra Kakati and Bhabani Kakati, still live in the area.

On January 7, the same day as Dinesh’s birthday, Rita was honoured with the Presidential Lifetime Achievement award for her international mentoring and volunteering to support young people, women and minorities of all ages.

Some of Rita’s recognised work includes empowering women in Assam and Zambia and helping students to draft legal bills around gender equality at the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.

In the US, Rita also volunteers to keep senior citizens company, thank local heroes in her neighbourhood and give motivational talks to schoolchildren.

She said mentoring and volunteering is something she loves to do: “I didn’t have a mentor growing up, so it’s like I’m using something I didn’t have to give back to others.”

It was “surreal” to be nominated, she added.

“When I do these things it’s selfless but the fact somebody, somewhere is recognising that it’s making a difference is really nice.

“I feel very humble and a huge gratitude.

Rita studied at Kings College London and spent a decade working in finance at Goldman Sachs before transitioning into the pharmaceutical industry, which led her to settle down in New York.

She said her journey into motherhood was the catalyst to help her found an international strategy, coaching and training platform called Uma, which aims to empower confidence, inspire success and build leadership skills in women and people from minority communities.

Unlike the UK, the US does not offer paid maternity leave, and Rita had to take around four years off work after the birth of her children.

However, she said the time made her realise how well she could communicate.

She said: “Out of all the jobs I have done, nothing beats how much of a job being a full-time mother was.

“That goes without any doubt, and I learned so many professional skills but wasn’t being paid for it anymore.”

Founding Uma was an “empowerment journey” to “address the issues companies were missing”, Rita said.