An Entrepreneurial Indian-American Power Couple Gives Locally—and Globally

In 1998, SMART Modular Technologies, a computer components manufacturer, was acquired for $2 billion by Solectron. Ajay Shah and his wife, Lata Krishnan-Shah, two-thirds of the co-founding team behind Smart Modular, were only in their late 30s at the time. The couple founded Shah Capital Partners, and these days, Ajay works Silver Lake Capital's middle market strategy, Silver Lake Sumeru.

The Shahs spent their formative years in India and East Africa. Ajay received a B.S. in engineering from University of Baroda in India before earning a master's degree from Stanford. Lata, after time in India as well as Kenya, studied at London School of Economics and then moved to San Francisco to begin a career in finance.

Ajay and Lata first crossed paths in London and then later in the United States. They were married soon after and have been kicking around business ideas ever since. This entrepreneurial couple does philanthropic giving in the states, but a piece of their philanthropy also reflects their ties to India and Africa. In 1997, the pair started moving charitable contributions through the Krishnan-Shah Family Foundation, which gave a little over $700,000 in a recent fiscal year. The foundation has three focus areas: education, at-risk youth, and economic empowerment for women and the underprivileged.

The couple is based in the Bay Area and much of their philanthropy is focused in the region. On the education end, they've recently supported schools like Eastside School in East Palo Alto and Downtown College Prep, a charter school. They created a scholarship fund via the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and have  supported alma maters Stanford and London School of Economics, too. They also recently awarded a grant to Stanford Women’s Cancer Center. Lata is, herself, a cancer survivor, which may explain the couple's motivation.

In terms of youth, the couple supports Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY), a local Bay Area organization that works with incarcerated young people. FLY aims to improve life outcomes through legal education, leadership training, and mentoring.

The couple's final focus is on economic empowerment for women and the underprivileged. In addition to serving as CFO of Shah Capital Partners, Lata also co-founded and co-chairs American India Foundation(AIF), a New York-headquartered outfit that aims to build an India where all people can access affordable education, healthcare, and livelihood opportunities, and where "marginalized Indians can realize their full potential." Another important grantee, here, is Nuru International, a social venture that helps the poor in East Africa.

Other recent grantees include Global Fund for Women, Talking Cranes, a "collaborative platform that inspires women to achieve their fullest potential,” Invest in Muslim Women, and Narika, whose mission is to "promote women’s independence and economic empowerment by helping domestic violence survivors with advocacy, support, information, referrals, and education."

A recent foundation 990 indicated that the charity only accepts unsolicited proposals, so networking appears key for this funder. Both Ajay and Lata are accessible via Linkedin. For a complete look at the Shah family's grantmaking, read our profiles of Ajay and Lata linked below.