Priya Haji Will Long Be Remembered

The shock doesn’t ever quite wear off. The Echoing Green community continues to be deeply saddened by the passing of Priya Haji. Many of you may know Priya as one of the most extraordinary serial social entrepreneurs. She was co-founder of Free at Last, World of Good, and her newest venture, SaveUp. We remember Priya as a pioneering visionary, uber impact-driven, and always always authentic. More recently, we reveled in her happiness as she became the mother to Zen and Omi.

We invited a few Echoing Green Fellows to offer their thoughts and rememberances of Priya, her impact on their work, and how she’s shaped the field of social entrepreneurship.

From Benita Singh, 2004 Fellow

The first time I met Priya was in 2004 at the Haas start-up incubator in Berkeley – where World of Good had first set up shop. As soon as I entered, Priya greeted me as though she had known me forever, even though we had just only one or two phone conversations. Her positive energy was infectious and her passion was inspirational.

Over the next few years, Priya became a mentor, a friend, and a big sister of sorts. We challenged each other and laughed together. We brainstormed ideas to promote artisans together and talked about our crushes of the moment. I called on her in good times and in bad times. And regardless of the circumstances (good or bad), her support and positive spirit was unwavering. Priya’s strength, which others couldn’t help but absorb, came from her honesty and how she immediately got to the core of every conversation.

I will miss her.

From Daniel Tellalian, 1998 Fellow

When I was an overwhelmed new Fellow in 1998, I still remember Priya joining our New Fellows conference and showing us what’s what.  She was a force of nature, a force for good.  I remember thinking to myself, if this crazy girl can pull off such incredible ventures here in California–then this whole social entrepreneurship thing must really be possible.  Thank you for showing us the way, dear Priya.  You are an inspiration and live on through all of us.

From Marta Urquilla, 1995 Fellow

“I believe in the inclusivity of service – that everyone has a part to play – and that when the service of one connects to the service of another, and another, and another, a powerful and transformative process can occur.” –Priya Haji

Priya was an amazing and fearless leader. When we met, she lit up my world and all that I believed was possible. She had a great laugh, a bright smile, and an unstoppable drive to make life better and more just for everyone. Little did I know then that she was a dear friend of my husband Jomo Graham, too — whom I had yet to meet and fall in love with. That would come three years later. Our mutual friendship with Priya was one of many confirmations that our love was meant to be.

Three weeks before Priya’s sudden passing, on a glorious Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, we chatted with Priya. I’m so grateful for the conversation and to know that Priya was truly happy and satisfied with her life, her beautiful new family, her grand work at, and the promise of good things to come.

Priya’s boundless spirit continues to move me to be bold, to be selfless, and to be my very best self. I truly would not be who I am without Priya’s influence, inspiration, and friendship. I am ever mindful of her example, and compelled to carry on her loving commitment to serve others. Golden Priya. We love you.

From Vikram Akula, 1998 Fellow

I met Priya in 1998. I had just become an Echoing Green Fellow, and she spoke at our New Fellows conference. As she described Free At Last—the innovative substance abuse treatment organization she founded—I sat in the audience in awe. Here was a 28 year-old who had created something powerful: an organization that was serving thousands of people each year, that had mobilized $20 million of investments, that had already become a national model. I listened—my eyes alight with hope—as she described her journey. She spoke about how her naïve idealism—she was 21 when founded Free At Last—enabled her to overcome challenges. She described how she elegantly blended business principles into her nonprofit venture. It was amazing. She was amazing.

My first thought when I heard what Priya had achieved was that I could never create an organization that had such an impressive impact. But there was something so very down-to-earth, so modest about Priya. She made her achievements sound matter-of-fact, and that matter-of-fact style made me believe that I could do something like that too. Today, as I think back on my 1998 New Fellows conference, the one thing I remember vividly is Priya’s words. “You can do this too. You can create this type of impact. Believe in yourself.”

Indeed, Priya made me believe in myself, just as she made a generation of social entrepreneurs believe in themselves. We will miss her deeply.

It’s hard to find words to understand when such a bright young soul is taken from the world. We are only able to find a little comfort in witnessing the incredible messages of love among her community members during this tragic time. From these messages, it is crystal clear that Priya’s impact will live on in the countless lives she touched, the institutions she launched, and the family she nurtured.

We encourage you to learn more about this incredible individual, and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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