A Woman of Substance; Who Makes Meaningful Impacts

Empathy was precisely the one trait that made K. Ratnaprabha an IAS officer with a difference. Be it public administration or grievance redressal or policy formulation, Ratnaprabha was always sensitive to the needs of women, children, and other weaker and marginalised sections. She made an impact where ever she worked with, and stood as a strong pillar for women empowerment, leaving a deep impression in the hearts of many people, and it still continues.

Read on her inspiring story where she battled against many odds and societal norms.

A Woman of Substance

Ratnaprabha has an exemplary record in public service, spanning nearly four decades, ranging from the Social Sector to IT, Infrastructure, Industry & Commerce, Skill Development and Women Empowerment.

She joined the IAS in 1981, and holds post-graduate qualifications in English Literature, Sociology & Public Administration. She has the rare distinction of serving in key positions in both the Karnataka and the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh Cadres in addition to the Central Cadre.

Her initial career was mostly in the Hyderabad-Karnataka Region (now Kalyana Karnataka) which is the most backward region of Karnataka. Starting her career in 1983 as the first woman Assistant Commissioner of Bidar, she rose to assume the position of Chief Secretary to the Govt of Karnataka from November 2017 to June 2018.

“I had the good fortune of having educated parents. My father was an IAS officer and my mother, a doctor. Both led very simple lives but were very progressive in their thinking and outlook. Since childhood, I was treated on par with my two elder brothers and received the same amount of encouragement as they did.” Says Ms.Ratnaprabha

Spearheading government initiatives in Karnataka

Ratnaprabha spearheaded many progressive government initiatives in Karnataka over the years. These included the eradication of the devadasi system and rehabilitation of the devadasi women and their children in Raichur, Bidar, and Kalburgi districts; as well as the implementation of the regional component of the National Literacy Campaign in the Hyderabad-Karnataka Region.

“At the age of 22 or 23, I got posted to Bidar- the most backward district of Karnataka - as its first lady Assistant Commissioner. This was, perhaps, one of the most educative, eventful and challenging assignments entrusted to me in my long civil service career. No water, no housing, poverty, people were laid back. There was no idea about development and that is where I landed and started visiting villages, listening to their grievances and resolving them.” recalls Ms.Ratnaprabha, as she narrates her journey.

She also oversaw the execution of a pilot project called Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) in Chikmagalur. Ratnaprabha was responsible for the drafting of the 2014-2019 Industrial Policy for Karnataka and the blueprints for the Chennai-Bangalore and Bangalore-Mumbai Economic Corridors.

Furthermore, Ratnaprabha led from the front the creation of five exclusive industrial parks for women, and the preparation of a status report on the State Government SC & ST employees in Karnataka.

During her brief 8 months’ stint as Karnataka’s Chief Secretary, Ratnaprabha provided overall direction for the implementation of several major housing & infrastructure ventures including the ‘Smart Cities’ and Bangalore Metro Rail Projects. She was also instrumental in proposing a ‘women-centric and women-sensitive’ State Budget as also conducting the 2018 assembly elections in a highly organised and peaceful manner. 

Following her superannuation, Ratnaprabha was appointed as the Chairperson of the Karnataka Skill Development Authority in December 2019. The appointment came as a recognition of her dynamic leadership and outstanding performance as an administrator.

Undivided focus in undivided Andhra

Ratnaprabha’s civil service tenure during 2005-2011 in the then Andhra Pradesh Cadre saw her in a series of important roles – as Principal Secretary in the Departments of IT & Communications, Public Enterprises, Revenue and Transport. 

As IT Secretary, Ratnaprabha framed the Andhra Pradesh IT Policy 2005 -- one of the earliest known IT policies in the country – and IT Policy 2010. Her policy proposals were instrumental in attracting several MNC’s and IT majors to invest in Hyderabad which led to the growth of Cyberabad, Hyderabad’s very own Silicon Valley.

These proposals also paved the roadmap for women-centric initiatives in the IT sector vis-à-vis workplace safety, transport facilities and maternity benefits.

Ratnaprabha also led the state government’s efforts to establish several Software Technology Parks (STPs) in Visakhapatnam, Tirupati, Kakinada, and Warangal and to percolate sectoral entrepreneurship to Tier II cities. 

In her short stint as the Principal Secretary (Revenue), she proposed to reduce the stamp duty by 1%, if properties were registered in the names of women or girl children. This led to a dramatic increase in the financial independence and economic stability of women in the state.

“I worked as the development commissioner of export processing zone in Vishakhapatnam. There was an entire export zone lying vacant and I started filling it up and that way I felt wherever I went I did my best and left my mark” in her own words.

From state to central deputation

During the late 1990s and beyond, Ratnaprabha proceeded on a couple of Central deputations. Her first assignment was as Development Commissioner to the newly created Visakhapatnam Export Processing Zone (VEPZ) – now Visakhapatnam Special Economic Zone (VSEZ).

In this role, she led the setting up of the first STP in the SEZ. She was also in charge of all the 100% EOUs across the state of Andhra Pradesh as well the Union Territory of Yanam. 

On another Central assignment, Ratnaprabha was appointed as Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Women & Child Development. In this capacity, she held the ex-officio roles of Mission Director, National Mission for Empowerment of Women (NMEW) and also Secretary, National Women’s Commission (NWC). 

Social entrepreneurship her calling through UBUNTU

In 2015, Ratnaprabha founded UBUNTU -- a consortium of women entrepreneurs, the first of its kind in the world. She also created a website called ‘Sheforher’, a platform for highlighting the inspirational success stories of women entrepreneurs. 

UBUNTU, a registered NGO is an innovative idea of unifying all women entrepreneur assocations under a single umbrella. Currently, UBUNTU unifies over 45 associations, spread across 11 states, and has around 21000 members. The consortium has supported women during the COVID 19 crisis, and has held several online training programs on networking, marketing, life-skills, financial management, and business upscaling. 

In 2002, Ratnaprabha was chosen as a panellist for a UNESCAP training program for women entrepreneurs held in The Maldives.

Not ‘All Work and No Play’ 

For Ratnaprabha, it has not been all work and no play. She was the captain of the Osmania University table tennis team and a member of its cricket & shuttle teams. She represented Karnataka at the All-India Civil Services Table Tennis Championship, and topper in the State Table Tennis. She also led the state squad at the All-India Women’s Sports Meet at Hyderabad and won the shuttle badminton doubles at the Karnataka State Veterans’ Championship.