Three years ago, my world changed completely. Three different surgeries after a road accident left me bedridden and confined to one room for a year and a half. I wondered if I would ever fully recover. I wondered if my career would suffer. I wondered if I would be able to do what I loved—traveling, eating out, and meeting new people. I wondered if I would be happy again.
Thankfully, an optimistic friend planted an idea in my head: “Why don't you leave Google Maps reviews for places you have already visited?” I had no idea this was a possibility. I began to write Google Maps reviews without ever leaving my room in my hometown of Vapi, India—starting with a local restaurant I adore called Sam's Alive Again. I sensed my mood changing daily; I was helping people make better decisions about places to go and things to do.
Quickly, my numbers added up; I contributed more than 700 reviews and 2,000 photos that have been seen more than 3 million times. In 2018, I was selected to attend Google’s annual meet-up of Local Guides, where top Google Maps contributors from around the world come together in San Francisco. I made new friends and learned about the amazing things they do for their communities, like adding accessibility information on Google Maps to help people with disabilities and arranging volunteer events. I felt helpful and inspired for the first time in a long time.
Being financially independent frees you from the opinions of others.
My growing involvement with Local Guides taught me that photos are powerful. Reviews can transform a business. And technology gives a voice to women. I’ve seen this firsthand. My cousin runs a cake shop called Baker's Love out of her home in Vapi. Now that I’ve added her to Google Maps, she receives orders from far away places online. (She makes the most amazing chocolate cake, by the way.)
And I loved teaching Urmila, the owner of Dimple Beauty Parlor, how to claim her business on Google Maps, maintain her photos, and respond to reviews. Urmila told me that she saw a jump in her weekly customers, and her business is doing fine. As Urmila says, “It’s essential to be able to stand on your own feet.”
There are so many social and economic hurdles to start a business—and I believe these multiply when you’re a woman. Financial independence frees you from the opinions of others, and I get excited when a woman is motivated to do her own thing. Through Local Guides Connect, our online forum where Local Guides swap tips and network from around the world, I run a group called “Empowered Women of Vapi, India.” Together, we identify stories about women in Vapi; in 2020, we’re organizing 28 meet-ups in all 28 states of India (yes, all!). At each meet-up we will visit the state capital, gather women business owners, improve their Google Maps place pages, and forge connections between Local Guides.
This is my way of encouraging women to keep going—no matter the obstacle. Women are strong, inspiring, and resilient. Today, I’m fully recovered, and looking back, I’m so grateful I didn’t allow my surgeries to stop me.