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Kindly Guiding Nonprofits Through the Database Maze

You won’t find her hoisting a clipboard or sporting a whistle, but Ashima Saigal is every bit the caring coach, using her gifts not on a court or field but instead inside classrooms and against the backdrop of computer screens.

This dynamo is using her Encore years in dynamic ways to reach out to people so that they better understand both technology and themselves, a rather novel approach to an industry arguably preoccupied with programming and processes.

“In 2012, I started a business called “Database Sherpa” and we basically guide nonprofits to peace with their data,” she says. “We do it with compassion, kindness, training and support.”

When she’s not supporting those nonprofits, you’re apt to find her in area classrooms, extolling the benefits of a relatively new practice known as “mindfulness.” Pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is the practice of deliberately acknowledging emotions and then choosing healthy behaviors rather than reacting immediately with responses that can be harmful. It’s being touted by educators, social scientists and members of the medical field as a valid way to combat stress, depression and anxiety and it is becoming increasingly effective with youngsters.

“Mindfulness is self-awareness and realizing the impact you have on others,” says Ashima, noting that the practice can affect everything from bullying to productivity in the classroom.

The daughter of Romesh and Veena Saigal, her parents emigrated here from India in the 1960s. Her father, 76, continues as professor of industrial engineering at the University of Michigan. Her mother volunteers with a hospice program.

Being raised in a home that paid homage to education and service, Ashima cultivated both as she made her way out of Michigan State University with a degree in computer science in 1991 and, nearly two decades later, a master's in computer information systems from Grand Valley State University (GVSU).

Between the early 1990s and 2012, she worked for eight different companies, mostly in computer applications. But she also held leadership roles for five years with GVSU’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy, which defines its mission as “leading a systems-based comprehensive approach to servicing nonprofits, foundations and others seeking to transform their communities for the public good.”

All those touches helped hone a heart for others and she conveys it with warm handshakes, an ever-present smile, and conversation that typically extends to others.

In what scant spare time she has, it’s largely spent with husband David Fridsma and their daughter Zola, age seven. Ashima’s also involved in several organizations that lift up professional women and she’s engaged in local politics – both as a former member of the Ada Township Compensation Commission and member of the City of Grand Rapids Housing Appeals Board.

Ashima is certified to lead mindfulness classes through Mindful Schools, which has trained educators in all 50 states and more than 100 counties, impacting more than 300,000 children and adults. For more information, visit mindfulschools.org