Deepa Willingham
Deepa Willingham
Saturday Lunch Keynote Speaker
Solvang, CA resident Deepa Willingham is a naturalized citizen of the United States. She was born and brought up in Calcutta, India where she obtained her primary secondary and undergraduate education, followed by graduate degrees in the US. Prior to her entrepreneurial endeavors in the energy sector, Deepa served as the Administrative Director of Ancillary Services in the hospital industry. 

Deepa is the founder of a non-profit organization named PACE Universal (, a Past District Governor (PDG) of Rotary International District 5240; a Past President of the Rotary Club of Santa Ynez Valley, being named Rotarian-of-the-Year during her year as President; and above all, is a humanitarian. Her humanitarian endeavors have led to her being named as “Local Hero” by Santa Barbara Independent newspaper; a winner of Volvo for Life award; a recipient of 2006 “Making a Difference for Women” award from Soroptimist International – Camino Real Region, a winner of Special Congressional Recognition from Representative Lois Capps in 2006; was named a local “Angel” by Central Coast Magazine, a “Community Hero” by Superintendent Bill Cirone in 2009 and winner of “Marigold Awards for Good” contest in 2012.
As a Rotarian, PDG Deepa has participated in many local and international projects - building Pisos (cement floors) in Mexico; participating in NID (National Immunization Day) trips to India; supporting girls’ education in the Philippines; escorting Santa Ynez Valley high school kids for humanitarian educational trips, chairing the District’s Annual Poverty Conference in 2007 and 2008 and the initiating District 5240’s 5-Point Poverty Eradication Plan. She was Past RI President Bill Boyd’s selection to represent Rotary International at the 51st Commission on Status of Women at the UN in February of 2006; Past RI President D. K. Lee’s selection to be the keynote speaker at the spouses’ Plenary Session in 2008 & 2009 International Assembly; she served as the Vice Chair of Operations for 2008 LA Rotary International Convention; she was one of the keynote speakers at Rotary International’s 100th year Convention in Birmingham, England and twice was asked to speak at the UN on Rotary-UN Day. She has become one of the sought after national and international speakers. 

Her passion for education dates back to the 1960s, when Deepa served as lecturer at the University of Wisconsin and the Santa Barbara City College and was a teacher/coordinator of special educational programs for the federally funded Upward Bound program. She was involved with educating ‘at risk’ high school students from the inner city in Milwaukee, Wisconsin designing and implementing innovative teaching techniques to achieve educational goals. She was also a founding board member of Cornerstone House of Santa Barbara, an organization dedicated to non-institutionalized care and education of severely handicapped children. 

Over the past ten years, a great deal of Deepa’ s time and personal resources have been dedicated to the founding and developing of the Piyali Learning Center (PLC) outside of Calcutta, and spreading the message of the value of girls’ education throughout the world. Her dedicated work at PLC, which she developed through her non-profit organization, PACE Universal, is resulting in the creation of a sustainable village rehabilitation model supported by a $330,000 Health, Hunger and Humanity Grant from The Rotary Foundation. This grant, which is being co-sponsored by 8 Rotary Clubs here in Southern California and in Kolkata, India, will completely rehabilitate the village of Piyali Junction by bringing literacy (to children and adults), health and dental care, clean water, sanitation, vocational training, banking/micro-lending to help change the face of poverty in that corner of the world.
When asked why Deepa started this school for girls in the country of her birth, she answers, “It is the fulfillment of a life-long dream…to give back the gift of education, particularly to girls. Girls’ education in many severely poverty stricken areas like India, is still a luxury for far too many and it is certainly not a given. And yet when girls are educated, they grow up to be responsible citizens, changing not only their own lives but also the lives of their children and their communities. When it is such a win-win situation, how can I not do it?” 

Deepa’s husband Richard is a member of the Rotary Club of the University Area of Houston where he is an independent contractor for the oil industry. They have been married 30 years. Their daughter Reena is an independent business owner and was instrumental in the formation of the community-based Rotaract Club of Santa Barbara, CA. The family lives by the principles of giving back to society — a philosophy Deepa learned from her parents and from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who taught her when Deepa was a child.