Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Nicole Woolhouse

Nicole Woolhouse

Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter

Nicole Woolhouse is the Founder and Director of Box of Hope, an organization with the mission of providing underprivileged children in Hong Kong and Asia with educational gifts. Nicole moved to Hong Kong in 2005 with her husband and 3 children, having spent 5 years in London and before that living in Tokyo and Sydney. Before having children Nicole worked in publishing for Conde Nast in the UK and then ACP in Australia. A career in marketing gave her good grounding for starting Box of Hope with Harriet Cleverly in 2008, in just a few short years Box of Hope grew to collect over 20,000 boxes a year and be an important part of the Hong Kong philanthropic calendar.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Nicole Woolhouse: Before I was married I worked at House & Garden in London as the Interior Design Manager, and then we moved to Australia where I continued in publishing for 3 years. Followed by 3 years in Japan working as an Editor for a Translation Company, I finally returned home to London in 2001 to have three children. We then moved to Hong Kong in 2005 when my youngest was 3 months old.

Women LEAD: You are the Co-Founder of Box of Hope, an organization with the mission of providing underprivileged children in Hong Kong and Asia with educational gifts. Can you tell me more about Box of Hope and its impact?

Nicole Woolhouse: Once all my children were in school I was keen to do something, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to work full-time as I was keen to be here if my children needed me but I wanted to do something that made a difference no matter how small. Hence Box of Hope.  When my son was 4 yrs old in the UK we used to make the same Shoeboxes to donate to children in Eastern Europe, I was amazed nothing similar existed here. So I approach a great friend, also looking for a project, and we decided we would launch Box of Hope. In our first year, 2008, we collected 1,200 boxes from only 6 schools and then this year we collected 21,000 boxes from over 90 schools!  Our aim was to teach young children the importance of community and helping others whilst supporting and inspiring children in need in Asia.  It was very important to us that the Boxes went to children in need in Hong Kong and Asia so that the children donating could understand how close to home the need was.

Women LEAD: What inspires you to further educational opportunity for underprivileged youth in Hong Kong and Asia?

Nicole Woolhouse: One of the most wonderful things about Box of Hope is seeing the pride on a child’s face when they receive their very own set of pens, knowing that when they start school they now have the equipment they need to help them succeed, it is truly magical.  So many children in Asia struggle to get into the educational system due to illiterate parents, lack of funds or lack of equipment, it is an honor to be able to help in just a very tiny way and encourage these children to reach their potential.

Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Nicole Woolhouse: Girls throughout the world deserve the same opportunities and support as boys, if they learn this at a young age then they will always be empowered.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?

Nicole Woolhouse: When we first started Box of Hope we met with a wonderful woman called Shalini Mahtani, who at the time was the CEO of Community Business, she gave us incredible support and guidance with our plan for Box of Hope and encouraged us to just try and see what happened.  I always admired her calm and optimistic approach to everything and even after suffering the terrible loss of her son, Zubin, she has gone on tirelessly working to promote inclusion and encourage social responsibility

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for prospective nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs?

Nicole Woolhouse: You can do anything if you put your mind to it.  My advice would be to start small and see where it goes. If you reach out to people for help and guidance you will be amazed what comes back.

Women LEAD: Are there websites or books that are inspiring you right now about gender equality and women’s empowerment?

Nicole Woolhouse: I really do believe that there are so many amazing women out there doing new and brave things that one just has to look at the world around you, no longer does being a woman hold you back.

Spotlight on our LEADer Aakriti

Packed with witty humor, eighteen year old Aakriti is a fresh high school graduate eagerly waiting to be enrolled in the MBBS course in Jalalabad Ragib Rabeya Medical College in Bangladesh.  When asked about the reason for opting the medical route, she confidently replies, “I want to be a change maker in my society and I believe that being a doctor will enable me to do so.  Besides, being a doctor sounds like quite an adventure. To be able to travel to remote places in my own country, saving people’s lives or relieving their pain seems like a good thing to do with my life.”
Being a science student, Aakriti recalls being expected to stay locked up in her room studying rigorously.  Aakriti loves writing and also takes great interest in the social science and politics which is why she couldn’t conform to that norm and decided to join Women LEAD.  She says, “Joining Women LEAD seemed like the perfect place for me to explore more. I knew I’d be meeting other girls like me- girls whose sole interest would be to learn more and to equip themselves with the tools to be able to call themselves as leaders. That excited me so much and inspired me to join Women LEAD”.
Aakriti says, “Women LEAD is like a family to me. Since the very first day I walked in at Women LEAD for the open house, I’ve always felt more empowered as a young lady. Unlike most of society which is filled with skeptics who don’t believe in a young lady’s dreams or aspirations, Women LEAD has always been the one place that has had faith in me. I have friends who share the same dreams as me. We have people whom we can tell our problems to and who help us solve it. I’ve made great friends  who have had my back during my highs and lows. My mentor, Aishwarya has also helped me a lot and I think this is why I absolutely love Women LEAD.”
She further adds, “I’ve learnt my life’s biggest lessons at Women LEAD. The first one, however, that comes to mind is about active listening. I am not a patient listener, and so during my initial days at Women LEAD, I remember having a difficult time trying to keep my thoughts to myself until the opportunity came. It was only after learning about various personality types that I started acknowledging the other person’s presence in the room! The 2 week long leadership training equipped me with the knowledge about the basics of who a leader is. The school leadership program has transformed me from being a chatter box  to a poised speaker. From being a girl who was unsure if the world would accept her for who she was to being a girl who accepts herself for who she is, I’ve grown a lot since I joined Women LEAD”.
When asked what Aakriti wants to change in her society, she says, “I’d like to change the way people view women in our society. When it comes to gender issues, there seems to be a huge gap in understanding between the people who are clamoring for gender equality and the ones who are supposed to be receiving the message. People have started paying attention to issues that affect women but that isn’t enough. As a human, it frustrates me sometimes to know that I am not allowed to go out at night because I am a girl. To be living in a society that believes that only girls get raped and that guys are not vulnerable to rape angers me sometimes. So, when I say I want to change this situation, I know I am not alone. I have my friends from Women LEAD who share the same frustration. To have people who are equally committed in changing these stereotypes is what I consider my greatest help. Women LEAD has provided me with so much support and I am so thankful to Women LEAD for that”.

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Mala Kumar

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Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter

Mala Kumar is an international development practitioner with the United Nations. She is the author of the novel, The Paths of Marriage, which follows three generations of Indian and Indian-American women from Chennai to New York City. Mala hopes her writing will serve as a catalyst to a more open and empathetic dialogue on human rights and gender equality.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Mala Kumar: By profession, I am in international development with the United Nations. My work looks at how information communications technology can better international development solutions – also known as ICT4D. I was born in California and raised outside of Richmond, Virginia in the States. New York City has been home for the better part of the last six years, and I am incredibly excited to be moving back after spending three months in central Africa for work.

Women LEAD: What inspired you to write The Paths of Marriage?

Mala Kumar: The Paths of Marriage is an amalgamation of my own life, my family’s life, observations in my work, and a growing need to bridge the gap between different communities – especially the South Asian and LGBT communities. It’s a way for me to talk about difficult issues that I can’t always address in my work.

Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Mala Kumar: Women’s empowerment matters for many different reasons. In the most basic, logical sense, it means enabling half (or more than half) of the world’s population to reach their potential. Countries that have figured out how to do this have some of the best standards of living, longest life expectancies, lowest crime rates, and best economic outlook. That’s not a coincidence. On a higher level, women’s empowerment matters because it is giving voice to a population that has been historically and systematically relegated as inferior or unworthy across continents and time.

Women LEAD: What are some steps one can take to end the practice of child marriage worldwide?

Mala Kumar: I wish I had the magic cure-all answer to that question. The fact remains that child marriage happens across several continents, countries, classes, castes, religions, language groups and ethnicities, so there is not one cultural or societal commonality to target in eliminating the practice. From the data that is available, we do know the practice drops significantly – often entirely – when the education level of a population, especially in women, goes up. So with education and strong women’s empowerment movement, I think there is hope the practice will end.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Mala Kumar: I’m going to have to be clichéd and talk about my mother. As in my book, my mother had an arranged marriage in real life. Despite all of the cultural and emotional baggage she was made to carry as a young girl and young woman, she did her best (and I think succeeded!) in letting me grow into my own person and make my own decisions. At times, life has dealt me tough situations, though I have had the amazing privilege of having my mother’s unconditional support through it all. To empower women, women must support other women, and my mother always made sure to do so for me. For that, I am forever grateful.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for future women leaders?

Mala Kumar: Support each other. As women, most of you will work twice as hard to get half as far as many of your male colleagues. The worst part is that with rare exceptions, you will not be able to pinpoint specific instances where you did not get your fair share of credit, or you did not advance as you should have. Perhaps this will be to no fault of any one person, but will instead be because of longstanding biases or discrimination that even we as women have trouble describing. What we can do to help break down these unfair systems is to simply support each other. This does not mean you should hire or promote someone solely because of one’s sex or gender. What it does mean is that you should take the time to recognize different strengths in different people. Take the time to understand someone’s background or life story or reasoning for doing what they do. Having worked around the world, I can say that no one and nothing is as straightforward as it seems.  Don’t neglect to apply that to your fellow women.

Women LEAD: Are there websites, books, or films that are inspiring you right now about gender equality and women’s empowerment?

Mala Kumar: I was recently featured in a great blog called Girls’ Globe, which is dedicated to women’s empowerment and issues affected girls and women around the world.

My top women’s empowerment book would have to be the graphic novel Persepolis. Marjane Satrapi’s account of Iran’s modern history through a young woman’s eyes provided such a rare and beautiful look into a part of the world dominated by misogynistic voices.

I loved Khalid Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. I think it showed how horrifying and incapacitating gender inequality is on an individual.

Whenever I think about women’s empowerment in film, I think about Deepa Mehta’s Elements Trilogy – Water, Fire, Earth. Each movie deals with a difficult topic in India and shows the cultural wear on women. Each movie will break your heart.

Finally, I can’t talk about women’s empowerment and not mention M.I.A. Yes, she is highly controversial at times, and no, I don’t always agree with what she says. But she is undoubtedly one of the most powerful voices for women’s empowerment – especially for South Asian community. Bad Girls is my unofficial life anthem, as I’m sure it is for many women around the world.

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Michele Lai

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Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter

Michele Lai is the Founder of Kids4Kids, an organization in Hong Kong dedicated to empowering and educating youth to make positive change in the world through their actions. She has over 10 years of work experience in Hong Kong and Australia with multi-nationals such as Toyota Motor Corporation, Inchcape and Cable & Wireless HkT in the areas of strategic marketing and planning, Customer Relationship Management and loyalty marketing. Michele holds a Bachelor of Business degree from Curtin University, Western Australia. She is married with two children and lives in Hong Kong. Michele feels very fortunate to be able to give back to the community through her work with Kids4Kids and hopes to continue this ‘volunteering career’ together with her children. Michele believes that the purpose of Kids4Kids is very meaningful because our children are our future, and we need to invest in all of them.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Michele Lai: I grew up in Australia and from a young age, my parents always allowed me to make my own choices and decisions, and basically empowered me to be me. I have a Business Degree with a Major in Marketing and Management and really it was during my teen years when I started my own business and put ideas into action that I feel it has made me who I am tofay. I have always been an entrepreneur, someone who can spot good ideas and making things happen.

Women LEAD: You are the Founder of Kids4Kids, an organization in Hong Kong dedicated to empowering and educating youth to make positive change in the world through their actions. What inspired you to found Kids4Kids?

Michele Lai: After I became a parent, I became very conscious to raise my kids to become socially responsible and to be aware that they are very fortunate and that they can help those less fortunate. I continued my entrpreneurial spirit and spotted good ideas that can be created by kids as I have a guiding belief that you’re never to young to start making things happen.  When you are doing something you’re good at and enjoy, and in turn to help others, very likely this action will be repeated, and it goes on.

For those of you unfamiliar with Kids4Kids, it is a HK registered charity based on the simple belief that “you’re never too young to help”.

Our mission at Kids4Kids is to inspire and empower kids of all ages to use their passion and talents to create, take action and make a difference giving back to the community.

There is a Confucius saying which really embodies what we stand for: “I Hear and I Forget, I See and I Remember, I Do and I Understand.”

Women LEAD: What motivates you to encourage youth to be active citizens every day?

Michele Lai: I want my kids to grow up in a world that cares about its people and its environment, and that means developing our youth to be active and socially responsible citizens who are already engaged today in their community to create a better world tomorrow together.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?

Michele Lai: I only started to appreciate the importance of women after becoming a parent. When I was working in the corporate world, I was without kids and would never have understood what I now know that all working mothers are skilled multi-taskers. Women who are mothers and who also manage to balance a career are often under recognized. Working mothers have to manage the household, be a teacher to her kids to build good values, be a wife and also to perform in their career, and all of this expected to be done without missing a beat. So, I think all working mothers are unsung heroes that deserve to be recognized and applauded.

Women LEAD: Why does women’s leadership matter to you?

As I said, working mothers are amazing multi-taskers that have to balance home and work at the same time. This is like doing two jobs at the same time. It is unfortunate that gender equality still happens when a woman becomes a mother, her leadership abilities are questioned. A person’s leadership skills should not be dependent on whether they are a single, married, with kids or not. We should all be recognized as individuals. This has not been the case and the only way we can help improve this situation is to bring more attention to women in leadership from all walks of life and all corners of the world. Hearing more about what other women are doing will serve to inspire others.

Women LEAD: What advice would you give to prospective social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders?

Michele Lai: I would say to them that when starting a non-profit, you will be faced with the same challenges of any start-up business such as resources (talent and money), scalability and sustainability. However, the satisfaction of doing social good and creating a positive impact on the community is priceless and will give you a good buzz. When you’re doing good, you feel good also.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for youth interested in getting involved with service projects?

Michele Lai: I would say, if you have an idea and believe that it has social good, then be determined to try and follow through. Don’t give up too easily.  Many people have ideas, but not many can put their ideas into action.

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Lai-Shan Sze

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Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter

Lai-Shan Sze is a community organizer of the Society for Community Organization (SoCO), a non-governmental organization in Hong Kong that supports the underprivileged through outreach and education. As part of her work with SoCO, Lai-Shan empowers cage dwellers and new immigrants to fight for their fundamental human rights. She has also been involved with voluntary advisory work for the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and is a Member of the Sham Shui Po District Council Office’s Family and Children Service Committee, Member of the Sham Shui Po District Council Office’s Working Group on Poverty, and was formerly a part-time member of the government’s Central Policy Unit. For her outstanding efforts in social work, Lai-Shan was given the Outstanding Social Worker Award from the Hong Kong Social Workers Association Limited. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (Honors) from Baptist University and a Master of Laws (Human Rights) from the University of Hong Kong.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Lai-Shan Sze: I was born in mainland China and immigrated to Hong Kong in the 1980s when I was 11 years old. I was brought up in a poor family when Hong Kong was in the early stage of its economic boom.  When I entered university, I found that many poor people were living in destitution in Hong Kong even though at that time Hong Kong enjoyed one of the world’s highest GDP per capita.  Hundreds of thousands of hardworking grassroots were excluded from sharing the fruit of economic prosperity they had contributed to.  It was disheartening to see that while the number of skyscrapers in Hong Kong grew rapidly, tens of thousands of poor people were living in such inhumane living conditions like cubicles and caged homes. Sadly, I have to admit that very little has improved in these aspects in the past two decades.

I began to participate in community services in secondary school and chose to major in Social Work at University.  I feel an obligation to provide the destitute with assistance, make their voices heard, to encourage them to fight for a fairer society.  SoCO’s mission to uphold social justice and its down-to-earth working approach resonated with me, and I became a community organizer of SoCO since 1995.  At SoCO, I work to serve the poorest and promote human rights. In the past 19 years, I am proud of SoCO’s positive role in exposing social injustice and lending humble assistance to many deprived people who need help.

Women LEAD: You are a Community Organizer at the Society for Community Organization (SoCO), a non-governmental organization in Hong Kong that empowers the underprivileged through outreach and education. Can you tell us more about your role with SoCO?

Lai-Shan Sze: My main tasks are to serve, organize and empower the poor who are the tenants living in caged homes, cubicles or rooftops. These tenants are mostly the lonely elderly, the working poor, new immigrant families, children living with single mothers, and people with mental illness.  My daily work is to reach out to the homes of these needy people to help them apply for public services and find out the gaps in social policies and social services for these underprivileged groups. I organize them for group meetings to build up mutual support among the poor, and provide training to them. I also plan media campaigns and social actions to advocate for policy changes and address administrative red tapes. At the same time, I conduct researches and ally with other NGOs or political parties to draw local and international concerns on the situation of this neglected group.  In sum, as a community organizer, I play a variety of roles, from researcher, organizer, advocator, case worker, facilitator to educator. I see it as my duty to exhaust every legal means and empower every underprivileged person; to help the poor get fair opportunities, get rid of poverty and poor living conditions, and uphold social justice and the protection for human rights.

Women LEAD: What are your hopes for SoCO’s future?

Lai-Shan Sze: Through the projects that I am responsible for, I hope every person can live in decent housing and have equal opportunities to develop their full potential. I aspire to contribute to building Hong Kong into a society that respects human dignity, upholds social justice and is full of love and care.  It is imperative that Hong Kong should eradicate poverty and caged homes as well as re-house the poor to public housing and that the new immigrants – especially the women and children –have equal opportunities to full social entitlements and social development.

Women LEAD: What motivates you to empower immigrant women in the Hong Kong community?

Lai-Shan Sze: From my experience, most of the immigrant women are hardworking and humble; they will sacrifice themselves for their family.  Their expectation for life is minimal – just a loving family and a chance to earn their living by themselves. Yet, it is so hard for them due to poor family backgrounds, low social statuses, and social discrimination.

Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Lai-Shan Sze: I think that it is very important to empower women as they are human beings and they should have human rights. Besides, these women’s development affects the development of their family and children, as well as the social development.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?

Lai-Shan Sze My mother has influenced my life; she is a very hardworking and responsible person. Perseverant and eager to help others, she is a woman who can keep her words. Her attitude to life, work, family and our society has impacted me a lot.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for future women leaders?

Lai-Shan Sze: No mater work you do, uphold the values of social justice and love.

LEADer Suleena

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“There are very few women head chefs in Nepal, and I want to change that”, says Suleena Bajracharya, a 2012/13 LEADer who aspires to be an executive chef in the near future. She is currently studying hotel management at The International School of Tourism and Hotel Management in Nepal. Suleena is the first LEADer amongst all the five batches at Women LEAD to pursue a career in hotel management. Today, she sets an example to all the young LEADers and encourages them to opt for hotel management too.

When asked about what her greatest learning experience from Women Lead is, she instantly replies “Public Speaking”. She recalls her experiences prior to joining Women LEAD and says “I was very shy before I joined Women LEAD. I would always be sitting at the back bench, and happy just to be in the audience and never in the front stage. When I joined Women LEAD, there was a complete reversal. Today I can lead all the sessions in my class and confidently handle presentations as well”. She says that Women LEAD has played a major role in boosting her confidence in speaking in front of a huge group. She vividly recalls the public speaking session that she took when she was in the leadership training and says that it has been a huge help to her. “Today I can go to any presentation and handle any type of question that the audience throws at me. Before joining Women LEAD, public speaking was nerve racking for me. Today, it has become my strength and I enjoy speaking to the crowd.”

Suleena also actively participated in the School Leadership Program under the leadership training. She says she learned a whole new set of skills there: from talking to the school principal to running the whole program, they had to do it all on their own. In this process, she learned event management which, she emphasizes, will be very useful for her career. She adds, “I also learned about team work, how to work as a leader and as a follower and also skills like time management which is very important for someone in the hospitality business”.

Initially, her parents were skeptical about Suleena working out of the house since her work demanded late hours, but eventually, her parents came to understand and respect that. She even worked as a nursery teacher after her leadership training at Women LEAD. She never knew she had that talent within her and Women LEAD has immensely helped her in exploring her talents.

When asked about the issues that Suleena cares about, she says, “I haven’t many seen women chefs in Nepal. Most of them are only limited to jobs like housekeeping and sales in the hospitality industry. But when it comes to the actual job of cooking, the industry is dominated by men. Thus, she wants to break the stereotypes and prove that even women can be in the executive level in the hotel business.

Hivos Social Innvovation Award

Women LEAD is competing in the Hivos Social Innovation Competition and we need to gather the highest votes to win! Hivos is on a quest to fund one innovative project that brings an innovative approach to a societal problem. Please vote for Women LEAD in the Hivos Social Award competition by going to the following link: https://hivossocialinnovationaward.org/projects/women-lead/ safe_image

LEADer Pratiksha

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“I just published my first internationally viewed blog”, says Pratiksha, beaming with happiness. Nineteen year old Pratiksha is currently pursuing a degree in Bachelor of Social Work at St. Xavier’s College. Despite her busy college schedule, Pratiksha also finds time to intern at a social organization called Women for Human Rights (WHR). She frequently writes blogs for them and feels proud to have recently written a blog that gained popularity. The blog was about a transitional journey of a woman from being an unmarried woman, to a married woman and then a single woman and how the society’s perception towards a woman changes in these different phases. 

Pratiksha recalls, “I came to Women LEAD at a point when I was so frustrated with my decision of choosing to study management over humanities. Women LEAD has had a very big impact on me. I have learned how to maintain relationships and have inner confidence. Women LEAD has always stood by me in difficult times and helped me regain my self.” You can read Pratiksha’s blog athttp://womenforhumanrightsnepal.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/single-wome
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Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Beverly Gooden

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Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter

Beverly (Bev) Gooden is an activist, victims’ rights advocate, social analyst, public speaker and writer. She is the creator of #WhyIStayed, a Twitter hashtag that ignited a global movement encouraging survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence to share their stories. As a presenter, Beverly has spoken about domestic violence sensitivity and the power of storytelling. She also has hosted presentations focused on online advocacy and activism, blogging, and sharing in the digital space. Beverly has been featured on numerous online platforms including CNN, TIME, Good Morning America, and The Huffington Post. Her writing has been published in The New York Times and NBC’s Today.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Bev Gooden: I was raised in Cleveland, Ohio and attended Hampton University for college. My major was Journalism and Communications, and I’ve always had a passion for writing. But when I graduated in 2005, I could not find work in my field. I spent two years in Government Relations before deciding to pursue a graduate degree in Social Justice.

Women LEAD: You are the creator of #WhyIStayed, a hashtag and global conversation about domestic violence and intimate partner violence. Can you tell us more about #WhyIStayed, what inspired you to start it, and its impact?

Bev Gooden: I logged on to Twitter one morning and the full video of Ray Rice assaulting his fiancé had gone viral. Scrolling down my timeline, I noticed a trend: people were asking why his fiancé stayed with him after he hit her. At the time, only a few people knew about my past abusive marriage. I was having a conversation with another Twitter user about our abusive relationships, and ended one of my tweets with the hashtag #WhyIStayed. I remember feeling so outraged that the onus was on Janay Rice, that I decided to tweet a few more reasons why I stayed. A few hours later, the hashtag was trending.

Since the hashtag began, women have continued the conversation about the impact of domestic violence on their lives. Many are still tweeting their stories using the hashtag. Oftentimes people have a tendency to talk about, and not to, survivors. With #WhyIStayed, survivors reclaimed the narrative. The world had no choice but to listen. I think that is incredible and I’m honored to have been a part of this movement.

Women LEAD: What, in your opinion, are the main reasons why women stay in violent relationships?

Bev Gooden: Fear, shame, isolation, love, danger. For me, I did not want the marriage to end, just the violence. I was willing to try anything to both end the violenceand save the marriage. So on the outside, it looked complacent. But in reality, I was attempting to reclaim the beautiful relationship I’d once had.

It’s important to understand the insidious nature of domestic violence. Abusive behaviors are subtle and build gradually. Abusers are often romantic, loving, and gentle in the beginning. So, by the time violence occurs, you’ve already experienced a loving partner. Before long, you are caught in a cycle of abuse. The cycle is very difficult to escape considering both the emotional and psychological elements. That is why I stress the value of asking a woman what she needs rather than asking why she stays.

Women LEAD: What are some steps one can take to curb domestic violence and intimate partner violence worldwide?

Bev Gooden: The approach involves four components: listen, educate, be involved, and mobilize boys and men. The first component involves hearing the voice of the survivor, without interruption or opinion. We live in a society that values speaking over listening. Everyone has something to say. Few take the time to actively listen. The second component is education for children, teens, and adults. The third component is community involvement. Volunteer, donate, participate, and ask how you can support your local domestic violence org. And lastly, we have to mobilize boys and men. I believe that men can help prevent violence against women by interrupting the violent behaviors of other men and holding each other accountable.

Women LEAD: Why does women’s empowerment matter to you?

Bev Gooden: Women are the core of society. Without women, society does not function. Yet, we are paid 78% of what men are paid, denied reproductive health sovereignty, racially sexualized, dehumanized, and simply not recognized for the complexity and nuance implicit in our humanity. I believe in women’s empowerment because I believe in equity.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

Bev Gooden: It’s difficult to choose just one, but the one who has had the greatest impact gave birth to the one who raised me. So it’s like a two-for-one special! My grandmother was a school custodian for over 30 years, and she did it with pride. I believe that pride was a combination of strength, self-assurance and faith. She commanded respect, but not vocally; she commanded it by carrying herself with a peculiar refinement. My grandmother believed in me; she had full confidence that I would achieve great things. She had confidence in me when I did not have confidence in myself. In 2012, she died of complications from Alzheimer’s. But her power, grace, wit, and faith are models for me. I am her legacy and I don’t take that lightly.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence?

Bev Gooden: If you decide to leave your abuser, try and have a plan. The domestic violence hotline can answer any questions and connect you with resources in your community. Your feelings, fears, and thoughts are valid; please don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. The process if difficult and it will not be easy, but know that you’re not alone.

Women LEAD: Are there books inspiring you right now about gender equality and women’s empowerment?

Bev Gooden: I love reading anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She has a command of language that inspires and confronts. I’m also reading “Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth” by Mika Brzezinsk. My favorite thought leader is Mellody Hobson. She has not written a book, but you can find articles and videos from her on the web. She is brilliant, and I want to be like her when I grow up.

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Rui Ma

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Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter

Rui Ma is an angel investor based in China. Passionate about the intersections between technology, education, philanthropy, Rui is a Partner at 500 Startups, a global early stage investment fund, and a Senior Advisor at a new education focused Accelerator in Beijing. An active community organizer, volunteer and public speaker, Rui founded and currently leads the Good Good Study Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that finances room and board and/or tuition for high-achieving students from low-income families in China. Her work and writing related to the startup and technology scene in Asia has been featured on ForbesTechInAsia, and TheNextWeb.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Rui Ma: I was born in Xi’an, China, immigrated to the US when I was eight, and lived in Northern California most of my life, through college and the first few years of my career, before moving to Shanghai in September 2007, and have worked and lived in mainland China ever since. I have worked in financial services, whether advisory or investing, for almost my entire career now.

Women LEAD: You are a Senior Advisor at the New Education Accelerator, an education-themed startup in Beijing. Can you tell us more about your role with New Education Accelerator?

Rui Ma: I am advising a new education-themed startup accelerator in Beijing affiliated with a leading nonprofit organization called Teach for China. It is not certain what the final format will take, but I imagine we will be primarily focused on scalable learning companies that serve to positively impact the quality of education in China, although there will be some emphasis on improving education inequity as well. My own experience is primarily with internet technology-based companies and how to help them grow and so I have been taking a very active part in helping formulate that part of the accelerator.

Women LEAD: You are also the Founder of Good Good Study Educational Foundation, a nonprofit that finances room and board and/or tuition for high-achieving students from low-income families in China’s Shaanxi Province. Can you tell us more about Good Good Study Educational Foundation and what inspired you to found it?

Rui Ma: This is just a small personal scholarship that I’ve been running for a few years now with friends, and it was inspired by my maternal grandmother, who is 81 this year, but still taking community college lessons in the Bay Area. She was very poor growing up and never finished elementary school, but has always told me to make the most out of my educational opportunities. When I came back to China and saw how difficult it was for certain rural children to go to high school (compulsory education in China only goes through the ninth grade) I wanted to do something. I found a school in the province that I was born in, Shaanxi, and we now support 100 impoverished high school students with a $300 subsidy per year. We had our first class graduate and 18 out of 21 kids went onto first-tier universities in China, which is a great achievement. We make annual Thanksgiving visits and do career / university experience sharings and have also run a 2-week spoken English summer camp in the past.

Women LEAD: You also previously volunteered at Ghar Sita Mutu, a charity that provides a home for abandoned children, a training center for destitute women, and an outreach program for needy families in Kathmandu, Nepal. Can you share with us your experiences?

Rui Ma: Two years ago, I randomly ran into a small used goods shop in Manhattan to escape the rain and began a conversation with shopowner Beverly Bronson. Turns out she ran an orphanage in Kathmandu and I was considering a trip there. I ended up visiting Nepal and spending a few days at Ghar Sita Mutu, visiting a local school (due to my obsession with understanding educational conditions everywhere), brought back some handmade goods Beverly was teaching the local women to make, and held a small fundraiser in Beijing. I think people like Beverly are very inspirational and have really done a lot of work to improve the lives of many with very few resources. I haven’t had the chance to go back to Nepal but I would love to, and to make a greater impact.

Women LEAD: Why does empowering women entrepreneurs matter to you?

Rui Ma: Not all women are in the same circumstances, of course, but I feel fairly strongly, especially in emerging economies, about the numerous obstacles that confront female entrepreneurs. I have always studied or worked in male-dominated industries and I believe that it is up to women to help each other, because we understand the difficulties (and also opportunities!) that our gender faces.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for women in venture capital and private equity? 

Rui Ma: I am by no means that far along in my career, but I would say that of the years I’ve worked in the industry, I’ve found that many people (not just women) take very little control of their career, and investing is actually a very self-directed career, particularly venture capital. I would say, be curious about everything, always be learning new things, and always be open-minded to new people and new ideas. I find the best venture capitalists always have time to learn or experience new things. If you are going to be in venture capital, prepare to constantly feel stupid, because if you don’t, then you’re probably meeting the wrong people.

Women LEAD: What advice do you have for prospective women entrepreneurs?

Rui Ma: I would really encourage women to jump out of what are perceived to be “traditionally feminine” verticals like fashion and really challenge themselves. Women make up a significant portion (or even the majority) of many aspects of life, and a diverse perspective on the management team is always helpful, not just in cases where the prospective customer base is primarily female. I have seen more and women enter industries like robotics, biotech, or deep learning, and I am really cheered by this. Above all, do what you love, not what others expect you to do.

Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?

Rui Ma: There are so many women who have inspired me! But as mentioned above, my grandma has really inspired me with her lifelong devotion to learning and helping others. I plan to make education a big personal part of my life by always allocating time to studying new things, and also education philanthropy as well, by continuing with charitable efforts that allow others to receive an education they otherwise would not have.

Women LEAD: Are there websites, books, or films that are inspiring you right now about women’s empowerment or women in business?

Rui Ma: I really enjoy talking to other women, so I am lucky that way that I have a lot of access to successful female role models with whom I can also have conversations. In terms of reading, I did enjoy Lean In. I am not very active, but am a member of a few US-based female professional groups. I guess I get most of my inspiration offline.