Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Lai-Shan Sze

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

SZE casual photo

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

10672412_706341426081428_5297001236779545607_n

“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.

LEADer Pratiksha

10348173_725554044160166_136991892729954607_n
“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
n-life-of-ignominy-pleading-for-equality/

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Beverly Gooden

unnamed

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

00ba2d9

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.

Blogging Empowers Young Women in Nepal!

Originally posted on Girls' Globe:

“Being a blogger enables us to give momentum to a revolution that can change the perceptions of the society we live in.” -Tisha, Women LEAD Nepal

women lead girls

Women LEAD Nepal young leaders discuss effective blogging ideas.

These are powerful words spoken by a young woman leader in Kathmandu, Nepal. Tisha, alongside other young women, has the opportunity to participate in Women LEAD Nepal’s year long leadership training program. As part of this program, they will be equipped with essential life and leadership skills to create change among peers, family, community and the world. Last week, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting with Women LEAD Nepal’s amazing young women leaders in Kathmandu. Women LEAD Nepal became Girls’ Globe’s first featured organization in 2011.

As I sat on the floor with thirteen amazing young women, I learned each of their hopes and dreams for the future. I, also, learned about their passion for writing and blogging. Over the…

View original 213 more words

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Christine Ma-Lau

IGP9089_21-198x300

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

Christine Ma-Lau is the Founder and Principal of JEMS Learning House, a school in Hong Kong with the mission of raising the next generation of leaders through character education for children aged 3 to 12. She founded the school out of her passion for educating young people in character and values. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania with a concentration on child development and has taught students aged 6-16 years in different educational institutions in Hong Kong. In addition, Christine holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Philosophy from the London School of Economics and prior to that attended Wycombe Abbey School in England. She was raised in Hong Kong and educated internationally.

She desires to see children enjoy learning and becoming the best that they can be. Her passion for educating children goes beyond her work at JEMS. Christine also serves as a Director at Plan International Hong Kong, which promotes education to underprivileged children globally and is also their ambassador for their Because I Am A Girl campaign, which aims to promote education and opportunities for underprivileged girls worldwide. Christine is also one of the Founding Directors of GeneroCity, a Hong Kong-based philanthropy fund that channels needed funds to local education and welfare projects.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Christine Ma-Lau: I was born in Canada, raised in Hong Kong and studied in the UK and the US. I first started my education not knowing what I wanted to do and it wasn’t until the final year of college when I was doing summer internship at a school when I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in education. With that, I started taking on teaching jobs at schools and education centres as well as work as the youth pastor of a church. 6 years ago, I took some time to think about my life plans and decided to establish JEMS.

Women LEAD: You are the Founder and Principal of JEMS Learning House in Hong Kong, an organization with the mission of nurturing the next generation of leaders through educating children. Can you tell us more about JEMS Learning House, its impact, and what inspired you to found it?

Christine Ma-Lau: Having had experience in teaching in schools, education centers, and doing youth counseling, I’ve realized that a couple things about Hong Kong that were there when I was growing up but stood out to me as an educator. The first thing is that there is a real focus on academics and I think that’s pretty prevalent not only in Hong Kong, but throughout the world. The second thing is that a lot of the issues teenagers were facing were really there because there were issues that were not dealt with at an earlier age, e.g. struggling with self-worth, knowing how to make certain choices and decisions, knowing how to deal with their emotions. When I worked with older kids and youth, I realized that a lot of things could be prevented if they had been handled earlier. What then inspired me to found JEMS was that my belief is that education isn’t just about academics and having head knowledge and skills. Educating a person is about providing a person with what they need to succeed in the future, preparing them to face life. What enables you to face life in the future is so often comprised of character: knowing your identity, who you are, what your values are and what you stand for. The second part is your relationships: knowing how to interact with others, how to deal with conflict, etc. The third part of a successful person is knowing how to contribute to the community – to engage with different groups of people and to help others with compassion. I wanted to create a platform for children to learn core values, to know how to deal with right from wrong, deal with bullies, showing compassion and much more.

That’s why I founded JEMS. I wasn’t trying to take away anything that is offered from education, but to add to it. Say you’re learning piano, it’s great and do it to the best of your ability. But think about how learning piano can help other people. Would you think of hosting a charity concert to help other people? So much of learning nowadays is focused on helping ourselves, about getting the most awards, trophies, and highest scores. I wanted to take what to take what you do and use it for the good of ourselves and for others. One example I like to use is how if you are a medical student, you are very bright, will soon be a doctor, and if your character is good, you will use that skill to help and heal people. Yet, there have been cases of doctors who have killed their patients so they have more patients to come into hospitals – that really boils down to character choices. I want to mold young people to change their values early on because their values are something that will make their mark on their life. I want to set them up to be the next generation of leaders with solid character.

Women LEAD: You are also a Director of Plan International Hong Kong, and an Ambassador for Plan’s Because I Am A Girl Campaign, which aims to improve access to educational opportunities for underprivileged girls worldwide. Can you tell us more about your roles in Plan?

Christine Ma-Lau: My role as the Director is to brainstorm the rest of the ideas with the rest of the Board, helping people learn what Plan International does, and encouraging people to take part in our events. That role is a strategic role, it’s for strategies for the next year, so we will talk about how Plan will evolve in Hong Kong, how we can engage the public, and to show others why it’s relevant. As an Ambassador for the Because I Am a Girl Campaign, I often speak out about gender equality and ending child marriage, children’s rights and girls’ rights. We talked about why it’s important. As an educator, I want to educate our children in Hong Kong number one what a privilege it is to have equality, and because we have been privileged to have that, how can we help others to have that too? I want them to be aware of what goes on in the world and for them to know they can make a difference. We organized a “Donate a Pencil” campaign to engage youth in this campaign by donating a pencil but to tell them that they have the privilege to go to school, but a lot of girls in the world don’t. If we equip girls with a pencil and an education, it can change the girl’s life, a family’s livelihood, and the community. Plan has conducted a lot of studies about what they do; Because I Am a Girl arose after research positing that women and girls invest more of their income back into their family and community, more than men and boys.

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

Christine Ma-Lau: I want everyone to know how unique everyone is, and how everyone can reach their full potential. We can tell girls that they are fully capable of what they want to do. I think our Hong Kong education system has put us on par with men, but the hard part is for a woman to ‘choose’ between work and family in older years. I think it’s important that girls and women are given opportunities to pursue what they want to and believing that their capacity and potential is on par with a man.  In developing countries, it’s not the same and if that message isn’t brought across in those countries, it should be.

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

Christine Ma-Lau: I would have to say my mother. I’ve realized the older I get, there are things I would say to other people and I realize “I sound like my mother!” My mom is an amazing woman, full of grace, full of love and full of passion. Over the years, she has shared so many of her insights and passions with me. It has slowly trickled into my being and I’ve noticed that even when I write lesson plans, there are things that I will innately talk about or have a belief system in, and a lot of that is, besides from God, from my mom. I have a lot of admiration for her and still have a lot to learn from her.

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

Christine Ma-Lau: Hold on to your vision and just don’t give up because you are capable of more than you think you are. I think as women sometimes we’re hard on ourselves; men seem to have a more “I can do it” mentality and I think women sometimes think that they are less than what they are capable of. I hope women realize that they are capable of all they can do and be, and to not give up, especially as an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur myself, I know it’s a difficult journey and challenging journey. If you believe in what you do, then don’t give up, especially if what you do helps others!

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

Christine Ma-Lau: One book I really enjoyed is Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I especially loved the part about where she talked about sharing responsibility with men. If women are to have a family and career, we need our husbands and counterparts to make these things possible. We cannot be a full-time mother and have a full-time career, and we need help to juggle the things they have to juggle. We, as women, need men around us to support us, believe in us and partner with us and I think Sheryl describes it well.

Model UN Conference 2014

MUN

Women LEAD would like to congratulate our LEADers Deepika, Jemie and Niharika for participating in the The Everest International Model United Nations Conference that was held from the 15th-17th October 2014. Model United Nations is an extra-curricular activity in which students typically role-play delegates to the United Nations and simulate UN committees.

2014 LEADer Dipeeka says, “MUN was a great learning experience for me. We were given an agenda to work on the Gaza Conflict and had to draft a resolution that would lead to conflict resolution between Israel and Palestine. It was definitely challenging but skills such as Public Speaking which I learned at Women LEAD really helped me get through it. Knowing that we had a role in ending the conflict and that our resolutions would be presented in front of the actual UN felt incredible.”

“Model United Nations (MUN) impels students into the world of diplomacy and negotiation. In MUN, students step into the shoes of ambassadors or delegates of UN member states to debate current issues on the organization’s vast agenda. MUN is a conference similar to the United Nations in which students participate as delegates to various UN Committees. Participants research and formulate political positions based on the actual policies of the countries they represent. This interactive platform complements what is taught inside classrooms by enabling students to apply their knowledge in practice.” (Source: http://goo.gl/H5A09E)

Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight: Sreya Atluri

Sreya Atluri_Picture

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

Sreya Atluri is a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, located in Alexandria, VA. Pasionate about making a difference in the community, she currently serves as the CEO and Founder of Creating Awareness in Research and Education and an Executive Director for Growth and Inspiration through Volunteering and Education, both non-profits. Outside of school, Sreya is dedicated to STEM, serving as a Fairfax County Coordinator for the USA Science and Engineering Festival and an X-STEM Coordinator. She is also heavily involved as a leader in clubs such as Model United Nations, Bioengineering Projects for the Future, and Tomorrow’s Women in Science and Technology, and a BigSibs (mentoring program) Coordinator. In addition, she actively seeks to make an impact in the community through her role as an elected representative of her school on the Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, her work on the FCPS Student Human Rights Commission, and her presentations at STEM and leadership conferences. She also enjoys dancing Kathak (a traditional Indian dance) as well as singing, both of which she has been involved in for 12 years.

Women LEAD: What is your background?

Sreya Atluri: I am a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, located in Alexandria, VA. I currently serve as the CEO and Founder of Creating Awareness in Research and Education and an Executive Director for Growth and Inspiration through Volunteering and Education, both non-profits, because I really enjoy making a difference in the community.

Outside of school, I’m dedicated to STEM, serving as a Fairfax County Coordinator for the USA Science and Engineering Festival, an X-STEM Coordinator, and actively pursuing research opportunities outside of school. I plan to pursue a career in the field of biomedical sciences and bioengineering, where I would be able to combine my passion for science and mathematics with my fascination and knowledge of technology to a fast-growing field, thereby making a positive difference for the future generations. Within my career, I want to integrate giving back to the communityand making an impact on society, through my dedication and commitment to leadership and volunteering for the benefit of others.

I am the Secretary-General, or President, of my school’s Model United Nations team, and due to my performance at both national and international conferences, I have been invited to the All-American Model United Team represent the United States of America in Beijing, China for the WEMUN Expo in both 2013 and 2014. Through my experience with Model United Nations over four years, I have become very interested in International Relations across the globe, and want to continue making an impact globally throughout my career.

I am the Co-President of Bioengineering Projects for the Future, on the Advisory Board for Tomorrow’s Women in Science and Technology, and a school-wide Coordinator for a mentoring program called BigSibs. I am also involved with STEMbassadors, the Spanish Honor Society, and the National Honor Society. I have pursued my research interests through my internship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, one of the world’s foremost medical research centers, for the last two years.

I am also a trained Kathak dancer and Carnatic music singer (both Indian types of art), performing at different charity showcases and prestigious competitions. In addition, I believe in a strong sense of commitment to the community, and actively seek to make an impact through my role as an elected representative of my school on the Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, my work on the FCPS Student Human Rights Commission, and my presentations at STEM and leadership conferences.

Women LEAD: You are the Executive Director of GIVE, a youth-led community organization that promotes civic engagement, service learning and youth leadership. Can you tell us more about your involvement with GIVE?

Sreya Atluri: Absolutely! GIVE benefits thousands of elementary and middle school students in Northern Virginia by providing them with free tutoring and mentoring for individual development. In addition, underprivileged high school students are able to seek AP/SAT preparation materials through the annual book drive hosted by GIVE, so that they are offered equitable chances of preparing for college. GIVE hosts a “RecQuest” summer program supporting STEM, and encouraging students to explore their fascination with STEM through interesting presentations by notable speakers, demonstrations of real-life applications, and hands-on experiments. Moreover, GIVE has published a children’s book advocating the campaign against bullying, and emphasizing the importance of diversity.

I have been heavily involved in all components of GIVE, and have specifically worked to expand the tutoring program to multiple new centers this year and incorporate STEM components into GIVE’s curriculum. I have also overseen the logistics for the AP/SAT book drive and promoted the awareness of the RecQuest program. I currently am the leader of the Development Committee, comprised of the Public Relations and Fundraising committees. As such, I work on coordinating partnerships to further enhance and publicize GIVE’s mission and impact, expanding GIVE’s presence on social media and online communities, and organizing fundraisers to support the ongoing projects.

In addition, my involvement in GIVE has sparked an interest to make a difference in the international community, and as such, I am the CEO and Founder of ‘Creating Awareness in Research and Education’ (CARE), a non-profit aiming to spread awareness of the importance of STEM and education, and seeking to spread appropriate resources in both the local and international communities, especially in areas where such opportunities are not readily available. Based on my rich and diverse experience and fascination with STEM, I feel that it is important to share my knowledge and provide the rising generation with equal resources, which drove the creation of CARE and its mission.

On the local scale, CARE has organized and sponsored a Winter Jackets program at elementary schools, where students were given new winter coats to prepare for the season’s weather, especially important given the record statistics for this year’s season. It is now expanding across multiple states in USA. In addition, I have explored the expansion of CARE’s mission on an international scale, funding merit scholarships in rural areas of India. CARE is involved in providing free dictionaries, curriculum books, and other educational resources to middle and high schools in a variety of rural districts (counties) in India. The mission is to promote and inspire learning, and provide opportunities for students to escape the cycle of poverty by joining the international educational community, and then inspire them to give back to their local communities, setting up a cycle of sustainability and community empowerment. The scholarships are intended to motivate student learning and achievement, and recognize those who put in an effort to better themselves.

Women LEAD: Can you tell us more about your involvement with initiatives in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)?

Sreya Atluri: STEM is something that I’m very passionate about, and awareness of STEM is something I believe should be strongly advocated for on a community basis. As I mentioned earlier, I am involved as a Fairfax County Volunteer Coordinator for the USA Science and Engineering Festival whose mission is “to stimulate and sustain the interest of our nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, and educational Festival in the world.”

In this capacity, I work to ensure that the greater community is kept aware of the opportunities provided by the USA Science & Engineering Festival, through coordinating publicity events, speaking to the school board to make sure schools in the county are aware of the opportunities, planning and organizing meetings for the Volunteer Outreach Team to determine an effective plan of action, being involved in the creation and distribution of promotional materials, actively participating in conference calls for planning purposes as well as expanding our network of partners and sponsors, and organizing the ultimate event- the USA Science and Engineering Festival Grande Finale Expo.

In addition, with my involvement, I serve as a program director for the Extreme STEM (X-STEM) program, sponsored by the USA Science and Engineering Festival to promote the X-STEM Symposium, and to encourage students to be engaged in and promote STEM. As a coordinator, I recruit delegates from my school and certify that they have completed tasks to earn free program tickets.

As a member of Tomorrow’s Women in Science and Technology, my team and I annually host Techstravaganza, a free event open to the public designed to encourage students to become involved through real-life demonstrations of applications, hands-on science experiments, exciting exhibits, and interesting speeches.

I am currently on the Children’s Science Center Volunteer Committee. As such, I promote awareness of Children’s Science Center events in the greater community, and work towards ensuring that children having access to the opportunities offered. I also coordinate efforts to recruit volunteers through publicizing and promoting awareness at my school and through the other organizations I am involved in. I also volunteer as a presenter at monthly mini-labs conducted at elementary schools design to inspire interest in STEM and promoting its mission, and have contributed to the “Museum Without Walls” project, a virtual museum which travels around Virginia to give students the opportunity to see creative and unique innovations being applied in a real-life setting. With my involvement in the Bioengineering Projects for the Future club at my school (currently serving as Co-President), I led an effort to create a functioning emotional stress detector, based on the inverse relationship between skin resistance and stress. After showcasing the stress detector at Techstravaganza, the event mentioned above, we donated the stress detector to the Children’s Science Center to allow more children to enjoy and learn from the project.

I am passionate about presenting at STEM and leadership conferences to further spread the message about STEM and the potential of its impact.

Women LEAD: Why does advocating for women in STEM matter to you?

Sreya Atluri: Advocating for women in STEM has been a huge part of my life, as the disciplines involved in STEM hold the potential to truly change the world, and make a valuable impact in the community. Women should be encouraged to pursue their dreams, and not let their fears of being the minority hold them back. As a winner of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing VA/DC Affiliate in 2014, as well as a National Runner-Up for the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing, I have been fortunate to be involved with a community in spreading the importance of STEM and empowering women, and this is something I hope to do throughout my future endeavors.

It matters simply because there is a discrepancy in the statistics of women choosing to pursue STEM careers, and given that, it is absolutely essential that women are encouraged to develop a love for STEM, and not hold back because they are afraid of being among very few women in that respective discipline. I have been fortunate to be able to pursue my dreams, and I hope to work towards a future where all women will have the opportunity to pursue theirs.

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

Sreya Atluri: My mother! My mom has been my rock and my support for the last 17 years, and I could not imagine my life without her. Anything I need, at any time of day, I know that she will be there for me. I sincerely appreciate how my mother supports me in all of my endeavors, allowing me the freedom to explore my own passions while lending invaluable strength and support. She has taught me the importance of expressing my opinions and upholding my beliefs, along with a strong commitment to giving back to the community and making a difference in the world. With her encouragement, I have been fortunate to always pursue my dreams, and know that no matter what happens, my mother will be there for me. I know that I can truly count on my mother for anything in my life, and without her, I certainly would not be the women I am today. My mother is my role model and one of my best friends, and undoubtedly the woman who has had the greatest impact on my life.

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

Sreya Atluri: Pursue your dreams and do not let anything hold you back! Stand up for what you believe in and choose the impact you seek to make. If you are truly passionate and driven about something, you will have the opportunity to succeed and you will gain from the experience. Follow your dreams and work towards making them a reality.