News – Welcome to World Woman Foundation


Women Leaders Should Create Pink Oceans™ – Not Compete in Gray Markets

ematically make even blue oceans an uphill challenge. Think of industries like insurance, private equity, wealth management – and many others – in which it is well-known that success as a woman will be like running in quicksand.  Let’s call these gray markets. Many of these industries have progressed – but they are based on traditions that hardly form the backdrop for the success of women.

 We pose the following question – in gray markets if the rules and systems are set up with a bias against women, why would a woman choose to compete in a market with someone else’s rules?  Put another way, why would women choose to put their passion, capital, and skills to work in a market that will only slowly accept that their institutional bias is, well, “biased.” We would suggest that while ten percent achievement in a gray market, would be groundbreaking, but why fight that fight?

 We suggest a different approach – that women should actually create what we call “pink oceans.” Pink oceans are alternative solutions to markets that are institutionally biased like gray markets.  And we would suggest that instead of swimming in (or against) the quicksand of gray markets, women possess all the talents, capital and passion to create their own alternatives to these markets.  All of this is easier said than done, but do we believe that PayPal would have ever developed in a bank, or Netflix could have been developed by Blockbuster?

 Women should create pink oceans.  Pink oceans will be hard – but they will be based on foundations that reward achievement without bias.  And it will only be a matter of time before gray markets will give way to pink markets.

 Let’s not forget that women’s strength, ability to influence, ability to trust and successfully lead a business, family or often both, is in fact because of the different roles women hold that makes them more powerful and courageous.

Pink oceans will allow women to embrace their own power and confidence in order to shake up decades of societal pressures and bias and bring forth a better future for all.

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Investing in Women is Key to Ending Global Hunger and Poverty

tact with Heifer International’s team in Zambia. We provided training over a period of eight months, and 20 women were given 20 heifers, which proved to be the start of a much bigger dairy business. With ongoing support from Heifer and other organizations, the women went on to form Fisenge Dairy Cooperative Union, the first women-owned and run cooperative in Zambia.

 This was back in 2005. Since then, the women have grown their business into a much bigger operation. Today, the cooperative has more than 400 members with 4,000 cows. It has established a series of satellite collection hubs – so farmers travel shorter distances to deliver their milk, reducing the risk of it spoiling – which then connect into the main milk collection hub. Milk is collected twice a day, quality checked, chilled, and then sold directly to Parmalat – one of the world’s largest dairy companies.

By selling directly to the dairy through the cooperative, the women get a better price for their milk. They also get access to credit, farming inputs, and other goods and services needed to grow their businesses. With the income from the milk, the women have been able to expand their farms, build new houses and send their kids to school. And as their farms have continued to grow and incomes increase, their husbands have been able to leave the mines and join their wives’ farming businesses.

 Beyond income, studies have also shown improvements in nutrition, and women now have a greater say in household and community decision making. “Poverty has been reduced and the women in the areas have gained self-confidence and independence,” said Effatah Jele, a founding member of the cooperative.

Fisenge is one of the thousands of cooperatives we work with in 21 countries around the world, including the United States. Whether they raise chickens, goats, cows, or grow crops like basic grains and vegetables, membership of a cooperative helps farmers get a better price for their products and gives them access to other services like quality feed, veterinary care and credit.

We focus on women farmers in particular, because we know they invest up to 90% of their income back into their families. When women have control over farm assets and the income their businesses generate, whole communities flourish. In India, Kenya and Mexico we’re working alongside women farmers as they expand their poultry farms in a sustainable way, producing nutritious eggs and meat that are eaten at home or sold in local markets. In Guatemala, we’re partnering with indigenous women as they build businesses producing fibers and dyes for textiles, organic vegetables and free-range poultry – profitable markets they themselves have identified.

These are some of the hundreds of thousands of women farmers around the world we work with every year who are #Redefiningrules, supporting them as they transform their farms into thriving businesses that deliver living incomes.

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Women Feeding the Future. It will take brains, not brawn, to feed the future

participating in agriculture, from the field to the food supply chain to the retail store.

More women are involved in feeding the future as awakening is happening in modern agriculture. Gone are the days you needed forearms the size of a fence post to drive a tractor – the modern farm is run by technology, drones, and sensors. It takes brains, not brawn, to understand trade issues and highly volatile commodity markets, and to manage the ups and downs of consumer trends and demand. Women with business experience are leaving the C-Suite to become full partners and owners in farming operations and leaders in agribusiness. An increasing number of female leaders are making tough decisions when it comes to food purchasing, logistics, and governmental regulations.

With 9 billion mouths to feed on this planet by 2050, we need agricultural leaders of every size, shape, and gender. As more women enter the male-dominated field, they’ll be managing an even bigger share of land. This requires a newfound focus on sustainability for the longevity of the land, and to meet consumer demand for sustainably-sourced food.

That consumer demand is rising….a BCG survey of 9,000 consumers in nine countries found that most (86%) want food products that are “good for the world and me”—items that are labeled organic, natural, ecological, or fair trade. Indeed, according to another BCG study completed another study that reports 70% of US sales growth in retail chains comes from sales of sustainable products.

As demand for sustainable, nutritious and safer food increases, farmers are implementing new practices to produce higher-quality crops. Women represent ownership in more organic farms than any other type of farm across the world. Globally, especially in regions where farmers don’t have access to modern technologies, women are leading sustainable co-ops to share resources and building education centers around sustainable production techniques. Combine this with the fact that women make up half of the consumer dollar and workforce, and you have a powerful force in supporting sustainable agriculture.

It should be empowering for women to know they have a role in feeding the future. Female collaboration and communication will bring new ideas to the discussion on strategic, sustainable farm systems. Women will be key to leading and supporting modern agriculture

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Yvette Gonzalez, a humanitarian, bioastronautics researcher, and spacesuit technician helping teenage girls develop careers in STEM


Yvette: I was born in California but was raised mostly in Texas, on the border with Mexico and New Mexico. It was a really interesting environment to grow up in. We were exposed to a lot of NASA contracts and a lot of our family worked there. But you also had extreme poverty. You could visibly see over the border, so there was this coming together of different communities. I had dreams of being in space. Our parents would take us out to the mountains, to the end of the Rockies, and we would be in the back of the truck staring up at the stars. We were just dreaming of whatever we wanted and our creativity wasn’t squashed. So being fed this opportunity to dream, to imagine, and to be creative and innovative really gave me a sense of wanting to do something extraordinary. I wanted to give back. I wanted to be an astronaut. But I thought at the time that I had to be a fighter pilot, had to be in the military, and I didn’t want that. When I got to college I saw a sign that said “do you want to travel the world, help people, save their lives, learn about other cultures”. I signed up as soon as I saw it and got into competition around working in public health. I was selected as one of 17 minority serving institutes, representing my university. That was the start of my humanitarian career. I was introduced to working overseas, to responding to emergencies and disasters. Even though I wanted to work in space, I was quickly converted to humanitarian work because I still felt this profound sense of purpose and giving back. 


Q: And can you speak more about the role you have now working on space suits?

Yvette: There’s a spectrum of people who help when you’re prepping for a spacewalk or being in space outside the capsule. Space is hostile and not a very safe environment for the human body. And so the space suit has to be an environment where you breathe, function, and thrive, while you’re operating in space.

I’m not an engineer who designs it. They are a very specifically talented group of people. I’m a space technician who helps in the spectrum from when people put on the suit to when they take it off. I make sure they are properly engaged, that they’re feeling comfortable, and able to breathe and function within that environment. I monitor their oxygen levels, and carbon dioxide levels, and we do this in a lot of environments. It’s not just a simulation. Once a year we go to Canada and we’re on a microgravity flight. There’s always one subject in the space suit and I make sure they are pressurized correctly. Then I monitor some biomarkers they have across their body. I’m looking to see if they are breathing if they are conscious if they are nauseous. We are learning more about the suit. To see if there is a leak if it is properly secured if there is enough airflow. We want to know whether this is a functional environment for someone to work in space. 


Q: How did you transition from doing humanitarian work to being a spacesuit technician?

Yvette: There came a point where I felt that I was interested in evolving and pursuing a different career. I embrace that because I’ve done it several times, having several different roles in the humanitarian field. 

Seven years ago I was mostly based in Haiti and had been there since the earthquake. I started to question whether I was doing justice to the work I was doing and if I was making a difference. The answer kept coming back, maybe not, so I started to interview six or seven of my closest friends that I thought had dream jobs. 

I was looking a job titles on LinkedIn, and thinking where I could build my skill set and in which direction. I started to cold call people and ask them questions. Are you happy to wake up on Monday morning? Do you feel like you are genuinely fulfilling your purpose? Are you stressed in a good way or stressed in a bad way?

I spent about six months doing this and reconnected with an old friend who had been in Haiti with me. She was working on creating 3D printers for space. I went to visit her in San Francisco and in one week she introduced me to a whole slew of people, businesses, and organizations. 

It was like a masterclass in what’s happening in the commercial space industry. This was 2017, and about a week later I signed up for classes to become a spaceship technician. In 2018 I started the crossover, networking and meeting people. That year I signed up for 13 conferences. I was taking any online course I could, I was extremely flexible in going and meeting people in person, and that’s how it all started. 


Q: What would you say to anyone who wants to transition careers?

Yvette: It’s hard to answer this because it is a very individual experience. When I started feeling that I wasn’t happy, that I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose, what helped was reaching out to a circle of trusted friends that you respect. 

Ask them those baseline questions. For me it was very important that Monday mornings weren’t scary. I think it’s smart to interview people you don’t know too, as they have no bias. People are happy to share their experiences with another human being. 

There’s a lot of power in knowing that these days you have the right and ability to not be judged for changing a job and reinventing yourself.


Q: Where does your passion come from

Yvette: I was lucky enough to be blessed with a large family. There’s 23 cousins and I’m the oldest of five. This large family taught me about community. I had a large family who was always there for me, I was to all that chaos and understanding different personalities. 

There’s also something interesting about being raised on a low income. As a family we were like how do we do better, how do we build on this? There was always a work ethic. I had a job at 15. 

The other thing is your internal grit. I ultimately have something innate in me that feels very different. It’s an unwavering desire to help that I can’t control. 


Q: You work in STEM in a very male-dominated field. Do you have any advice for a young girl who doesn’t align with girly interests?

Yvette: One thing I want people to know is that you can find your community with both men and women. The solution isn’t just to gather only with women. It’s how we work with allies who will support and amplify the message.

It’s also important to have accomplices. It’s really important to find those people who are willing to put their reputation and jobs on the line for you.

There are a lot of efforts, but if you don’t find one that is answering your question, feel free to build it. That’s what my friends and colleagues have done. We had the incredible privilege of training to work in space, and now we’re doing it, we want to make it accessible to others.

So we created our own outreach initiative. Today it is a microgravity challenge for girls age 13 to 17. It is also a mentorship program, with mentors the girls  can engage with for advice on education. We show them competitions and funding for scholarships. We offer connections, one of the best things that you can do.

I hope that I remain a catalyst, because it is my blessing and my privilege to have access to information and education. 


Q: Do you have any advice you would give your younger self?

Yvette: Definitely embrace all the change because that’s the one constant you’re going to find. Let yourself evolve, don’t be afraid. 

I got great advice from my accounting teacher in high school, that the best way I could help my family was to leave home and get an education. I would tell my younger self the same thing. 

I would tell myself to start traveling sooner, and exposing myself to different cultures. It was what I needed to open my mind. 


Q: If you had access to a billboard that was seen by millions of people, what would you put on it?

Yvette: Embrace interconnectedness.I think that if we did this more, I think we could accomplish more. And it will mean something different for each generation.

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Technology has a rippling effect on our economy, society, and community.- Shaloo Garg

pan style=”font-weight: 400;”>I was born in India and grew up in the Middle East. My dad was a mechanical engineer and we traveled quite a bit at that time. I remember being in middle school and being friends with a girl in the neighborhood. I noticed that she never went to school, although her older brothers did. I was so jealous because she never had to prep for exams. But later, I found out she was not allowed to go to school because she was a girl, which bothered me for many years. I questioned my parents but couldn’t get a response that made me feel at peace. Later, when I was doing my Masters, I was given a project to use technology to solve a problem in the community. This was way back then when technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today. My old neighbor was still stuck in my head so I decided to build a solution that helps educate girls who do not have access to education. 

Education is not just going to school. It’s not just a building with students and teachers. Education should be accessible by anyone and everyone in life. It’s one of the strongest passions I have, and I truly believe that technology is the strongest catalyst for change that we have today.


Q: Why is technology so important for you as a catalyst for change?

Shaloo: Technology has a rippling effect on our economy, society, and community. As an example, there’s a small rural area where they were not getting clean water. We went in and plugged in sensors to create a stream of clean water. And guess what? The mortality rate has declined in that area, and the economy is flourishing. Because more people equals more jobs and more money. 


Q: Could you speak a little more about why you are passionate about getting girls to access to technology? 

Shaloo: In my view, gender should never be an issue with accessing education. Everyone is born equal, so why should gender dictate who should go to school or not. I have done many initiatives with non-profits out there, and one of the biggest things that I have advocated for is challenging the status quo. We have the technology to drive change. All we need to do is make the effort. For example, there is a girl in South America I have been mentoring since she was five years. Each morning she wakes up and takes care of her family, but she doesn’t go to school. And the reason that she’s not allowed to go to school is that there are no bathrooms. It’s extremely heartbreaking that not having a girl’s bathroom in a school is preventing her from accessing education. This shouldn’t be her problem, it’s a community issue.

So imagine if we brought technology to her home. She can still continue whatever she is doing to help her family, but for one hour a day, she can log on to her device via her biometrics and continue with her education. 

How powerful would that be? Balancing what her community wants to do, and at the same time continuing her education.


Q: What you mentioned about community responsibility is really powerful. Can you tell us more about that?

Shaloo: I’ve done quite a bit of research about this and oftentimes we get into these big communal issues, like teenage pregnancy or women’s health issues in rural areas. But the way I look at it, it is really a pyramid. 

At the bottom of this pyramid is education. So if you make a strong ground for girls and young women to be educated and grow up in society as a male counterpart, I think that there is a lot we can solve right there at the foundational level. 

The community plays a big role in this because unless her family allows her to go out of the door to school, she will not go. Because when she reaches the age of 13 the plan is probably to give her a dowry and marry her off to an older gentleman. Which is totally not acceptable.

The new areas I’m working in right now will involve grounding advocates in the fold. These advocates are folks who speak the local language, who are very passionate about opportunities for girls, and most of the time they are women.

So the advocates can have conversations with the girls in an environment where the girls feel very safe. The advocates ask the girls what more they can do to encourage them to study, and show them the benefits of continuing their education. 

Community plays an important role in mobilizing change. Unless there is a change from top to bottom, it is very difficult to move.


Q: When you were growing up, who was your advocate that helped you get where you are today?

Shaloo: My biggest advocate was my mom. I remember her as a very strong woman who challenged the status quo. I feel that I get that part of my strength from her. 

To give you an example, my sister wanted to be a commercial pilot and at that time only men flew commercial planes. But my sister got her license. Then in my professional life I’ve had some amazing role models, and I would advise every young girl, or man for that matter, to surround yourself with coaches and mentors. It’s extremely important in your career. Most of the folks who have advocated for me have been men. 


Q: What is one piece of advice that you would give your younger self?

Shaloo: Surround yourself with these coaches and mentors. Remember it is not a transactional relationship, it’s not asking them “hey I need a job”. It’s an ongoing process of becoming a better version of yourself than you were yesterday. The other aspect is to be open to constructive feedback. To not get upset when your coach says “Gosh, look I told you to do this but you just didn’t listen.” To me, that is not how it works. To me it’s about soaking it all in and making a decision that you think is right for you. 


Q: Switching back to your field of work, what changes need to be made for women to lead more effectively?

Shaloo: The first thing we need to do is create more opportunities for women. Often I hear men complain that there’s a pipeline issue. I just think that you need to look hard enough.

There are a lot of women around, and you need to respect them for the journey they have gone through in their professional and in their personal life. Number two, is women creating opportunities for other women. I personally do that a lot and I have a lot of friends who do the same. So if I see a job opportunity, and I know that someone is going to be awesome in that role, I pick up the phone and support that. 


Q: Can you pinpoint a couple of traits that have contributed to your success?

Shaloo: Number one, I felt pain in the beginning of my life. I grew up in a war zone. I would come out of school in the afternoon and see dead bodies on the floor. That helped me to develop a very thick skin. It’s very difficult to shake me up and it helps me to put things in perspective.I am extremely blessed with the family life that I have, and the profession that I’m in. This has given me a lot of knowledge, skills, and wisdom in the technology space that I want to give back. 


Q: What is something that people can do now to create change in their communities?

Shaloo: You don’t need to have money, connections, or a network to give back. Giving can be very small, it can be baking cookies for an orphanage in your community. You also need to be prepared to be passionate about giving back. Figure out ways you can give back. Because I’m extremely tech-savvy, technology is my channel to give back. But you can find yours, in whatever channels are appropriate and accessible to you.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style? What are some takeaways about effective leadership?

Shaloo: Leadership is a few things to me. Number one is leading the tribe. I look at my team as a community. Number two is, that I love when my team fails. Once they fail, they recognize failure and come back stronger. I have failed so many times in my professional life, and I cherish those failures. It’s important to gain strength from failure. 

 We talk a lot about being collaborative and helping others. I view it as a given if you are in a tribe you help each other. What really matters is how you help your colleagues get through the finishing line.


Q: If you had access to a billboard that would be seen by millions of people, what message would you put on it?

Shaloo: Use it before you lose it. The reason is, that we’re in this world for a short period of time. That time is really upon us how we use it. Whether we want to use it to have a great life and a great job, or if we really lead a life that makes an impact on others. 




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Having an adventure can change your life because it can change your perspective on things. Allison Levine

untaineer and polar explorer.

Q: You’ve done just about everything, so where does your call to adventure and passion come from?

Allison: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and as a young kid I was very intrigued by the stories of the early Arctic and Antarctic explorers and mountaineers. I would read books and watch documentaries about these really cold places, I think because it felt like a bit of an escape from the oppressive summer heat in Phoenix. 

But I never thought I would go to these places because I was born with a hole in my heart that got bigger as I got older. I had to have my first heart surgery when I was 17. It didn’t work so well, but I had another one when I was 30. At that point, this light bulb went on in my head. I thought, ok, hang on, if I want to know what it’s like to be these guys crossing Antarctica on skis all the way to the South Pole then I should go to Antarctica and try to do that.

If I want to know what it’s like to be these mountaineers and these explorers going to remote mountain ranges, I should go to the mountains instead of just watching films about them. And if these other guys can do this stuff, why can’t I do it too. So I climbed my first mountain at 32 years old, I am 55 now and I haven’t stopped since.


Q: That’s unbelievable that you were born with a hole in your heart, can you explain a bit about that?

Allison: I was born with an extra bypass track in my heart that was not supposed to be there and it didn’t get diagnosed until I was 17. I grew up in a very tough love family, where we had these rules: no whining, no crying, no complaining. So even though I was having trouble breathing for years I was afraid to bring it to my parents. 

When I was 17 I lost consciousness, and the friends I was with had the good sense to rush me to the hospital. I was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition and I knew it needed to be corrected. Unfortunately, the first procedure I had was not successful, but the second one was life-changing for me.

I knew at that point I could go do some of the things I had dreamed about but wouldn’t have been able to do before that surgery.


Q: I feel like adventuring and outdoorsy stuff when you are a child is considered a boy thing. Did you have any sense of that growing up?

Allison: When I would read these books and watch these documentaries, it was all men doing these things and not too many women. But you have to start somewhere and I just thought gender is not going to be a barrier for me when it comes to doing the things I want to do.

Adventure should be for everybody. Anybody can go to the mountains, go to the Arctic circle or to Antarctica if you have a passion for adventure. 

You don’t have to look a certain way or be a certain height. I’m on the smaller side at five foot four, and most of the men I see in the mountains are much taller with long legs and big lungs. But what I realized is that you don’t have to be the best or fastest or strongest climber to get to the top of the mountain. You just have to be absolutely relentless about putting one foot in front of the other. 

I realized that I don’t have to be as strong as everyone else, I just have to focus on what makes me strong. It’s not my physical strength, it’s my determination, my sense of resilience. It’s also realizing that sometimes these environments can be intimidating, but that you can be scared and brave at the same time. 

If you realize that fear shouldn’t hold you back from anything you can keep moving forward, even in the face of fear. If you can do that , you can get to the top of any mountain, literal or figurative.


Q: How did your exploring and mountaineering start, and what has your progression looked like?

Allison: The first mountain I climbed was Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It’s not a technical mountain, you don’t need any special training or skills. Anyone can do it, but for me it was my first taste of altitude because it’s over 19,000 feet. 

What was so life-changing about climbing this mountain, is that it is where I realized that I had this voice in my head that told me I could keep going even when I felt like I was going to quit. We all have that voice. You just need to find it and listen to it, because the bottom line is that even when we feel we are about to quit we can always take just one more step. And then you take one more step after that. And one more step after that.

And that’s how you find yourself at the top of a mountain, right when you least expect it. 

After that I wanted to take things a step further, so I climbed Mount Elbrus, which is the highest peak in Europe. It’s also one of the famed Seven Summits, the highest peak on each continent. Mount Kilimanjaro was my first one, Mount Elbrus was my second. From there I climbed Aconcagua in South America. That is a really tough one because of the elevation.

To get to that point, I had to start climbing higher and more technical mountains. I built my skills up and I just started to observe and climb with people who were better than me. That helped improve my skills, and eventually, I got to the place where I could take on tough mountains like Denali in Alaska and Everest. I never thought that I would climb Everest, but sometimes we surprise ourselves. 


Q: You were also the captain of the first American women’s Everest expedition, so tell me about that.

Allison: In 2001 I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to serve as the team captain for the first American women’s Everest expedition. Initially, when I got the phone call I actually said no. Even though I had climbed the highest peak on six continents I was still worried that I wouldn’t be good enough, fast enough, or strong enough. It just felt like way more challenge than I was willing to take on at the time. 

Then I realized that there was only going to be one first American women’s Everest expedition. If I didn’t step up to the plate and be the team captain then someone else was going to do it. They would live my dream adventure. So I called them back and agreed to it, even though when I did I wasn’t sure if I had what it took to get up that mountain. 

I knew if I didn’t step up I wouldn’t find out, and I think there are times in your life when you just  have to step up even if you feel you aren’t ready.


Q: Was that one of the more challenging things that you’ve done in your life?

Allison: Climbing Everest was definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. Not only is it very physically challenging, but it is also very challenging psychologically. You’re away for two months on that mountain, in a remote, extreme environment where there is a lot of danger every single day.

Processing that stuff can cause your head to go to a very dark place sometimes. So not only are you dealing with the physical challenges of the mountain, you are dealing with the emotional challenges of being in a risky environment where lives are on the line every day.

That’s where attitude comes in. You need to hold onto a sense of positivity even when things feel bleak. That’s what gets you through the tougher times. 


Q: In a life and death situation, can you tell us how you learned from pitfalls? 

Allison: What you must remember when climbing a mountain like Everest is that your decisions affect everyone around you. When you are in an environment with constant risk, you have to make decisions that are best for the entire team. 

You always have to make sure you are using good judgment because one person’s poor judgment can wreak havoc on an entire team. You have to keep everyone’s health and safety in mind, as the number one goal of mountain climbing is to come back alive.

Getting to the top of Mount Everest isn’t the goal. Getting back down is. You can always go back to the mountain if you use good judgment. But if you do something dumb up there, you might not have an opportunity to go back. 


Q: What did you learn in a mountain setting that also applies to life?

Allison: In these remote, extreme environments, I learned to focus on setting goals and moving towards them. Even when you have no idea what’s coming down the trail or you don’t have perfect visibility.

This applies to life today. With the rate at which everything in the world is changing, we have no idea what next month is going to look like. We don’t even really know what tomorrow will look like. 

We must get through each day and adapt to whatever the universe throws our way. It’s having the mindset that I can adjust and keep moving forward, no matter how scared I feel. 


Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Allison: The first piece of advice I would give my younger self is not to ever listen to the naysayers. Sometimes when people tell you that something can’t be done, it’s because they don’t think that it’s possible for them. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible for you. You have to be relentless and keep going.

Another important thing I would tell my younger self is don’t be afraid of failure. Remember that failure is just something that happens to you at one point in time. Failure doesn’t define you. 

When I was younger, I was afraid of what would happen if I failed. Suppose I put everything into something and didn’t have the outcome I wanted. I should have known that failure is nothing more than an incredible learning experience.

Anything worthwhile in life is going to be hard to pursue. When something is hard, there is a good chance that you might fail, but it just means that you come back better the next time. Even if  I don’t have the exact outcome I want at the time, I might be paving the way for someone else to go on and achieve great things. 

During the Everest expedition, we had to turn around 300 feet from the summit because of bad weather. When we returned from the expedition, we were the butt of Jay Leno’s jokes, and we had to do a big media tour. To be part of such a high-profile expedition that didn’t make it was tough because we had so much media coverage. We had to talk about this failure on national TV.

It felt like a punch in the gut. I felt like I disappointed myself, the team, and everyone following the expedition.

It took me eight years to get up the guts to go back to the mountain. When I finally made it in 2010, I realized that I only made it because I had that failure 2002 under my belt. That previous failure taught me much about my pain threshold and risk tolerance.

We have to look at failure as a stepping stone to success instead of looking at it as a setback. 


Q: What are some of your leadership traits that have contributed to your success?

Allison: I spent four years as part-time faculty at West Point, the U.S. military academy. I used to lecture cadets on how to lead teams in extreme environments. One thing I focused on that made a lot of impacts was that as a leader, you have to help every single person on your team. It would be best if you focused on where your strengths are because everybody’s strengths are different. 

For example, I will never be the fastest or strongest on the mountain. But I can be the one with a positive attitude, the relentless one. I can be the one to give people a pep talk to keep them going even when they feel like they can’t. 

Every single person on a team has an area where they can contribute. If you are so focused on comparing yourself to other people, you may never uncover what makes you strong. My superpower is bringing positivity to the team.

You’ve heard the term enthusiasm is contagious. Our brain contains these specialized cells called mirror neurons. They mimic the emotions of the people around you. So when you are a positive, upbeat person, that helps the people around you to be more positive. 

Science shows that positive teams perform at a higher level. Positive people are healthier and live longer. So I know that if I can be that person, even when the weather is crap or when everyone is exhausted, that’s going to help my team. 

Everybody can be a positive influence on the people around them. You don’t need special training or gear. You have to be able to find some positivity and practice gratitude. 


Q: What problem are you passionate about solving right now?

Allison: I’m passionate about encouraging every single person to embrace a leadership mindset. I mean that you don’t have to wait for somebody else with a certain title to give you direction in your life or career. 

Everybody should think of themselves as a leadership position because leadership isn’t about a title or how many people you oversee. It’s about realizing that every single member of a team has a responsibility to move that team towards a goal. 

And everybody also has the responsibility to be looking out for each other. 


Q: What do you want people to take away from this interview?

Allison: Having an adventure can change your life because it can change your perspective. It doesn’t have to mean going to the Arctic Circle or Everest; adventure can be a change of environment or traveling somewhere you’ve always dreamed of going. 


Q: What would you suggest as a call to action?

Allison: I want people to remember that you must embrace failure and learn from it. You must realize that whatever difficult situation you are going through will make you stronger.

I want people to realize that they have the power to be an architect of change in someone else’s life. With a few kind words, you can completely change the outcome of a difficult situation for somebody. 






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Astronaut Christina Koch talks about living in space —and how to live more fully here on Earth

the Moon. 

Christina built herself up for these exploits in a pre-space-flight career that was exciting in its own right. After earning degrees in electrical engineering and physics, she alternated between two types of work on the ground: designing scientific instruments to be launched into space, and journeying into fierce polar climates with government research teams that study the natural sciences. These experiences prepared her both mentally and physically to be chosen for space flight. World Woman Hour honors Christina as a true trailblazer. Here are highlights from her WWH interview. 


Q: What put you on your path to becoming an astronaut? 

Christina Koch: When I was a young girl, I loved anything that made me feel small.

Anything that made me ponder the size of the universe, my role in it, how vast it was, and everything that there is to explore. I used to love opening travel magazines that came to the house, tearing out pages of far-off places and putting them up on the walls of my room. When I was a middle schooler I had pictures and maps of Antarctica, with pictures of space right next to those—and it turned out that the walls of my middle-school youth ended up defining my career. 

I had a career that was twofold. I spent time in space science, working on NASA instruments, and I also worked as a field engineer and research assistant exploring the most remote corners of the earth, including Antarctica. So I always tried to stay true to the things that drew me in from the time I was young. And eventually the time came when NASA put out a call for astronauts. I looked at everything I had done and thought, yeah: I’m going to put my name in the hat and see if I’m someone who can contribute to that team. And I was extremely fortunate to be selected and achieve something I never thought I would. 


Q: Could you say a bit more about your passion for this type of career? 

Christina: I see NASA’s mission as answering humanity’s call to explore. Exploration is something that we humans have done from the beginning of time. It defines who we are and what sets us apart, and it also is what unites us. I think that seeking out knowledge and discoveries is what exploration is all about. It’s why we do it—it’s inherently something we want and need to do—and it also brings back benefits. I’m just so fortunate that I’ve been able to contribute to exploration for many years.


Q: After a super-long mission in space, how does the experience impact your life? 

Christina: I recently celebrated two years since my landing and I’m still learning, every day, how living in space for almost a year can affect your life. When you first come back to Earth there are a lot of physical changes, because living in microgravity is something that the human body adapts to in very fascinating ways. But there are also changes that you go through as a person, in space, and some of these changes have been long-lasting for me.

I think I take life more seriously now, in a lot of ways. And I think that’s a result of living for so long with the lives of my crewmates in my hands, and having to remain vigilant for so long. The privilege of carrying everyone’s dreams with you into space also comes with a responsibility. It’s the responsibility to protect the people around you and to bring your best every day. Constantly paying attention to that, along the way, changes you. And in some senses, I think that change is every bit as profound as the change that you have when you look upon the Earth from space and you realize that we’re all united and we’re all part of the same vast universe.


Q: Becoming an astronaut is something that sounds almost out of reach for most of us.  What advice would you give to women who have a goal that seems unattainable, or almost impossibly distant?

Christina: If you feel like the dream that you have is unattainable—that it’s too far off; that it’s too many years and too many steps away; that it’s a mountain or a tsunami in front of you—guess what? You have something in common with everyone who has achieved something big. Remember that every step along the way is achievable. And that you get the most from life and give the most back when you reach really far to do the things you’re scared of, that you think you might not be able to do. So: If you’re having those feelings, you’re probably on the right track.


Q: What have you learned from failures or setbacks in your career?

Christina: You know, I totally love a can-do attitude, but I also try to remind people that sometimes failure is an option. And sometimes it’s a great option, because if you aren’t failing, you’re probably not pushing the boundaries. I think that failure is part of the journey and we can give ourselves permission to wallow in it for a bit, but then we should set an end time to that and move on. Because the truth is, you’re doing it right if you are hitting those snags and failing. And if you aren’t, you’re probably not pushing enough.


Q: Is there any advice you would give your younger self, knowing what you know today?

Christina: When I think back to my younger self, I see someone who was so driven, and so individually motivated, almost to the point of not seeking out the benefits of bringing people into teams or joining groups to be part of something greater. I was very focused on getting things done on my own; on the joy that came from grit and from showing that I could work hard to achieve something. I think I would tell the 20-year-old me that it’s more fun if you have a team around you, and that teamwork is actually a skill that’s just as important as hard work on an individual level. You can go so much farther when you put together a team of people who are all doing what they love.


Q: Prior to this interview, you’ve spoken about learning to be a “mental ninja” who has a quality called “mental toughness” or “mental fortitude.” Could you explain what this means and how to achieve it? 

Christina:  At NASA we have a saying that long-duration spaceflight is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. What that is about is making sure you maintain a pace for yourself that is sustainable, both mentally and physically. To me, finding that sweet spot where you can bring your best every day but you’re not getting drained or burnt out is an important part of maintaining mental toughness.

Astronauts work on learning the skill of turning fear into focus, learning the skill of picking yourself up after failures, and learning the skill of pacing yourself, so that you have something in the tank when anything unexpected comes up. I think that has great application to people who are running after a dream, and just to all of us in living our lives. The pace that lets you maintain the marathon of your life is the pace that you have to stick to and defend. And then you have to raise your mental game within that pace, to bring your best self to every single day.

Another thing that I think is important for maintaining mental fortitude is reaching outside yourself. When you turn it around and think about how you can help the people around you, oftentimes that inherently builds more mental fortitude than worrying too much about your own things. When we practice mutual team care, not only do we benefit as a team, we also grow the most as individuals.


Q: How can we bring more women into science and innovation?

Christina: First we need to make sure that everyone has an equal playing field. We also need to reach out to young people, to provide examples of what it’s really like to do the things and live the lives that they’re dreaming about. I think people may have misconceptions about future work and careers that aren’t necessarily true, which can drive them to make decisions that aren’t as authentic as they think they may be. 

Personally, I love mentoring. I love reaching out to people who are in the shoes that I was in, 10 or 20 years ago, and giving them a window into what it means to do different kinds of jobs. When people get a picture of what different careers actually look like, they can hone their dreams and make sure that they’re the right ones for them. And then those dreams will be worth fighting for.


Q: Girls and young women may often feel disempowered, and unsure how to create a better future. What would be your call to action, to galvanize them into making a change for themselves?

Christina: My call to action for anyone would be to do what scares you. What I mean by that is that if you’re looking for where your passions live, and maybe not sure which direction to go,

think about the things that intrigue you but yet scare you, because maybe you think you can’t accomplish them. That’s the exact place you need to go if you want to get the most from life for yourself, and give back the most to the world.

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Entrepreneur Tiffany Whitlow aims to improve medical care for people of all ethnicities

access to clinical research opportunities. Tiffany champions inclusion over diversity within the healthcare field and continues to challenge the status quo.   

Tiffany is Acclinate’s Co-Founder and Chief Development Officer, and with her fellow co-founder Delmonize Smith, CEO, they are building a range of other services to connect minority communities with pharma companies and healthcare providers. The goal is for all people to be able to make better-informed decisions about treatment options, care and have access to that care. Acclinate is attracting major support, and has received financing and other forms of assistance from Google, through its Black Founders Fund. 

World Woman Hour honors her for making significant contributions to health care while serving as an advocate and role model for women. What makes Tiffany stand out among healthcare entrepreneurs is that she is doing all of this without the benefit of having advanced degrees in either science or business. What Tiffany does have is a tremendous drive for turning real-world learning into useful innovation. Here are highlights from her interview with WWH. 


Q:  Tiffany, would you start by telling us the story of how you came to be where you are today? 

Tiffany Whitlow: Very early in life, I was adopted into a biracial family. My birth mother gave me up for adoption because of the color of my skin. As I grew up, it was important to me to make sound healthcare decisions, but I couldn’t do that since I didn’t know much about my family’s health history. When I became a mom at 19 years old, it was no longer just about my healthcare decisions, I now had to make decisions for someone else, who was depending on me. I needed to be sure that I was making informed decisions. My son was hospitalized and diagnosed with asthma. He was given the most commonly prescribed drug Albuterol which, unfortunately, is 47% less effective in African Americans and 67% less effective in Puerto Ricans. That’s just one example of a commonly prescribed drug that is less effective, or has negative side effects, due to a person’s ethnicity, which is why our work at Acclinate is so important.


Q: What gives you the passion to keep pushing forward with all of the work involved in starting and building a company?  

Tiffany: Not enough people know that there’s a lack of diversity in clinical trials, which means we are consuming drugs that may not be the best for us. I’ve always had a passion for ensuring that those who feel unheard are heard, and are represented and included.


Q: What have you learned about overcoming setbacks and failures on your journey?

Tiffany: A failure is not a failure. A failure is a lesson learned, and your job is to make sure that you don’t fail at something twice. Remember that every single failure makes you who you are and allows you to be in position to move ahead, so the failure is just getting you prepared.


Q: From your experience, could you share one word of advice you’d give to younger women just starting out? 

Tiffany: Be patient and continue to work, because your time is coming. It’s all about the right time. In business, timing is everything. Timing your relationships: at what point they are activated. People don’t understand, because we always want to rush.


Q: What changes can be made to help more women succeed and become leaders in fields like yours? 

Tiffany: One is to truly support women with the resources, mentorship, and finances they need. Really surround the whole person, and make sure that this one woman is in place and ready to receive all that she has, and that the person then reaches backward and is able to do the same thing for someone else. 

Also, we have to focus on developing people and not just providing the resources without a plan. That has to include real financial guidance, and guidance in self-development. By making these changes we can ensure that women not only enter the fields of science and innovation, but also remain here.


Q: In terms of increasing the representation of women in science and innovation, do you see key steps that still have to be taken? 

Tiffany: One of the most pressing problems with the representation of women is that our voice is still not heard. It’s like we got a welcome into the room, we have a seat at the table, but we are not really heard. Everything we say has to be validated over and over again, yet we are the leaders within our families—the trusted leaders making health care decisions, everyday decisions. But we’re not trusted in the boardroom; we’re not trusted when it comes to innovative ways to ensure that there’s diversity in clinical research. Why? There has to be change.


Q: How can women themselves take the lead as problem-solvers in health care? Or in any area? 

Tiffany: Women can lead in solving so many problems in so many ways. You don’t have to be a scientist, you don’t have to be a researcher. I do it by drawing on my lived experience. I think about the point at which I’m actually making health care decisions, and the point where you’re actually going to get to me and my family in order for me to make those decisions for my parents, for my children, or my husband. And so I lead through my lived experience. Who would have thought that all of the hurdles we’ve faced, and all of the journey that we’ve had thus far, would turn out to be relevant in bringing innovations to life?


Q: Can you name three ways that women are leading—or could lead—the change for a better world for women everywhere?

Tiffany: First, by assuming more roles in male dominated fields. Second, by prioritizing their careers and personal aspirations, which allows them to serve as great role models for young women and girls. And by openly sharing their experiences. I try to be transparent and authentic with as many people as possible, to let them understand what I’ve learned through my journey and make sure that they aren’t making the same mistakes that I have made.


Q: Could you say more about what “leading” consists of, in your view? And the qualities that are required? 

Tiffany: Leading, to me, is ensuring that I am represented and that other women are represented, especially in male-dominated fields. Our time is now and we must move swiftly. That is going to take true leadership. Leading to me is remaining hopeful of what’s possible, despite how bleak everything might look at times. And I feel that I am leading change for women by spearheading initiatives that place our families at the forefront—because that’s what women do.


Q: What would be your call to action, for someone right now to be able to go out and do something?

Tiffany: One change that you can make is to prioritize your health. Remember to pause, breathe, and go. That is how I make it through the day: pause, breathe, then  go. Ladies, the time is now.  


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Michelle McMurry-Heath, leader of a major biotech group, shares insights on women and science.

ort science, and also create alliances and events for purposes like knowledge-sharing. (One alliance helped to accelerate the development of Covid-19 vaccines.) 

Michelle’s background makes her a powerful leader. As a student, she was the first African American to graduate from Duke University’s renowned MD/Ph.D. program for training medical scientists. After working as a hands-on researcher, she played key roles in various U.S. government initiatives. These included planning how to protect the country from bioterror attacks, and efforts to improve the processes for testing and distributing new medicines. Here are highlights from Michelle’s interview with World Woman Hour.  


Q: Could you tell us how your early life and career shaped the journey to where you are now? 

Michelle McMurry-Heath: Both of my parents were in public health, so I got to see how there was such a need to apply what we know about health care to communities of people who were really struggling—struggling to make it every day, struggling to improve their lives and the lives of their children. As I got more exposed to science and the power of not just what we know today, but what we’re going to know in the future, I saw that it was important to make sure that those future advances are within reach of more families.

So I decided that I wanted to combine medicine and science with public policy. That led me to a series of roles which included working on Capitol Hill and working for the Food and Drug Administration. And, eventually, I was tapped to lead the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.


Q: Clearly you have a passion for the social mission of science. Would you say more about that? 

Michelle: We often tend to think of science as something precious or privileged, that will only apply to or help the most advantaged among us. But actually, I think science is ten times, if not hundreds of times more important for those of us who are disadvantaged because it is so powerful. Science has the ability to unlock health, to unlock clean environments. It has the ability to deliver nutritious foods that are fundamental to building healthy minds and bodies in children all over the globe. In these ways and more, science is the great equalizer. 

So we have to make sure that new scientific knowledge and new technologies are disseminated to absolutely everyone who needs them. For example, helping our innovative companies bring their Covid vaccines to market has been an incredible experience. I remember getting my own vaccination and looking at the lines and lines of people just waiting to get their share of that science. 

This illustrates why it’s important for scientists to realize that science has the power to change so many lives and to fight for access to scientific knowledge. I think that’s as important as pursuing knowledge in the first place. And as I meet young scientists today, I think a lot of them are enthused by the idea that science can be something that delivers justice and delivers hope.


Q: People always want to know how leading women deal with challenges and setbacks. Can you share what you’ve learned? 

Michelle: I think the biggest stymieing points in my career have been the times when I want to do something that is at the junction of two different areas, and there’s no map for those junctions, no map for those new territories. There’s always that point where you have to decide: Are you going to have faith in yourself and the courage to pursue what is really igniting your imagination? Or are you going to stick to the known maps? I encourage everyone to follow those insights, those fascinations that make you uniquely intrigued and suited for pursuing a question.


Q: Can you give examples of these cutting-edge “junctions”? 

Michelle: Science right now is about bringing down barriers between disciplines. You have bioinformatics, where you’re combining your knowledge of biology with your knowledge of information technology. You have big data, where you’re thinking about how artificial intelligence can help you answer a critical question of human health. I think the future is about those junctures, those blurring of boundaries. That’s where the real knowledge gains can be made. And I would hazard to say that many female scientists are uniquely suited to some of that frontier-hunting, which is so critical for science.


Q: What changes could be made in your field for women to lead more effectively?

Michelle: I think women are incredible leaders. I think we’re really good, on the whole, at being able to balance competing priorities and pay attention to the myriad needs of people around us. We’re able to be responsive and responsible at the same time, so I don’t think there needs to be a change to let women be effective leaders. I think there needs to be a recognition that leadership is most effective when it is not only focused on concrete results. 

Concrete results are extremely important, and I think female leaders are great at getting to those results. But they’re also good at building the fabric of an organization, which lets you deliver those concrete results over a much longer range of time. Sometimes there’s a scorched-earth approach to leadership, where you drive to the immediate result in such a way that you win the battle and lose the war, because you destroy everything in your wake to get there.

I think many of us who are female leaders see ourselves as building for the future, not just building for that short-term deliverable. And I think that’s a view of longevity of leadership that can be more valued than it is today.


Q: What do you see as the most pressing issues for increasing the representation of women in science and innovation?

Michelle: Well, it’s improving. If you look at graduate schools and sometimes at the more junior professional levels, we’re almost reaching parity if not greater than parity of women in a number of the scientific fields. But women tend to lose that parity and fall ‘way behind as you go up the ladder. 

When I was in graduate school, 20-30 years ago, there were a lot of female participants in the sciences. But as you look around today, you don’t see them in the same percentage of representation in leadership. There’s been some attrition, and I think if we don’t pay more careful attention to what’s causing that attrition, we’ll be sitting here 20 years from now wondering how we got so far behind in terms of pulling female leaders into science. 

One thing that I think stands in the way of women as they go along through their scientific careers is just the trajectory of the career; the timing of the career that you are expected to have. The timeframe in which you’re supposed to make certain types of investments in your future doesn’t necessarily line up with having and raising a family. I think there needs to be a little more elasticity in scientific career trajectories so that more women can have that window of time to have a family, as well as continue to progress. So career flexibility is going to be important.

I think we also need to ask ourselves, are we paying enough attention to the questions that women want to answer? It has struck me throughout my career that people are attracted to answering the scientific problems that strike a chord with them individually, and there is nothing wrong with that. It leads to great passion and devotion to pursuing the answer, which is exactly what you want. But then we have to have a broad acceptance of the types of questions that we think are worth pursuing, if we want a broad representation of female scientists in the field.


Q: Are there major scientific questions or research areas that need to be pursued more vigorously?   

Michelle: Women’s health and reproductive health are areas that have been woefully neglected for decades. And I think that’s due in part to a judgment that these areas are not as important for research as other areas of human health, which we all know is nonsense. We don’t have human health without reproductive health. We don’t have healthy families without healthy women. So we need to make sure that we’re valuing these areas of research as we go along.


Q: Any advice you would give to your younger self, which might also apply to young women today? 

Michelle: Mentors are critical but not sufficient. Particularly when we’re starting out, it’s such good advice to find mentors who can shed light on what lies ahead. You want to make sure that you understand the path you’re considering and that someone is there to help steer you. But at the same time, when you’re charting a new course, sometimes it’s difficult if not impossible to find a mentor who really knows that novel terrain. So you have to use that mentorship, soak it up and be grateful for it, but at the same time not be constrained by it. I think that’s critical as you explore what excites you individually.

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Petita Ayarza stands up for women’s rights and indigenous rights in Panama’s National Assembly

y of maintaining their own language and culture, while at the same time interacting with mainstream societies through trade and (more recently) tourism. Many live in a region along the Atlantic coast of Panama called Guna Yala. This coastline, together with the numerous small, offshore islands where most towns are located, is Petita’s homeland. And years ago it was the site of the Guna Rebellion of 1925. When the national government tried to force the people to assimilate to “Western” culture, as Petita calls it, a brief but successful revolt allowed the Guna to govern their territory with a high degree of autonomy and to keep their traditional customs. 

Ironically, one thing the assimilation campaign had tried to do was getting Guna women to adopt Western styles of dress, while doing away with their traditional mola garb. Mola is a form of applique in which fantastically colorful shapes of birds, mythic creatures, and abstract designs are sewn into blouses and other garments. Today, mola is considered an artistic treasure—made and worn proudly by the Guna women, sold to eager tourists, and even displayed in art galleries.  

Petita, a mola artist herself, has spent much of her life since childhood shuttling between Guna Yala and Panama City, the nation’s capital. This means that her life has bridged two cultures, and it has been a complex, challenging journey. Her parents had very little formal education but arranged for Petita to study at private schools in the capital. However, Petita was married young: at 13, as Guna women often are. She then proceeded to bear and raise five children while combining hard work with support from her family to go on to college. After studying subjects from law and economics to sociology, she earned a degree from the University of Panama that prepared her to work as a technical expert in eco-tourism, which became her line of business in Guna Yala. 

Meanwhile Petita entered politics. At the local level she served as Regional Director of the Ministry of Social Development, and then after a failed electoral run, she won her present seat in the National Assembly. Her passion is to improve the lives of the Guna, especially the women, and this too has become a complex balancing act. For example, she seeks to preserve what’s good and beautiful about Guna traditions while moving past the notion that “women should withdraw from professions or politics and stay at home taking care of children.” 

Health care for women is another area of concern. Childbirth in Guna Yala has long been attended by midwives, and “they are very important,” Petita says—“they have the medicine and they also give psychological support, so that when your children are born you are calm, and delivery is faster”—but the ranks of experienced midwives are shrinking, and there is a need for more Western-style maternity care as well. Moreover, Petita notes, “botanical” (i.e., herbal) medicine plays a major role in Guna Yala, and this must be merged with the use of modern treatments. When the Covid pandemic arrived, for instance, “the regional doctor wanted to help in every way, but many women said ‘I don’t want to get vaccinated’ or ‘I don’t want to put on a mask.’” 

For more of Petita’s story, here are highlights from her interview with World Woman Hour


Q: Can you speak a bit further about what is valuable in Guna culture and what the needs are? 

Petita Ayarza: It’s not that we [indigenous people] don’t know what’s going on abroad in the West. ​​Rather, we have a different vision of the same universe. We listen to the ancestral messages that tell us how we need to coexist with nature, with Mother Earth, with everything that is the ecosystem. It is a vision of a brotherhood of love. Yet at the same time, we women often have restricted ourselves from making progress. We say “Enough is enough; we are fine where we are.” Too often we resign ourselves to our traditional status, saying “Well, that’s the life of a woman,” without understanding that we have rights to do more. 


Q: What motivates you to be so passionate about women’s issues?

Petita: I feel that one’s personal life has effects on this view. As a child, I was a very restless girl, doing the cultural parts of our Guna life but always questioning. Our tradition is that girls must do three stages to become women. The first is a haircut and nose piercing, the second comes when one begins to menstruate, and the last is marriage. They teach you all that from the time you are little, along with how to behave, but in my mind I was asking, why are we doing this? Which parts are important? 

I tried to go along and I saw the many good things of this culture, like all that love that my grandparents taught me. But also my mother told us she had wanted to be a teacher, because she liked to study, and that path in her life was ended because she only reached third grade. With this and other experiences, I saw that many did not have the right to study or advance and that everything was, to put it in the modern way, discriminatory toward women. I saw women who stayed in school only until sixth grade, at most, and then it was time for marriage because that was the usual thing. There were even young women who, when they got married, were not allowed to choose their husband but the decision had to be made by the parents.


Q: So, your mother decided that you would be the woman who would go on to study?

Petita: Yes, she opened doors for me. She told me “Because I wanted to be a teacher, I am going to help you.” My parents brought me to the city [Panama City], and when there was no more room for enrollments in the public school there, they enrolled me in private school. I got to meet different people from other places. 


Q: And what was that like, the cultural exposure? 

Petita: I remember that for fourth and fifth grade, I was in the Republic of Germany School and I lived with a small group of other girls. One was a Panamanian brunette, another was German. We were a good little group of three, but I was the indigenous one. And when my friends told me, “In the future I’m going to be a biologist” or “In the future I’m going to do this,” I thought: What am I going to do? Because my background did not include being able to do anything like that.  And in fact, I went on to study many different things. 


Q: What have you learned about dealing with setbacks and failures?

Petita: I don’t talk about “failures,” I call them “experiences.” Because really, ​​I feel it would be a failure to say “I’ll stay in a corner and I’m not going to do anything.” There was a moment later in my schooling when my mom saw that I was crying. ​​I told her “Mom, look, I got pregnant; now what do I do? I can’t finish my studies.” She told me “Don’t worry, there’s a solution. Your husband is going to help you.” What’s more, she was carrying a very nice piece of clothing and some big, beautiful earrings and she said, “I’m going to sell this. You’re going to be at school with your child, and I’m going to take care of that for you.” 

That’s why family is important, and it’s also why communication is important. For me, when I thought that something couldn’t be done, my mother opened the doors to show that it could be done. 

And here is another aspect. Eventually I graduated with a degree as a business expert, knowing about accounting, economics, and administration. But since I was in the city and the economy was not coming along, again I wondered, what can I do? What I had learned when I was young was how to sew the mola. So I cooked up mola and stuck it on a sweater; I cooked up mola and sold it in a painting. I did raffles; I knocked on doors. In those moments I understood that there were times when I myself had to open the doors. 

My husband also started working in a place that did molas. And then, with our investment, we entered the tourism business in Guna Yala and I was able to have a career in politics. But if I had not had that motivation, along with the help that I got, I would have stayed quiet with my children and would never have told myself that I could come this far. 


Q: One more question. How can women everywhere, especially indigenous women, be helped to advance themselves? 

Petita: We have to give women new parameters. We have to help them know that even at times when money goes away, education and health are most important, and those things will be available. We have to recognize that we cannot escape the differences of being a woman, but when it comes to our goals and our future needs, we can support each other—so that all women benefit. Thank you!

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