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Nadia Sanchez works to improve the lives of women and girls in distressed areas of Colombia and nearby. 

peace agreement reduced the open warfare, deadly flare-ups still occur and the effects of the past are still deeply felt.  

Beyond Colombia, Nadia and the She Is Foundation also work with women and girls in nearby countries, who may face other forms of disruption or deprivation. For all concerned, the Foundation develops what it calls “a sustainable women’s empowerment model.” Along with providing basic humanitarian aid, the Foundation conducts education-and-support programs that range from business and social entrepreneurship to peacemaking and tech innovation for girls. (For example, She Is connects them virtually with the NASA Space Center in Houston, and recently sent 31 Colombian girls there for an in-person immersion experience.) 

Altogether, the work that Nadia leads has touched over 15,000 women and girls thus far. Here are highlights from her interview with World Woman Hour


Q: Nadia, what put you on the course to do what you’re doing now?

Nadia Sanchez: This is something that I had been dreaming about for years. I grew up in a family of teachers, where I always saw my mother helping women and girls.  Later, I worked for the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, so I created the She Is project initially for the Bank. When the Bank rejected it, I decided to return to Colombia, to discover that reality and to work and walk through so many places, so many hostile terrains. I wanted to know the truths and stories of women and girls who were looking for great opportunities. And that’s when I founded She Is as a nonprofit organization.  

What I thought at first was a frustration, a rejected idea, has turned out to be a foundation with great impact for women and girls in Latin America. Its purpose is to create a global agenda that will improve the quality of life for many women and girls who have been invisible—both in the countryside and everywhere. 


Q: What inspired your passion for women’s issues? 

Nadia:  There is still a historical debt that society owes to women and girls, in regard to visualizing a better future and being able to believe and create. I think that is what motivates me the most. And I can transfer that passion to others, so that more people have the opportunity to become great women who not only conquer high positions, but also achieve their hopes and dreams.

Today women are passionate, and I love it. I am passionate about working for them, because it has allowed me to lead, and to carry the voices of all those women who have been silenced. 


Q: The work that you do is very challenging. What have you learned about failure, and overcoming failures? 

Nadia: What I have learned is to embrace failure and generate a thousand solutions. I always say that failure is a new opportunity, a new window that opens in the middle of 99 doors that have been closed. 

When you embrace failure, you have to understand that it is part of the essence of a process: not only a part of the essence of trying, but of the path of life. Many times when we say “I failed,” we think that it is synonymous with defeat. But when we talk about failure, we should mean that we have done so many tests along the way that today, we know the best way to do it—because we embraced failure and faced our fears. 

That fear is not a constant.  On the contrary, it is the little kick that can drive us. And once I learned to embrace failure, I was no longer afraid of it. 


Q: It’s so important, isn’t it, for girls to understand that failures are part of the evolution of an idea? 

Nadia: That’s right. Sometimes they question us and tell us “I can’t fail!” It’s hard for them to understand that in the end, it’s part of the process. 


Q: If you could talk to a much younger version of yourself, what advice would you give?

Nadia: I always question myself, and I even love writing about that inner child that we all carry. I would say to my inner child not to question myself so much. When I was a child, I had to feel that everything was perfect and in order. I would have loved to understand that life is simply a process of imperfections. 

So the best advice is, let’s not judge ourselves so much. Let’s not demand so much of ourselves that it keeps us from living our dreams. As we say here in Colombia, don’t take it so hard every day that you don’t let the weathervane of your life flow. I always tell this to the girls I work with: Keep believing in yourself without judging yourself so much, like a perfectionist. Because the wonder of life is in the imperfections. 


Q: What changes can be made, so that more women can be more effective leaders?

Nadia: A big part of those changes is to understand that effective leadership starts from human leadership. We women are by nature maternal, and that must be reflected in empathy for others. We have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, three sizes smaller, to understand the ability to lead. An effective leader does not destroy voices; an effective leader guides voices. 

And so, women today in global movements are preparing to lead—but they will lead with transformation, and with humanism. They will lead us toward a sensibility of empathy, of human fellowship, and of guidance. 


Q: To what extent is women’s health care important for the future?  

Nadia: It is extremely important. It is essential to talk about women’s health care as a necessity, not a privilege that is available only to some. All women and adolescent girls in the world deserve the right to decent menstrual health, to mental health. To be able to give birth with the comforts and conditions that some women have, but not all. 

In the future, we must talk about humanizing and raising awareness of women’s health. We cannot avoid issues like teenage pregnancies, or clandestine abortions, or topics such as breast cancer and uterine cancer. These things affect women and girls throughout their entire life processes of growth, gestation, and maturity. We must understand that health concerns for women and girls are different than they are for men. And for women in many regions of the world, access to knowledge and care continues to be a privilege. We have to achieve health care that is truly universal. 


Q: Are there particular health issues for women that you would want to call attention to? 

Nadia:  At She Is, we have an integrated model for empowering women, to give them the entrepreneurial and innovation tools to get ahead. And one thing we have to work on with them is mental health. In places where there has been armed conflict in Colombia, we have had to work with women literally from scratch, rescuing the survivors. They may have panic attacks or other mental health issues. Also, part of the problem is the amount of overload in women’s lives. The responsibility for family care falls much more on women, and this combines with being in a conflict environment to put pressure on their mental health. 

So, while there are endless factors that we are passionate about working on at the foundation, health is part of the base of the pyramid. Along with checking that the women’s physical health needs are being met, which could be anything from having sanitary napkins to an early diagnosis of an illness, we work with them throughout that mental and emotional transition, from resilience to reconciliation. They need to recognize themselves to believe what kind of people they are, and how far they are going to go and what they are going to achieve.  


Q: Do you have a superpower?

Nadia: I believe that all of us have a superpower. Part of my superpower is to give my best talents and compassion to help more women develop and believe in what they are capable of doing. I always say that every woman’s greatest superpower is being able to look back and see how many women you’ve helped to shine. 


Q: People who have been an inspiration to you? 

Nadia: Ever since I was a child, my father has motivated and inspired me. As children we know that our mother is an important figure, and obviously I am not leaving my mother aside. But I love to name my father because, among masculine figures, he has been an empowering dad. In addition to how he has talked to me and guided me, he has had an impressive life story. Seeing how he embraced failure in impossible moments—waking up every day to give a smile in the midst of chaos—has helped to give me the same resilience and strength. And it has helped me to transmit those qualities to other women. 

Also I would mention many great women leaders who can be inspirations to all of us. One is Nadia Murad, the young Iraqi woman who survived captivity and torture in her country, during the conflicts there, and who became a human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. One who inspires me here in Colombia is Juana Ruiz, a National Peace Prize winner, who brought thousands of women forward after the armed conflict. And while of course we admire famous celebrities, I think of the thousands of women in Colombia who have worked with our foundation. We should also admire these “local celebrities” who transform us and generate change!  


Q: Do you have a message to young women or girls about what they can do today? 

Nadia: We are changing the world. Today you can be part of this in a very simple way, which is to believe in your dreams and make other girls believe. Our voices will never be silenced. We will always fight for what we think we can be—whether it is an astronaut, a scientist, a teacher, or anything that it is possible to dream of being. So, always believe. Never shut down your voice. Fight for those dreams and ideals. 

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Investigative reporter Karla Iberia Sanchez focuses on women’s health issues; calls them ‘mirrors of inequality in society”>Organon honors her as a global leader of change — especially for her reporting on women’s health issues and inequality. 

In Mexico, Karla’s home country, she is well known to millions who follow TV news on the Televisa networks. Her reports also reach viewers in other nations with Spanish-language news outlets. She has traveled broadly, covering subjects from natural disaster response to the Syrian refugee crisis. She has received international awards and honors. Her award-winning work includes stories on maternal mortality in Latin America, in which she revealed situations where low-income women die when they can’t get proper care during pregnancy or childbirth. 

Karla is a strong advocate of in-depth journalism, as well as in-depth thinking and committed action by all of us. Interviewed for World Woman Hour, she argued passionately that complex issues can’t be reduced to “material for getting ‘likes’” in online media, and that stories about human tragedy can’t be reported merely for shock effect: “If you want to change society you have to get to the deepest levels of things. You have to look at how public institutions and others are doing or not doing their jobs.” She also shared some radical (and perhaps surprising) personal views on topics such as leadership for women. Here are the edited highlights. 


Q: What led you to your profession?

Karla Iberia Sanchez: When I was a child, I was very curious. My parents told me that at the dinner table, I was always opening the newspaper, even though I didn’t know how to read it yet. Then when I was eight or nine years old, I asked my father to buy me a magnifying glass. I just liked to investigate. 

No one in my family was a journalist; I didn’t even know there was a profession called investigative reporter. But then I learned at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and that is what I became. It’s a passion for finding out what’s really happening. It’s a passion for asking the questions that will show that. 


Q: And what stirred you to do the particular kind of investigating that relates to women and health? 

Karla: When I’m passionate about public health issues, it’s because I think these issues are a mirror of inequalities in society. The big difference between being an opinion reporter or a talking head and a health reporter out in the streets is that many times, you don’t choose who you will be speaking with. You don’t choose just to talk with a famous politician of the moment or someone who survived a horrendous accident. You go out to find stories of unrecognized pain, of people who are living every day in pain while they are looking for a future.

Many women in marginalized situations are not much older than children, but they are already working for the economic sustenance of the family and they are also the caregivers for the older ones. Even in the middle of a hurricane, they will take public transportation every day to begin work at 7 a.m. and then come back in the night to take care of the family. And then, to see a woman like this at one of the most vulnerable times of her life, in pregnancy and childbirth, being mistreated by public officials—to see her crying outside the doors of a public hospital because she’s in pain, she feels something is not right, and she can’t get in—this is a sign of inequality, and this is a sign of violence against women.

Maybe some editors of the biggest news outlets won’t think that story is important. But I think that story is important. I think it’s important to talk about these 14-year-olds who have preeclampsia because they are not prepared to have a child at that age, for example. Or women who died in El Salvador, because they tried to interrupt their pregnancy with a knife or a coat hanger.


Q: It does seem that we often don’t pay enough attention to the underlying issues in our societies. Could you say some more about that? 

Karla: Many times, when reporters are covering violence or forensics, people want to know about the incidents that are the most violent. But violence is not just the 72 migrants killed and buried in a mass grave. [Such mass murders have occurred in Mexico’s drug wars.] Violence is also to know social pain, and to experience the indignities that take away your humanity. Sometimes a reporter can find this coming through in many small details. I remember one day when I was covering a story in a very poor part of Mexico, and I saw a child with a big bandage on her ear. I asked “What happened to you?” and she said, “My grandmother cut my ear with scissors because I was making so much noise.”

This is the violence that kids are facing in the world. And then imagine the horrendous life of that grandmother, that would lead her to do that. So maybe violence is not just the 72 murders. Maybe it’s a child who has a bandage on her ear. Maybe it’s that we have a society where we are so stressed that we can’t even let a kid make noise.


Q: What can the rest of us do to help with issues like poverty, inequality, and systemic violence?

Karla: I think we have to be critical citizens. We have to go out and know what’s going on in the streets. If you are a social scientist or a politician, if you are a postgraduate professional, then you have the tools. You have the tools to transform society, and you have to be out in the streets and really try to understand what is happening.

I think a critical society requires many kinds of observation and social analysis. If you really want to change things you have to be aware of what’s happening with national budgets and legislators. Know your local authorities, know your local leaders and listen to them. To put it in terms of taking positive steps, I would say that what could help to solve these problems is to dedicate more of our time and talents to knowing how society works—and not just criticizing. It’s also finding how to put your own talents and passions to work in the service of others. Not for public exposure, not for posting on Instagram, but for fulfilling the mission of helping others. 


Q: If you were to give advice to young women today, who are searching for the best way to have their lives make a difference, what would you tell them? 

Karla: I would advise them to follow the fire they feel inside. If you are looking for something that will make society stronger, or make you better, don’t put a cover on your own fire. Don’t smother it just to be comfortable, just to watch another series on Netflix or to spend half an hour more on Instagram. There are moments in life when you feel a burning inside you to do something to make a change. You have to do it, even if you experience enormous difficulties. Sometimes discomfort or even extreme fatigue is not bad. It’s a sign of moving forward. 


Q: Finally, we’d like to see more women in leadership positions, whether it’s in journalism or any other field. In your judgment, what does leadership consist of? And how can women prepare to lead? 

Karla: There’s no school for leadership. There are schools of management, but leadership is a kind of a transit of yourself. This is the process I have seen in women that I admire. It’s like being in an escalator of yourself. Not an escalator of power, but an escalator of transit to being someone who can have influence in society—and not like an “influencer,” not for being popular. Real leadership is what I see in women who have been swimming into themselves, who have passed through borders into themselves.

It’s not an intention or a project of life to be a leader. Maybe sometimes that works, but leaders to me are people who gain the respect of their colleagues and the respect of society.  They are people who look for excellence. Instead of comforting themselves with their egos, they always ask: “What more can I be doing?” This means that leaders also must have a high sense of self-criticism. They have to be good learners. And then they can give advice [that others will listen to]. They are the people who can say, “Let’s stop doing that. Let’s move to a better way of doing things.”

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Could an enzyme inside cells help us treat cancer and also slow down aging?  Dr. Maria Blasco is a research leader. 

l of us. 

Maria’s work has focused on an enzyme called telomerase. To explain it in very simple terms, telomerase (te-LOM-erase) is active inside living cells to varying degrees. When this activity runs at high levels, it allows the cells to keep dividing and replicating well beyond their usual lifespan. Such is the case in many cancer cells, producing tumors that grow and spread stubbornly. Finding a way to block the activity could be a big step forward in cancer treatment. Conversely, triggering or boosting telomerase activity in normal human cells could possibly slow down some of the effects of aging. 

Global research on telomerase had just started to gain momentum when Maria was finishing her PhD in Spain in the early 1990s. She did postdoctoral work at the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in New York, under Dr. Carol Greider—one of the co-discoverers of telomerase, who would later share a Nobel Prize for her work in that area. Maria then returned to Spain and rose rapidly in the field, being named to her present position in 2011. 

Her research output is immense. Maria has published over 250 scientific papers and has won numerous international awards. Dedicated science fans may be impressed to know that her “H Index” score—a measure of both the quantity and quality of a scientist’s research—is 81, a world-class figure. Here are edited highlights from her interview with World Woman Hour.


Q: Why are you so passionate about telomerase and molecular biology?

Maria Blasco: When I learned about molecular biology, I realized that it Is the science of understanding life on the molecular level. That you could actually manipulate life; you could cut and paste and alter the DNA, and in this way, learn about the origin of diseases and then about potential treatments for them. So for me it was an opportunity to learn what life is, and to be able to design treatments that someday, maybe, will work for diseases like cancer or many degenerative and age-related diseases that we seem to have been unable to treat. 


Q: What does the future of your research field look like? 

Maria: We are at a very exciting point. In the past 20 years or so, we have learned a lot about what telomeres are [the DNA strands at the tips of chromosomes], what telomerase is, and their importance in aging and cancer and different diseases. But now we’re at the point of really trying to apply all this knowledge to treat particular diseases. So this is where we will see whether the knowledge that we have generated is going to be useful for solving medical problems. 


Q:  Other leading scientists that you worked with also were women. Was that intentional, how does it feel, and what can you say about it in general?

Maria: I don’t think it was intentional, but yes, it happens that my PhD supervisor was a woman, Dr. Margarita Salas, who was one of the leading molecular biologists here in Spain. And then I went to work with another woman, Carol Greider. The telomerase field is full of women who have made key discoveries, and I think this has been very good for the progression of my career. I have always had the support of other women, and I had role models of women who actually led their own research.


Q: What are some major issues right now for women in molecular biology? Or in any of the biosciences? 

Maria: In these fields the main problem is not the number of young women at the start, who train up to the highest levels within the training system—let’s say up to the postdoctoral level—or who even become staff scientists. The problem is the percentage of women who then decide to move forward and become group leaders. This is still not 50%, so we still don’t have 50% women leaders in general in science, or in molecular biology. I think this is something that has to be corrected. Group leaders are important in research, because when you are a leader, you can decide what to study and how to apply your knowledge. I think it is also very important for having role models that could encourage more women to want to lead. 


Q: So, what are the solutions? 

Maria: At the Spanish National Cancer Center, we are doing a number of things to try to correct the situation. When we want to hire a new PI [principal investigator] in a new position, we wait until we have an equal number of men and women who are at the same level before we initiate the hiring process. We also have teleworking and all kinds of other measures to give people more flexible working hours. This flexibility is very important for women, so that they can have a balance between personal life and work life. And in research, it is one of the main things that inhibit women from wanting to go to the highest positions. When I became director of the Spanish National Cancer Center I met with all the women, the postdocs and staff scientists. They basically told me that they were not interested in being group leaders because they would have little time to do the things that they were interested in.

I think it is fundamental that you should have no concerns about being able to have your own family life or private life. So, we have implemented these measures to give people more flexibility, and it has been working very well. It does not reduce their productivity or their ability to perform.  


Q: Thinking back to your younger self, at the start of your career, is there advice you would give to young women today? 

Maria: When I started, I honestly never thought about whether I was going to succeed or not, or how difficult it was going to be. I think the important thing is to feel passionate about what you are working on and the questions you want to answer. In my case, I was lucky to find a space that is still fascinating for me today. So, if you work hard, and you really enjoy what you are studying, I think that is the best guide.


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

Maria: I think failures are necessary to learn about the subject that you are studying. But you keep working hard. You try to get advice from your supervisors or colleagues, and you try to solve the problem using different approaches. Scientific discovery is not easy. We are trying to discover things that are not known, so it is normal to fail, and of course I had many, many failures. But I find it fascinating that we’re trying to discover the unknown, and therefore we have to be very creative. I think I’ve been lucky because in the end, there was success. I have never abandoned a project. It has just been a matter of trying a different way and working harder on being creative. 


Q: One final question. You are a leader in many ways. In your eyes, what is the essence of leadership? 

Maria: Leading, to me, is helping to discover new things.

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Engineering for sustainability and working for women in tech: how Sophie Borgne does it.

e big companies and organizations that use huge amounts of electricity—for example, to operate their factories, or to power the office buildings and apartment buildings they manage. For these customers, Sophie and her Schneider team design digital control systems, using technologies like artificial intelligence to assure that energy goes only where it’s needed and does not get burned up needlessly. This saves money for the customers while reducing the carbon footprint from energy generation. 

Born and raised in France, with a degree in civil engineering from the prestigious École des Ponts ParisTech, Sophie is an “ambassador of technical professions” at Schneider. In this role and a similar one for the World Economic Forum, she helps school-age girls to learn how they might pursue careers in science and technology. She’s a dynamic role model, radiating enthusiasm for the work that she loves to do. Here are highlights of her interview with World Woman Hour. 

Q: When you were a young girl, what put you on the path to a career in technology? 

Sophie Borgne: I think what brought me to this field was curiosity. I’ve always been curious to understand how things work, and I grew up with inspirational people around me, especially my grandfather. After fighting in the Second World War and being a prisoner of war, he came home to France and studied to be an engineer himself. He made furniture out of wood and helped me learn how to build things, which became something that has really driven me. Even now, when he is turning 100 years old, my grandfather is still curious. He is super-interested to hear about what I’m doing; to understand artificial intelligence and all the digital models I’m talking about.

So, for me, he has been a great example of staying curious and trying to learn every day. This is how you develop yourself. And it has led me into engineering, because when you are an engineer, you can contribute in many different ways. 

Q: Why, specifically, did you choose Schneider Electric? 

Sophie: I’ve been at Schneider Electric for the past 20 years, pretty much since I graduated with my engineering degree. They offered me the chance to join a company that has a meaningful purpose. At Schneider we get to invent a greener future, with greener buildings and greener industry, which resonates with me. 

And what has been really great is that these 20 years never felt like a long time. They’ve been full of new things to do and learn. I have worked in Africa, in China, in Italy and France, and now recently in the U.S. So there have been a lot of different cultures to embrace, while I also had the chance to work in different roles and learn about different facets of the business. It has never been boring at all. Those 20 years went by quickly. Now, when I look back, one thing I’m fully convinced of is: no regrets!

Q: Given the travels and the role-changing, you must have encountered many challenges and perhaps a few setbacks. How did you deal with those experiences? 

Sophie: What has been driving me is to look forward. Yes, there have been some situations more difficult than others. Yes, of course you have to overcome your own shyness and uncomfortable moments. I did change a lot, and every time I went out of my comfort zone, I learned a lot. 

But going out of your comfort zone is not comfortable! Every time you change your role or location, you arrive in an environment that you don’t understand. And when you don’t understand, it’s easy to completely misunderstand. What I decided pretty early is to trust myself. To trust my instincts, to follow the longer-term objectives, and learn from all the setbacks. I never let those setbacks completely unsettle me. 

Now, what is not so easy is to find the balance between trusting yourself and staying humble. I’m always trying to be careful not to trust myself to the level of arrogance. I want to continue to doubt myself, because when you listen to other people’s opinions, this is how you learn. And this is how you enrich your own instincts. 

Q: Is there something you wish you had known earlier, that you would tell to your younger self? Or tell other young women as career advice?

Sophie: It probably took me too long to understand that there are many different leadership styles. I started my career quite convinced that there was one model of a good leader and I was trying very hard to be like that model. And that model 20 years ago, in a male dominated environment, was to be very assertive and directive. Which is not my personality. So it took me time to dare to be myself, and to be comfortable with my own style. 

It is very tiresome not to be yourself. And when you are not totally aligned with your core values, it’s not comfortable. It drains a lot of energy and it does not produce the best results either. So it took me probably 10 years to actually know myself better and to invent my own management style. Since then I feel ‘way more free—and lighter! And if you look at my career, that was probably when my career accelerated.

Q: When you work with young women and girls to encourage their inclusion in the STEM fields, many of us would agree that this is a valuable goal to pursue. But could you explain, in your own words, why you think it’s important?

Sophie: Two reasons are driving me. One, as an employer, I have a pretty big team, and every time we open a position it’s frustrating to see that 95% of the applicants are male. They are great, but we are missing the other half of the talent pool and we are right now in a war for talent. So if you only focus on half the potential, you don’t start on your best foot. The other reason is that I am the mother of three kids, including two daughters, and when we discuss career options, I don’t want them to think that some possibilities are closed to them because “No, that’s for boys.” That’s something really important for me, to be engaged with teenagers, to show them that nothing is closed to them. 

Q: What type of world do you want for your children?

Sophie: Well, I kind of make a point of not wanting something for them. I want them to define what they want. I see my role as helping them to see possibilities. I want them to understand what’s driving them. We are all going to spend a lot of time working, and if you don’t have fun, if you’re not driven by passion for your work, it’s sad. So what I really hope for my children is that they will identify their own motivations and be well fulfilled doing something they love. 



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Helene Gayle’s story: why a medical doctor now leads efforts to close the wealth & income gap

ng and controlling infectious diseases worldwide. She also served as Assistant Surgeon General of the United States and directed health programs at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation. 

From there, her efforts shifted and expanded in scope. For 10 years Helene was CEO of the international humanitarian group CARE, this time focused on reducing global poverty, with special emphasis on creating opportunities for women and girls. And since 2017 she has been CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, where she works on catalyzing systemic change across a major American city. The Trust is one of the largest community foundations and its current strategic priority is “closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap” in Chicago. 

Helene has been named one of Forbes magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women. She is known for combining a keen scientific intellect with personal passion and sensitivity. Here are highlights of her interview with World Woman Hour, in which these qualities come through. 

Q: Could you start by filling us in on your career path and how you came to be where you are now?

Helene Gayle: I grew up in Buffalo, New York, in a family that put a focus on academic excellence, but also on making a contribution to society. I think that influenced me and my siblings in terms of how we thought about what we should do and how we could make a difference in the world. I decided to do medicine because it’s a tangible skill that makes a difference in people’s health, and health is pretty fundamental because it enables people to work and to be effective contributors themselves. But while clinical practice in medicine allows you to help people one at a time, early in my career I recognized that I wanted to have an impact at a societal level. 

That’s when I got interested in public health, which looks at the unit of change, if you will, as populations versus individuals. At the Centers for Disease Control I really got to feeling like this was my professional home: to work on the issues of population health and disparities in health, not just with the medical toolbox, but by thinking more broadly about the things that influence people’s health and therefore their livelihoods and well-being overall. That focus on what we now call the social determinants of health led me to work on issues of poverty, both globally and in the United States, which resulted in my leading CARE. And now, here at The Chicago Community Trust, we’re focused on issues of economic inequity and how they are real drivers of so many other issues that are front and center in our societies.

Q: When you say “social determinants of health,” could you explain that concept a little more?

Helene: The social determinants are in many ways what make a difference in our health status. Much of our focus on health disparities looks at access to health services. But we now know that a large portion of the influences on people’s health are linked to things like the ability to have a living wage, access to high quality education, a clean environment, public safety, and a lack of violence. All these things, particularly education and income, are such huge drivers that they probably make up 60% to 80% of what determines people’s health outcomes.

Q: What are some of the most pressing problems you see women facing in health care?

Helene: Not just here in the United States but around the world, oftentimes women put their health needs on the back burner. Women are caregivers; they’re the ones who nurture families and communities, and often they don’t put their own needs first. Think of everything that women might go through in a lifetime—from bearing children, to being mothers and caregivers, while at the same time more women are entering the workforce. The question is, how do we make sure that women have the support they need to be healthy at all phases of the life cycle, and in the multiple roles they play?

Q: Could you speak to the ways in which you see women and girls disproportionately impacted by health issues? 

Helene: Clearly issues related to reproduction and sexual health are huge. But increasingly, so are other issues, whether it’s cancer or heart disease. There’s a whole range of things that disproportionately impact girls and women, because of the biological uniqueness of our gender but also because of social status. HIV and AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted diseases, have disproportionately impacted women around the world because of their social vulnerability. So we have to look both at the biological factors and at the social issues that place girls and women at more risk.

Q: What do you believe the future of healthcare looks like, especially in regard to women and women’s health?

Helene: I hope that the future of healthcare prioritizes looking at people in their whole context and that we think about the many ways in which our health interacts with the social and economic realities of our lives. For example, we can’t separate women’s health care from child care. Also, we think about accessibility to health care in terms of putting clinics in certain neighborhoods, but it’s more than just a matter of where our clinics are located. It’s what services do they provide; who are the caregivers; do they understand the needs and culture of the population? And what are the hours? If you’re a working mother and health services are only available from nine to five, you’re not going to get to your routine care. We need to think about meeting people where they are in a more holistic way.

Q: Are there action steps that people can start taking today, to help? 

Helene: First of all, everybody can be informed about their own health issues and risks, and then they can spread that information to others. People are more likely to listen to the advice of somebody they know, who cares about them. So if you can talk to your friends, and help in ways like taking them to clinics when they are afraid of going, you’ll be an ambassador for why we all need to take care of our health—particularly from a prevention standpoint. So often, people only think about health when they’re ill or have a catastrophic issue. But if we think about how we’re taking care of ourselves in the first place, it is a critical way in which all of us can help to reduce preventable illness and death.

Q: In your experience, what have you learned about leadership and what it takes to be an effective leader?

Helene: I think leadership is a way of expressing your passion. For me, it has never been about wanting to be a leader. It’s about things that I feel passionate about and then finding others who are equally passionate and figuring out how we can come together in a way that moves the issues forward.

This is a shared model of leadership, with the understanding that when you’re the leader, accountability is yours. But it’s really about bringing a vision alive in a way that resonates with other people. And one of the most important attributes of a leader is the ability to listen and to take from that listening to the lessons that others can offer. We’re all better leaders when it is not an individual endeavor, but when we’re bringing together the best that people have to give.

Q: In your career, you’ve done so many different things, on such a vast scale. Did you see this as your path when you first started out?

Helene: I never would have imagined, when I started a career in medicine, that one day I would lead a global poverty-fighting organization or a community foundation. But I feel that keeping options open, which are linked to the things that matter the most to me, has always been rewarding. The next right step always seems to present itself. So, when people say you should have a five-year plan or 10-year plan: I’ve never had one. I have just been guided by the things that matter to me: my commitment to social justice and equity, and the issues linked to that.

Q: Out of all the skills you’ve developed, what would you say is your superpower?

Helene: I think my superpower is connecting the dots. Between issues, and between people. 

Q: If you could go back in time and give your younger self advice that you wish you had gotten, what would you say?

Helene: Be willing to be more vulnerable and to not feel like you’re held to a standard of perfection. I think a lot of us, particularly girls, are given the idea that we’ve got to be perfect because we can’t let others down. But sometimes that can stand in the way of true, authentic growth. 

I think we all learn better when we make mistakes and are able to embrace our failures and learn from them. It’s similar to what people are talking about when they say to “fail fast.” We’re all afraid of failure, but we need to learn from the failures and keep moving. So I think the more we can be vulnerable, the more we can accept our imperfections, the more we will learn and continue to evolve.

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Women can do anything. Even finding the cure for rare diseases. I see no limitations- Dr. Brenda Cooperstone

hief Development Officer for Rare Diseases. Although they are termed “rare,” there are in fact over 7,000 known rare diseases, which together affect about 400 million people worldwide. So the potential for impact is great.  Only 5% of known rare diseases have an approved treatment to date. The vast majority of people suffering from them have had no solutions they could turn to.   Brenda’s mission is to help change their lives for the better, and as her interview with World Woman Hour shows, her work has taken some unexpectedly personal turns.

Brenda is also a determined advocate for women’s empowerment when it comes to how we show up in the workplace—no emotions barred! This extends to giving ourselves permission to feel and be our truest selves—from the lab to the board room. Here are the highlights of a conversation filled with passion and joy.


Q: Could you tell us a bit more about the journey that led to your present role?

Brenda: Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a doctor. I became a specialist in pediatric neurology and I loved that job. It was wonderful getting to play with the kids I saw, getting to know their families, and really feeling like I was making a difference. Then I had the opportunity to expand on that, from helping kids and their families one at a time to helping people by the thousands. That’s why I chose to ultimately work in the pharmaceutical industry. Each rare disease may impact a few patients but collectively there are many, many different patients, all of whom still have unmet needs. I am driven to look for treatments that will make a difference for them.

Q: And is it correct to say that this work became intensely personal for you?

Brenda: Yes. While we were working on one medicine for a rare disease, the information that I learned helped me and my family to understand that my father had the symptoms of that same disease. It’s a rare form of cardiomyopathy [which attacks the muscle tissue of the heart]. Because of that discovery, we were able to help bring him to that diagnosis and care. . It still makes me emotional just thinking about it.

So I understand acutely the difference that this work can make. I can see it in my dad, who just celebrated his 85th birthday. And now, in all the work I do, I see my father in every other patient that I’m working for in the rare disease space, I know that I, and everybody working with me, made a difference for my family, and I hope so strongly that I get to make that difference for other families, just like ours.

Q: Could you share a key lesson you’ve learned in the course of your journey?

Brenda: I learned this from a mentor when I entered the pharmaceutical industry: Embrace your mistakes. When people blame you for things that go wrong, it means you’re empowered. It means you are responsible, so now you can say “Get out of my way, I’m going to fix this.” And then if you do, you’ll be remembered not for the mistakes, but for those successes.

Here is one example that comes to mind. At Pfizer, we took a particular medicine into clinical trials, and given our knowledge at that point, the trial probably wasn’t designed in the best way. We failed to get that drug over the finish line for FDA approval. But I believed in the science behind it. I believed it could work. So I felt empowered to push hard to try again,that led to a program that was probably the most successful in my career. We’re now able to bring that medicine to patients who finally have a treatment that will make their lives better and allow them to live longer.

Q: You are a woman in a position of extraordinary leadership in a very difficult field that’s male-dominated. What changes could be made within the healthcare field to have more women leading effectively?

Brenda: Some excellent advancements have already begun, in the way that we approach work-life balance and the accommodations that are made when necessary within the workplace. But, more change has to stem from where the leadership is today — which is predominantly male. Working on how men can become allies is every bit as important, if not more important, than teaching women how to interact and act. I think that change will happen with time and with new generations. And I can say my biggest contribution to that change is bringing up two sons who see women as powerful and more than equal.

Let me tell a story about my oldest son, who’s now 28. When he was about seven or eight, we moved to a different neighborhood and I was taking him to see a new pediatrician. His previous pediatricians had been women, and he knew his mom was a doctor, but this time I had chosen a male doctor for him. We’re sitting in the examining room when the pediatrician walks in. I introduce him to my son, who looks at the man and then turns to me with a look of confusion on his face. He says “Mommy! Doctors can’t be boys!”

It really struck me that it’s what you see, and what you live with, that colors your perception.

Q: Is there something that you wish you knew or had been told when you were starting out as a young woman in the medical profession?

Brenda: I wish somebody had told me that it was okay to be myself. A lot of advice that I got early in my career was about fitting into a mold, and maybe being different than I actually am. Now that I feel like I have a little more luxury to be comfortable with who I am, I want to make other people comfortable. Especially other women. I want them to know that if you’re moved by something, it’s okay to cry, and if something is really funny, it’s okay to laugh out loud.

In most fields, women are made to feel that they need to suppress their emotions—that they always need to look like they’re ‘put together.’ But a show of emotion, whether male or female, is actually so much more than just an emotional moment. It’s an expression of who you really are. It’s like taking back your power.

Q: Any parting thoughts for our audience?

Brenda: I believe that we women can do anything. I see no limitations. In fact, I think that being a woman, and having all the aspects that make us female, helps to propel us forward. We should all take advantage of that. We have the responsibility to bring it forward for the betterment of everybody. Keeping it to ourselves, or holding ourselves back from leadership and from opportunities, is not the right thing for anybody. We need to live it!


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Prof.Dr Marleen Temmerman leads the change for women’s health and rights  across different continents and on many fronts. 

babies to approximately 18,000 women … and that is far from all. 

In Kenya, where she has spent key parts of her career, Marleen did pioneering research on HIV/AIDS with a focus on how the virus impacts women and childbearing. In Belgium, her native country, she founded the Ghent University International Centre for Reproductive Health (which now has branches worldwide), and served as a Senator in the national Parliament. Marleen also held a high post at the World Health Organization, directing WHO’s global programs in Reproductive Health and Research. She has been back in Kenya since 2016, at the Aga Khan University in Nairobi, where she heads the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health. 

That’s quite a track record for someone who, in her university days, had a professor tell her that a woman shouldn’t study to be a gynecologist. As Marleen recollects, “He said, ‘You will have a family, who will take care of the children?  Why don’t you do something you can do from 9 to 12 so that you can dedicate your time to your family?” As it turned out, Marleen was able to be a wife and a mother while also forging a remarkable career. She believes that women’s health and women’s equity must go hand-in-hand — a view she advocates with good humor but with firm conviction. Here are excerpts from her interview with World Woman Hour. 


Q: Could you tell us a little about your life’s journey and how you came to be where you are now?

Dr. Marleen Temmerman: As a young girl I was always interested in sharing things and asking questions. Why is there so much inequity? Why do some people have more than others? I was passionate about solidarity and fighting inequity and it actually became the Leitmotiv throughout my journey. 

I wanted to go to the university, which was not often done by girls from the middle class back then in the seventies so I had to fight to convince my parents to allow me to go. Then later, after I finished my training in gynecology, I was intrigued not only by how best to care for the patient but also by health systems in operation so I undertook graduate studies in public health. 

I was invited by a good friend, Professor Peter Piot [a renowned microbiologist], to work with him around a strange disease that had come up in the 1980s. He was looking for somebody to join a research team in Kenya. My dream had been to go to developing countries and there was a need to study this new disease, HIV/AIDS. The research question at that time was, can women be infected with the virus, and if so, can it have an impact on pregnancy and on the baby? I went to Kenya, together with my husband, and although we have lived in other places since then, we kept going back to Africa, to Kenya and Mozambique over the years. And now here we are again in Kenya, where I’m leading the research center in Women and Child Health.  

Q: Why are you so passionate about solving problems for women, especially in health care? 

Marleen: It’s really working with women in all aspects of life, throughout their life course—young children, adolescent girls, pregnancy, family planning, older women. And whether you look at it from a health perspective or a rights and equity perspective, there is still a lot to be done. 

Think of the area of reproductive rights. Can you imagine that it was only in 1994, less than 30 years ago, when the world for the first time even agreed on the terminology of “reproductive rights”? On what it mean for a girl or a woman to have the right to decide how many children she wants, when, and with whom? It’s so basic. And yet 30 years ago we had to fight for it.

Even now, in many parts of the world—like here, where we live—for a lot of girls it’s only a dream. 

So progress has been made, but a lot needs to be done. And that’s why every day I love to continue this work, along with many wonderful partners, allies, colleagues, and friends. 


Q: It’s often said that women are disproportionately affected by health problems. Why is that so, and what are the solutions? 

Marleen: When you look at sexually transmitted diseases, for example, it’s the women and girls who suffer more. STDs can lead to ascending infections and a lot of complications, including infertility or cervical cancer and other diseases that are treatable or preventable, but which are making a lot of victims in this part of the world. So it’s always the girls and women who are kind of badly treated—by nature, by society, by the rights and the agency they are able to have. Their health care is often provided by governments or religious groups limiting their access to health, education, and the ability to reach their full potential.

In many countries, education is still a problem. In Kenya, the new Constitution of 2010 includes that all children go to school. That has really had an impact, because now more girls are going to primary school and secondary school. They continue their education, they participate in the workforce, and that is the beginning of change. So, education and health are really key to achieving equity, and to the development of girls and women.

Q: Many times in your life you’ve had to fight to move forward with your career and your work. What have you learned about overcoming failures and setbacks?

Marleen: Falling down is not failure. It’s just a thing that happens. Failure is not standing up again. You just have to say OK, what can I learn from what happened, and how can I do better?

And not only “I,” but how can we do better? In order to change society, you cannot do it as an individual. You have to find your friends, your partners, your family, and think, how can we do it? An African proverb states “ it takes two to make a child and a village to raise a child” we are all part of that global village and together we can be the change!

To me, this is the most important point. It’s about us. How can we develop not only that one single woman or girl or boy, but do it together as a group, as a community? As a society, how can we do better?

Q: Can you share a story about “doing better” in this way? 

Marleen: It’s not a fun story but I would like to tell it. When I first came to Kenya for my research, in the 1980s, I worked in public health maternity here in Nairobi Pumwani Maternity Hospital. I lost my heart in that place. We had about 80 to 100 deliveries a day, in very difficult conditions. At the time, I was pregnant myself, so you look at things a bit differently when that is the case. And I was confronted with a young girl, 14 years old, who died on arrival. She had been in labor in a slum area, without anyone taking care of her until finally, somebody brought her to the maternity ward. She had a ruptured uterus. The baby had passed on already and we couldn’t save the girl, either. 

In my life I have done so many deliveries that I don’t remember them all. But unfortunately, I had 72 girls or women who died in my hands, so to speak: many from the complications of unsafe abortion, and many very young girls who should have enjoyed their childhood instead of getting pregnant. Those I will never forget. Of course, you can be sad about this. On the other hand, it has given me the motivation to say, “This cannot happen any longer.”

 So, for many years, I have been trying to change the systems—and again, not alone. In that same maternity ward where the girl died, health care providers, nurses, doctors, and everyone has invested a lot. And after all these years, in this particular facility, care has improved a lot. We still see some women dying but thankfully less frequently. In the past, we had at least two or three babies every day who didn’t survive, and now that is the exception. As I said, we are making progress but there is still a long way to g

Marleen: We need more women leaders not only in health care but everywhere….

One of the biggest problems is that so many women are still dying in pregnancy, in childbirth, abortion, or postpartum. Maternal mortality, as we call it, is really an injustice for girls and women. They need good quality care, but it’s not only about the care. They also need the right to use the care. Like here in Kenya, we see so many teenage pregnancies, with very young adolescents. We need to work for the right to avoid being pregnant when you are 13. The right to access family planning, sexual education—the right to knowledge. So, it’s more than simply health care. It’s the whole picture of equity and rights that has to be interwoven with health care.

Q: What can all of us do to help?

Marleen: I think that all of us can be part of the change. If you believe that women and men are equal, that we have the same rights, then fighting for the same rights for all individuals is something that all of us should contribute to. Whenever you see injustice, or a negative situation, don’t turn away from it. Keep on fighting for a better world. For girls and women, men and boys.

Q: One last question. If you could be said to have a superpower, what is it?

Marleen: My superpower is multitasking. Being somebody who works in a group, in a community. And somebody who doesn’t give up. Who doesn’t take no for an answer!

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Sustainable energy in southern Africa: Schneider Electric woman leads programs to make it a reality

nting herself to serve as Head of the company’s Sustainable Development & Academy program in Southern Africa.
She is currently the Director of Sustainable Development as well as the Schneider Electric training Academy across Anglophone Africa.

The Schneider Electric Access to Energy & Education outreach program is targeted to communities that are “off the grid”—they are too remote or too poor to be reached by the high voltage lines that normally bring plug-in electrical power to people. So Schneider Electric’s goodwill efforts help them in two ways: by continuously evolving access to energy solutions for local, sustainable power generation, such as with solar energy, and by practically training young people with the relevant skills required for practical application within the field of energy.

The idea is to build foundations for human development all around. Zanélle is in charge of this work for an area including her native South Africa and all English-speaking countries in Africa. Her teams have won prizes for their social contributions. In an interview with World Woman Hour, Zanélle radiated a personal energy that you might say is positively electric.

Q: Given that you were trained in industrial psychology, what inspired you to change course and work with less advantaged communities? 

Zanélle: I’ve always had a passion to make an impact in the lives of people. And at Schneider Electric I was able to take an innovative career path, in that I’ve been able to reskill and reinvent myself in the field of sustainability as well as corporate citizenship. As a South African citizen, seeing the high levels of unemployment and unskilled youth in the country gave me an urgency to look into this global crisis. We have found that creating access to energy, as well as access to education for youth, leads to opportunities for economic activity, which is completely life-changing for them. This is such an exciting career, and it is such a privilege for me to do what I love every single day.

Q: Could you explain how you’re addressing the problems you mentioned? 

Zanélle: For access to energy, Schneider Electric has a range of solutions, like small lighting solutions. [Also called “off-grid lighting” kits. A typical kit has an LED lamp running on a battery that’s charged in the daytime by a small solar panel.] These solutions might seem small in size, but they are very large in impact. They can give people light in the home environment, or even for economic activity, and this is absolutely life-changing because when the lights go on for people, Life Is On. At the community level we even have small micro-grids, which for example can run containerized bakeries to bake bread with the energy from the sun.

In education, we focus on our skills development programs. It is very important for people to be well trained in order to work with electrical energy. Safety is of first importance, and then you need the required technical skills. We’ve trained students and especially youth, using large electrical equipment that has been modified for safe training purposes. In addition, we have entrepreneurship training modules to accelerate the students in that direction. If they’re not able to secure employment, they would be able to start their own businesses within the field of energy.

One challenge is that there seems to be a gender equality issue in getting people trained for practical work in energy. We’re looking at how to bring gender equality into this very exciting space, so that we can look forward to more digital energy in the future, and also to having more equal societies for women who want to bring their practical skills to the labour market.

Q: So, what could lead to more women being trained, recruited, and hired?

Zanélle: I believe the answer is for people to see how gender diversity and gender equality can really make a difference. Time and time again, in environments where we have the genders working together equally in teams, we have seen people’s ideas merging and we see them coming up with brilliant solutions. One example is in our training centers where young women and young men are learning and working alongside each other. They build on one another’s ideas. They become such beautiful complimentary teammates. The gender equality within those teams accelerates all of them for brilliance.

And I honestly believe that these pockets of gender equality are helping to springboard women. In the field of energy in the past, women often have not received the same opportunities as their male counterparts, but this is changing. The world is changing and it’s changing for the good.

Q: Aside from having a career in energy, how can the rest of us get involved in sustainable development?

Zanélle: There are many different things that people can do. I think you just have to get started somewhere. We often think our contribution is very small and wouldn’t make an impact, but that is not true. Every act does make an impact. First, people can look at their own carbon emissions to understand how they affect the environment, and how they can contribute to a greener future. Secondly, volunteering in an initiative close to you can make a really big impact, whether it’s with an NGO or in a school or with a company like mine.

Also, you may not be aware of having skills that can help others, until you start exploring. At Schneider Electric we often find that when we ask employees to volunteer, they say they’re not sure how they could contribute until we ask some questions: “Well, what do you love doing? What are the strengths that you have in your job? What special skills do you have?”  And suddenly, we don’t have enough time to talk about everything they could contribute.

Q: A lot of young women would like to hear about lessons you’ve learned in managing your own career. Have you had failures or setbacks along the way? And if so, how do you deal with them? 

Zanélle: I have definitely experienced a few setbacks in my career, as well as other times that felt like failures. And I think the key to success is to just keep going. Never give up. Never stop believing in yourself.

And when you experience a failure, don’t ruminate, or overthink it. Just think about it constructively. Surround yourself with people who will give you honest feedback, that can help you to prevent that [from happening again] and have opportunities to grow. Also, always have a plan B, C, and D. I find that if I have different options to consider in case I fail, I can fail quickly and move on, and I continue to just be great.

Q: As a woman in a leadership position, what does leading mean to you?

Zanélle: Leading to me is setting a clear vision, while inspiring and developing others to join me on my journey.

Q: Very succinct. Very good. Let’s finish with a couple of questions that are fun, but also meaningful. As a woman, what is your superpower?

Zanélle: My superpower is getting things done. I create order in chaos, unpack and resolve complex problems with efficiency.

Q: If you had a huge billboard that everybody in the world could see, what message would you put on it?

Zanélle: Be yourself. Embrace vulnerability. Have courage.

Q: How are you leading change for woman?

Zanélle: I am leading change for woman by being authentic, taking courage, embracing my vulnerability and showing impactful results while continuously developing and inspiring other women.

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Student competition winner heads sustainable energy project for remote fishing village with no previous electricity

to teach other people that women have the same capacities as men.”

 Then came a surprising twist. During her studies, Angie developed a wide range of technical skills. And in her last year at the university, she did what entrepreneurs often do, which is to see a chance for great impact by paying attention to simple details of everyday life. She and fellow student Jorge Polo were eating a fish dinner. They began to talk about where the fish came from. This led to discussing the hardships of fishing communities in remote areas of Colombia that have few modern services. Which in turn led to Angie and Jorge entering the Schneider Electric company’s annual student competition, Schneider Go Green. They won the 2020 grand prize—first place worldwide—with a proposal for generating sustainable electric power in a fishing village along the Bojayá River. 

Angie is now working for Schneider Electric as a digital analyst. She’s putting yet another of her technical skills to use, while also leading plans to actually build the prize-winning project design … and while serving as a role model for other young women. Here are edited highlights from Angie’s interview with World Woman Hour. She shared some interesting insights, like the connection between breaking stereotypes and innovation. Both are necessary and both involve thinking differently!

Q: Can you tell us about the problems you’re addressing with your Go Green project?

Angie Redondo Herrera: Imagine that you live in a poor community where the only source of income that you have is fishing activity. But you don’t have electrical energy to refrigerate your production, which is bad. You have to sell your fish at a lower price [to try to move it to market before it spoils], and about 20% of the production is lost.

Additionally, if you don’t have electricity, you won’t have access to development.  You don’t have access to a good education or good opportunities. This makes it hard to work on gender equality or on any kind of social progress. So it is important to have electrical energy there for several reasons. It can permit the fishermen to sell their production at fair prices, to sell all of it with nothing lost, and to improve the quality of life for the fishermen and their families. 

Q: And your plan for making things better?

Angie: We plan a solution that can be applied in every place that has a similar problem, and it is a hybrid system, powered by two sources. The first source is biodigestion of fish scales and organic waste from fishing activity. We are going to put all of this waste to use to produce biogas and biofertilizer, and with the biogas, we can generate electrical energy. The second source is solar electricity. So by day, the system is going to work with solar panels, and by night with biogas. That’s how we are going to ensure the continuity of electrical service. And now we are working hard to make this idea into a reality.

Q: From your perspective, what does the global future of energy look like?

Angie: I think the future has to be completely sustainable. Clearly, these days, we are using more sustainable energy than before. But if we don’t make more effort on this, we will be unable to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for the world, where goal number seven is affordable and clean energy for all.  Additionally, it is important to note that every stone in the world has some potential for renewable energy. [There may indeed be a way of storing solar and wind energy in stones!] So we need to work on research to know the full potential of sustainable development. It’s our task to look for this potential everywhere

Q: Now let’s talk about women reaching their full potential. Can you update us on what you’re doing in this regard? 

Angie: I had the opportunity to be a TEDx speaker in my city. And in that talk, especially talking to young women, I told them why I didn’t give up on my plan to become an engineer, or on my way of giving electricity to other people. In this way it is important to break stereotypes. And it’s also amazing to see how the breaking of stereotypes is directly related to innovation, so I talked to the young people about innovation, too. 

Q: If you could go back in time, what’s a piece of advice you would give to your younger self, that you wish you knew before starting your journey?

Angie: Before I embarked on this journey, I would have liked to know that being afraid of expressing my ideas is not a good idea. Sometimes I thought that my ideas were too bad or too dumb. But when I realized that simple ideas can make a difference, my life changed completely, because now I’m not afraid to share what I’m thinking

Q: You have entered a very male-dominated field. What can be done to enable more women to lead in your field; what changes can be made?

Angie: Okay, so I have a degree in mining and metallurgical engineering. I’m leading a project on access to electricity, and I’m working in digital transformation, so I know three fields where women can participate or lead more than we currently do. And I have identified one action that could help.  It is transferable to other fields, and it is collective awareness.We all must be aware of the importance of diversity of opinions and diversity of ways of thinking for success in business. And everyone must also be aware that the best way to get this diversity is to have leading teams with equal gender participation. Maybe this collective awareness will be hard to achieve. But we can start with small groups, and we have hard work to do.

Q:  What exactly is leadership? In your view, what does it mean to lead?

Angie: Leading, to me, is working to improve the quality of life of other people. Leading to me is being aware that with my actions, with my work and with my life, I can improve the lives of other people.

Q: If you could choose to have a superpower, any superpower, what would it be?

Angie: I would choose the power of reading minds because then I would be able to know what other people are thinking, and with this power, I could do amazing things to break stereotypes. We always are thinking with stereotypes in mind, so wouldn’t this be a great way to let other people know that maybe their thinking is not that good

Q: Finally, if you could say something to younger women who want to work for change in the world, what would you tell them in the form of a direct call to action? 

Angie: Don’t be afraid to be disruptive. Some people think that you have to be a genius to be innovative, or that an innovative idea needs to be a billion-dollar idea. But that is false, because as I said, maybe simple ideas can make a big difference. So don’t be afraid to express yourself. Make your ideas shine and share your ideas with others.

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The New Era of Global Diplomacy – It’s Up to Us! #RedefiningRules for Women in Diplomacy

believe that we need more women involved in all aspects of decision making and negotiations, both at a national and international level.  The Ambassador thinks for a moment and then says, “You know, Laura, I used to organize and run career days at my high school each year and, not once, did anyone speak about a diplomatic career as an option – not to the boys or the girls.”  He then turned to the young counselor and asked, “Did anyone tell you about this career path?”  To which she responded, “No, I found out about it quite by accident.”  My response, “Let’s have no more accidents!”


In my role as President of the Women’s Diplomatic Series, I get to work and collaborate with some incredible people working in our nation’s capital as Ambassadors, Deputy Chiefs of Mission, Counselors and Ministers.  Such is the deemed importance of a posting to the U.S. that, when someone is sent to Washington, DC to represent their country, they really are considered to be at the very top of their profession, the creme de la creme of diplomacy, if you will.  Whenever possible, I try to shine a bright light on women working as diplomats and have partnered with the top female diplomats of Sweden, Finland, New Zealand, Croatia, Mexico, Bahrain, Australia, Namibia, Moldova, Latvia, Italy, and Singapore.

The organization I am President of is relatively small; we have just one hundred and fifty full members and fifty young professional women members.  I began to realize very early on that I needed to share the stories of these incredible women diplomats with the next generation. Frankly, no-one is telling our girls that they, too, can be Ambassadors and Deputy Chiefs of Mission – and I believe we need them more than ever! 

Through my work, I have come to see that many people have this false belief that to work as a diplomat is to be a type of James Bond figure.  We cannot continue to look at diplomatic careers as ‘rarified’ or only suited to the very few who have attended the best colleges or who move in elite social circles.  If we truly want to see more women involved in making important decisions that effect their nation’s both at home and on the global stage, we need to encourage more women to join this small yet growing cadre of diplomats and top negotiators – or maybe we just need some Jemimas, Jamunas, Jalias and Jacinta Bonds!

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