HERlead was truly one of the best experiences of my life.
I applied to HERlead with my community project BridgEd, which I started fall of 2016 in my own community. BridgEd works to connect high quality college counseling to low-income students in order to bridge the socioeconomic gap and promote higher education to all. When I created BridgEd, I merely intended it to be a temporary, one time project that I was going to drop the next year. I did not have much community support at all or resources, and what I was doing was not very spotlighted.
However, after I was notified that I was going to be a HERlead fellow, I was instantly welcomed into a network of past and current fellows that harnessed the power of individual passion to create change into a powerful community that worked together and helped each other. In the HERlead Facebook group, people posted questions to troubleshoot problems they faced, and other HERlead fellows would give tips on how to overcome those obstacles. My two HERlead ambassadors from the Stanford area, Alisha Zhao and Olivia Brown, were so willing to answer my questions and help me with everything.
When I arrived in New York City, I was blown away by meeting some of the most accomplished people I’ve ever met. One girl had her own patent; another had her own organization that had already reached thousands of people. They were all so inviting, friendly, and down-to-earth. They were the future presidents, politicians, UN Secretary Generals, and nobel laureates, and HERlead, this unique support system in which we are empowered by each other, brought us together. There was so much positive energy in one room, in Times Square Tower, in the city that never sleeps, on June 19th. At that moment I thought to myself, “Wow, oh my gosh, everyone is so awesome! I cannot believe I was chosen out of hundreds of people to be a HERlead Fellow with all these girls.” To this day, I’m still in disbelief.
Through the next few days of the Summit, we learned from so many well known social activists and human rights champions. Our first speaker, Kavita Shukla who is the founder of Freshpaper and Fenugreen, really stuck with me when she talked about her story. She explained how she faced so many obstacles, and at her lowest, she went out to the farmers market and personally talked to each vendor, selling Freshpaper and gaining support from her community. When Whole Foods asked to collaborate with Fenugreen, she was so overwhelmed by the fact that she had to negotiate with a daunting multimillion dollar company as a startup the size of her kitchen, but she embraced herself and the power she had as a young woman.
The rest of the summit consisted of other inspirational speakers such as Anne Fulenwider, editor-in-chief of Marie Claire, and Gary Muto, CEO of ANN INC. One of my favorite parts of the summit was learning the Vital Voices leadership model from Alyse Nelson, President of Vital Voices, and applying it to a project that we came up in teams. I use the training and the model HERlead taught me constantly in my own organization BridgEd in order to maximize the amount of impact we have and reach greater success.
One of the most powerful parts of HERlead is the personal mentorship they give to each fellow. We attended panels and events led by Ann associates and leaders of the retail industry (not to mention that we also got a lot of swag!), learning a lot about networking. We were each paired with a mentor involved in social advocacy; my mentor was Priti Patkar, a human rights activist in India working to combat intergenerational human trafficking, and she gave me so much support and advice about BridgEd and life. We were also paired with three ANN INC associates and one ANN INC executive, who for me was Laura Jacobs. Everyone was so helpful, insightful, and supportive, and they are all such an amazing resource.
Not only did HERlead provide me with the gift of meeting 29 other exceptionally achieving and passionate girls, all dedicated to making a positive change in our world, it also empowered and equipped us with the tools to come back and expand our community impact. Personally, since I originally intended for BridgEd to be temporary, becoming a HERlead fellow and receiving amazing resources made me realize that people believed in what I was doing and supported me. As a result, I continued BridgEd this year, becoming an official nonprofit organization, and partnering with various college counseling companies to host free workshops for low-income students. The HERlead fellowship is not a one year tenure, it is a lifetime network made up of girls that will become our future world leaders. Being a part of this network is one of the most powerful opportunities I have had the privilege to receive.
I will forever remember Alyse Nelson’s words: “The difference between good intentions and good leadership is the willingness to stay the course.”