This post is an entry in the 2nd Stratejoy Essay Contest. Throughout the next month, we will be featuring each finalist writing their answer to the question: What would your TED Talk Be? On September 13th, we will open the voting to YOU, our community, to select the winner of the $500 prize.”
*FOLLOWING YOUR CALL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT*
In 2010, I boarded a plane to Kathmandu, Nepal, the first step in an unexpected journey.
The journey had in fact begun much earlier, though I didn’t know it at the time, to a chance meeting in 2007 with a person who would become my friend and co-creator in this adventure.
We had met in 2007 as freshmen at Georgetown University. I was an excited and slightly homesick kid ready to study international politics at my dream university that was almost 10,000 miles away from my home in Singapore. Claire was also a multicultural kid – and also far from her home in Kathmandu, Nepal. We discovered that we also shared the same passion for women’s empowerment, and ended up taking many of the same classes.
In a mix of luck meeting preparation meeting opportunity, in January 2007 we heard of a summer opportunity to start a community project through our school. With that, the seed was planted: here was an opportunity for us to DO something, not just talk about what we’d like to do in classes and essays.
Claire had grown up surrounded by women who had limited opportunities but incredible strength and big dreams. We knew that we wanted to start a project in her home country, where we felt the drive to transform the injustices preventing women from pursuing their passions and following their dreams.
Which brings me back to that plane ride to Nepal in the summer of 2010. I had never been to Nepal, and certainly had never run a leadership program before. But Claire and I had a vision, and we knew what we wanted to do. That summer, we ran a two week leadership development course for 28 girls from scratch.
By the end of the program, we knew we did not want to leave this as a one-time project. We completed our senior year at Georgetown, and in the summer of 2011, decided to officially launch our organization, Women LEAD.
How I decided to do Women LEAD full-time was something straight out of a book: I woke up one night at 3 AM, absolutely sure that doing Women LEAD was what I needed to do. I couldn’t sleep until 7 AM, even waking my sister up to tell her of my decision. In some ways, it felt like an inevitable step in my life. I had to do it, there was a pull I couldn’t ignore. Of course, my decision was also influenced by rational arguments: the need for our organization, the girls we wanted to keep on working with, my co-founder, and the amazing support of my family and friends. But that one moment was a defining point.
From August 2011 onwards, I threw myself into my work for Women LEAD. As with anything you put out into the world, I was terrified of the reaction I would get back: how would people respond to our idea? Would they take us seriously? How would this all work in the end?
It also felt terrifying going down this road that no one I knew had gone down before, and was not the expected road for a 22 year old to take. There was so much security in taking a traditional job, getting my monthly paycheck, and receiving directions from a boss. But I knew I would regret if I didn’t try to make Women LEAD into the organization I knew it could be.
The past year that I’ve been working on Women LEAD has not been a fairytale or success story, as many people who have started companies will tell you. In fact, the cold and worrying statistic that 9 out of 10 start-ups fail is constantly in the back of my mind.
As many doors have been shut in my face as there have been opened. When people say: if you have a great idea, people will come, that is simply not true. You have to work every single day to get your name out there, competing with thousands of other charities that have a better and longer track record.
The start up or entrepreneurial life has been glamorized in some ways, and in my experience it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I work from home, which is not as fun as it sounds. There are days when I speak to almost no one besides my sister, who I live with. Although in some ways this is a dream job, in others it’s not: not all the work I do is fulfilling, and sometimes, quite frankly, it’s tedious.
The start up life is chaotic, unpredictable and often lonely. It’s also a constant push out of my comfort zone. My biggest worry is always how we’ll get enough money to survive another month. Actually, my biggest worry is failure – not what people think of me or what I think of myself, but how disappointing it would be for the girls in Nepal if we had to discontinue our organization.
It’s hard, but I’m also incredibly blessed. Despite all the frustrations, I have learned so much. I am constantly learning. I am surrounded by people who inspire me with their hard work and selflessness: from my co-founder, to our staff, to volunteers, to our supporters. In the end, I’ll look back without regret and think how my life would have been different if I hadn’t listened to that pull at 3 AM on a Sunday night.
Bio: Claire Charamnac is the co-founder of Women LEAD, a leadership development
organization for young women in Kathmandu, Nepal. Women LEAD was founded in
2010 when Claire was a junior at Georgetown University. Women LEAD equips young
women with the skills, resources, mentoring, and leadership opportunities to become
catalysts for social change. To date, 200 promising leaders have graduated from our
programs. Women LEAD was selected as Women Deliver’s Top 50 Solutions Delivering
for Women and Girls in 2012.
*This post is an entry in the 2nd Stratejoy Essay Contest. Throughout the next month, we will be featuring each finalist writing their answer to the question: What would your TED Talk Be? On September 13th, we will open the voting to YOU, our community, to select the winner of the $500 prize.*