Sunny side up.

Hail my biggest accomplishment of the week…

There are days when I feel incredibly grown up here in DC. Like the other day when I successfully (arguably) fried my very first egg. And didn’t burn down my apartment. Emphasis on that last part. I know most of you mortals out there can cook without setting off the fire alarms but for those of us (that is, me) who have never quite succeeded in that department, let me emphasize to you once more just how much of a SUCCESS this was. Subtract the fact that I was frying with a plastic knife and the slightly crunchy texture of my delicious egg sandwich (might have cracked that egg just a little too hard) and you could say that I am truly on my way to adulthood. I was armed for the hurricane with a great makeshift egg sandwich after all.

Now I don’t mean to meditate on an egg sandwich (or maybe I do, professed foodie that I am :) but I do intend to underscore something we tend to forget. Because you are probably thinking right about now: Is this girl serious? Documenting an egg sandwich for crying out loud, crazzzyyy. 

But that little egg sandwich? I made it. All by myself. And it, it was a reminder that in a city that I know not and in a place and internship where I feel increasingly subject to the wills and pressures of outside forces– time, other peoples’ schedules, the news, this crazy election, the hurricane– I can always find a way to make something.

A few simple things from your kitchen, a little patience, and a whole lot of faith aren’t necessarily the most prescribed ingredients for building a good life but I have a hunch they might be the most important ones.

Rock on Wednesday– hope you easterners out there survived Hurricane Sandy!

xo Inesha

P.s. Ishani and I are working on renovating the blog a bit so please be patient with us as posting may be a bit light over the next few days. We promise, the blog will look better than ever before once we’re finished! Thank you as always for your support :)

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I am in love…

with fall. And it absolutely kills me that no one else around me seems to notice. Yesterday, I looked up from my iPhone (guilty as charged) at the metro station and failed to find a friendly face around. Not that there weren’t people near me. There were. Everyone was just too preoccupied with their electronic friends. Oh how I long for the days when you actually had to look at each other’s faces and not at a mini computer screen. Sad fact is most of my generation has forgotten all about those days and from the looks of it, generations old and new have too.

So, here is my request for you oh-too-busy (cough cough Washingtonians) folk out there. It’s ok. For just 30 seconds you can look up from that wonderfully illuminated technical screen of yours’ and soak in what’s ours’. Because this planet sure is giving us one heck of a show right now and you’re about to miss it!

Enjoy it– Happy Tuesday!!

 

Reframe.

In a complicated world, these facts are actually quite simple. Last Tuesday, October 9th, a little girl—14 years old to be precise—was shot in the head by the Taliban because she had stood up for her right to receive an education. The story probably crossed your radar at some point last week. It probably did make you stop. I don’t underestimate that.

It made me remember a woman who made quite an impression on me. Sitting in on a panel on ‘women in leadership’ during my freshman year, I heard the amazing stories of women from Kenya and South Africa, Brookline, Massachusetts and India. I sat there in awe of all that they had accomplished. These were women who had started nonprofits, who had run marathons, who were kicking open doors left and right for young women like me.

And then out of the corner piped up the voice of a panelist who was not at all enthused by our discussion. Wiry in frame with a pixie cut, her Scottish accent was unmistakable.

“You know I have a hard time sympathizing for you ladies. Where I worked in Afghanistan, women weren’t worried about getting into the workplace. They were scared their kids wouldn’t make it through the night because bombs were exploding outside their windows.”

She said it without constraint, without apology. Her message was clear. Face it: the problems you face are, for lack of a better word, first world problems. To say this is not to mitigate that women really do face problems here in the United States. There are barriers to equality, there is unfairness in the workplace, there are family and economic issues that really do affect us more.

But to acknowledge what this woman said is to reframe the way we think about women’s empowerment. In this national election I have heard the candidates frame this issue as a family issue, an economic issue, a national security issue. All of which is great and which I do not by any means deny. But women’s empowerment and education is also a fundamental human issue. A the-world-over issue and we ought to all start remembering that when we engage in this discussion, we cannot just talk from above. We have a responsibility not just to our sisters and daughters and girlfriends here at home but to also those girls too who live an ocean away from us, many of whom dream of one day seeing our shores.

 

“Find Your Kitchen Cabinet”–Cheryl Dorsey, President at Echoing Green

Today, I’ve got 2 versions for you:

The Pumpkin Spice Latté with Whipped Cream (a.k.a. the “why yes, I don’t mind if I do) version:

What an absolutely beautiful autumn day be BE BOLD, which is fitting since every time time I have heard Cheryl Dorsey speak she conveys exactly that message.

As the President of Echoing Green, a nonprofit which supports emerging social entrepreneurs around the world, Cheryl Dorsey must be incredibly busy. Yet, when she speaks to you, she looks you in the eye with genuine care for what you are saying.

But with all this buzz around social entrepreneurship, it is also important to realize that everyone just ain’t meant to be one. If you want to be a founder, go for it. But if you want to be a supporter, a fundraiser, an adviser, a communicator–that’s an equally valuable and admirable role. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

In other words,  “find your kitchen cabinet.” Figure out what excites you and stick to it. Learn everything you can about it and don’t stop until you start running into the same people, the same books, the same news articles in all your frenetic learning hurry. You want to do it? Great, first know it.

But more than anything, being BOLD isn’t a stand alone concept. To be bold, you must first be open. And here is another one of Cheryl Dorsey’s messages: great ideas won’t just fall into your lap–they can–but most often, you will have to put yourself in as many new and stimulating experiences as possible in order to purposefully stumble upon that next big thing. 

….and here’s The Skinny:

  • So you want to be a social entrepreneur? Great. First, make sure you are an expert in your field.
  • Have you thought about where you want to live one day? Maybe it’s too early to start thinking about that, but then again, it’s never too early. Does your big idea address an issue that exists in that area?
  • Star tip: you should have some finance knowledge and know how to fundraise
  • Clients often won’t come to you initially, no matter how great your idea or your organization. So, go to them.
  • There is as much value in being an entrepreneur as there is in being an intrapreneur, in being a founder as there is in being a supporter.
  • The reality is, the world of social entrepreneurship can set you up on a lonely journey. The solution: find a network that will support you and a community such as that provided by Echoing Green and similar organizations.
  • Q: If I start an organization, how will I determine my salary and the salary of my employees? An A: Look at the prevailing wage in the area where you are, as well as the potential employee’s education and experience. But also step back and think about it simply: do you want to pay your employees well? Would you rather have a few higher paid employees or a greater number of lower paid ones? You’ll have to think about that for yourself.

The Bottom Line: Find your kitchen cabinet, and fill it with a wealth of knowledge and the people who will support you. If you feel like you can’t do that, fake it. But don’t just fake it till you make it,  fake it till you become it.

You are never incapable of being the best possible version of yourself.

Discipline.

I am afflicted—as Elizabeth Gilbert might say—with the “monkey mind.” And it’s (sort of) a problem. Conversations with me might easily span from Senegal to Israel to Sri Lanka, that trip I just took to Argentina or my fascination with country lyrics. One of my friends once put it this way: “Inesha, you’re a whirlwind.” Which is probably a nicer way of putting it. What she really meant is that I am a completely organized mess and the biggest walking oxymoron around (and here I might emphasize that last part a bit more :)

And then I got to college. The options, the choices, oh the things to do. I was a whirlwind surrounded by a whirlwind and it was fascinating, exciting, exhilarating. It was also overwhelming. In high school I was that kid who had a whole lot going on. But in high school I was also that kid who was so incredibly blessed to have a mother and father who would set her straight—who would, you know, make sure she ate, slept, exercised. I was fortunate to have close friends who demanded my attention, who sketched their way into my heart just as much as they did onto my ridiculously color-coded calendar. I had classmates and teachers who had known me for years, who got “Inesha” and knew the importance of letting her go just as much as reigning her in. And I had two sisters who dealt with me through thick and thin, who reminded me of what was really important.

But when I got to college that all went out the window and at the risk of exposing my serious nerd status, let me just say that the concept of living at my school was one that I positively, absolutely loved. And diligent student of the world that I am, I got to making my lists and calendars. I got to planning. The multitude of options were not a deterrent; they were the excitement. I loved that I could go off and have a conversation at 7 in the morning with a dining hall worker then head to class, exercise in the middle of the day, take a digital arts workshop and attend a speaker series to boot—all in a day’s work before heading off to do that homework, of course.

A year later, I’ve gotten a little more perspective. You see, you could completely whereswaldo (here I must indulge you with a verb my high school math teacher used to use which in class often translated to plugging in numbers randomly and in life often means just going about things without clearly every marking out your objective) college but I’m not sure that you would get anything out of it. The ability to know a little about a lot is great, but the ability to stand still is one that in this crazy spinning world with chrome tabs and sticky notes is incredibly desireable and one that I suspect is acquired most often with age but perhaps too with intention.

My internship in DC hasn’t exactly meant that I’ve escaped from a whirlwind of people and things, new happenings and crises. This is the nation’s capital after all. But each day, when I chart out my day I try and keep in mind the big picture– the world outside the reactive work environment I live in. It’s not always easy but if I have a quest these four months, it’s in search of that one word: discipline. 

DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI Comes to Harvard

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When I walked into the John F. Kennedy Forum last Thursday, I don’t think it had fully dawned on me who it was that I was there to see–in fact, it is only truly dawning on me now on the occasion that I am writing this blog post, and have had a chance to truly reflect on the experience. That afternoon we had made our way through the crowds and up to the front of an orderly line, found our seats among the crimson benches, and taken our seats to await her arrival–the incredible, dedicated, hardworking, loving woman whom the world knows for her bravery and who’s name lit up the posters and flyers and mental images that were all around us that day: Aung San Suu Kyi.

But she is not an icon.

I’m always surprised when people refer to me as an icon and say, well now she is free and must learn politics. What do they think I’ve been doing all this time?”

(Laughter flowed through the room at that cheeky comment)

“I don’t like to be thought of as an icon, because that implies [that one is] just sitting there. I would like you to think of me as a worker.

For all the hype and the respect and the world-wide adulation, this amazing woman would much rather be known as a hard worker than someone whose title immediately siphons away any confusion as to why exactly she is deserving of that praise. When I think back on the history papers I’ve written or the newspaper articles I’ve read about this inspirational woman worker, it seems hard to believe that last Thursday she was sitting just feet away from me, taking questions and speaking to a room full of eager listeners with as much poise, grace, and eloquence as one would expect from a queen.

Of course, Aung San Suu Kyi is well known for all her hard work and the trials & tribulations that came along with it–15 years of house arrest, being unable to visit her husband in the last stage of his life, missing her kids as they grew up far away from their mother–all as she fought for democracy and equality in a Burma ruled by military dictatorship.

Here are the highlights from last Thursday’s forum, both in her words and my own.

  • “We have to prepare our people for democracy and freedom.” Interesting point that I hadn’t thought about. The idea of ‘democracy’ must be so ingrained within the American psyche that the thought of having to change or somehow mold one’s thinking in order to receive it is hard to imagine. Aung San Suu Kyi’s point was a perceptive one from my point of view–change, no matter how good it may be, is not necessarily easy to accept. 
  • “We [as a country] have the advantage of coming to the democratic stage late–we can learn from the mistakes of others.”
  • “[In Burma] Democracy is going to be a tough choice–its not easy.”
  • “The best way to be a free citizen in a free society is to act like you were already a free citizen in a free society.”
  • “So we had to tell them: you will not be imprisoned for going to the polls and voting.” Here she was describing the fear that  the Burmese people had (and continue to have) with regard to voting or otherwise expressing their point of view. Even changing this perception would be difficult (their campaign was a success though, ultimately producing a 70% voter turnout rate)
  • “Freedom and responsibility are different sides of the same coin.”
  • “Tribunals and truth commissions are western ideas imposed on other countries.” This adds to a conversation about what exactly truth commissions are able to achieve–justice? procurement of apologies? closure? reparations? the spread of bitterness?
  • The value of negotiation.
  • On deciding whether or not to leave Burma (and face permanent exile), even when her husband was very ill–I never thought there was a choice. I never thought of leaving Burma.” These are powerful words from a woman who did not see standing up and speaking out as a choice but rather as an obligation that she had to herself and to her country.

And finally, a few words to bring you some sunshine on this rainy Tuesday (at least here in my part of the world)–

I have been very encouraged by our young people…they were always at the foreront of our campaign.

Aung San Suu Kyi is the founder and chair of Burma’s National League for Democracy, a member the Burmese parliament, a mother, an inspiration, and, most of all, an incredibly hard worker.