What is your name, age, and location?
Claire Charamnac, 22, New York City and Washington DC.
What is your profession?
I’m the co-founder and Executive Director, US of Women LEAD, a leadership development organization for young women in Kathmandu, Nepal. As Executive Director, I work on fundraising, marketing, outreach and partnerships.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I have a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. I majored in International Politics and minored in International Development.
What was your first job?
My first job out of college is being a co-founder of Women LEAD. It’s a pretty unusual first job!
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
I was inspired to co-found Women LEAD because I’ve seen both the massive discrimination against women around the world and women’s unbelievable strength in the face of these challenges. I believe that it’s unacceptable that only 20% of political leaders in the world are women, and I co-founded Women LEAD to change that. The young women I’ve worked with are smart, passionate visionaries; they just need the support and tools to become leaders.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
Women LEAD has been the most rewarding. Knowing that the work we do is helping young women become more confident in themselves and pursue their goals is very motivating. Across the world, and especially in Nepal, adolescent girls are an under-served population.
Less than 2¢ of every development dollar goes to girls, and 9 of 10 youth programs are aimed at boys. When development programs do focus on girls, they tend to solely provide them with primary and secondary education. We are the only organization in Nepal and one of the few in the world specifically focused girls’ leadership.
We recruit high school students in Kathmandu from diverse backgrounds: many of our participants have never written a resume or spoken up in public before attending our programs. We empower young women to take leadership positions alongside men in Nepal by providing them with the skills to pursue their vision for change. In 2011, we equipped 200 promising leaders (aged 14 to 19) with academic, career and leadership skills through our programs. Our programs empower young women to be leaders by providing them with leadership training, skills building, mentoring, and a peer-support network. During our leadership courses, the girls take on internships, start their own social entrepreneurship ventures, lead workshops in their own schools and launch advocacy campaigns in their communities.
Many of the girls we work with in our organization had never pictured themselves as leaders. On the first day of our Leadership Institute, we asked the girls how powerful they were on a scale of 1-10. They said, “not very powerful” (a 1-3 range). By the end of the Institute, they said they were “very powerful” (9 to 10 range).
One of our participants, Sharmila, told us that before the leadership training, she never felt like she could be a leader. But now, she feels like she can lead anything at any time.
I’m so proud of these girls: they have incredible dreams for themselves and their country. I consider myself lucky to be able to support them as they pursue their vision for change in Nepal.
My organization Women LEAD recently launched our first crowdfunding campaign to provide scholarships for 175 youth to attend our leadership development program. Our campaign is seeking scholarships for all of our young women leaders to be able to attend our leadership courses for free.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
Being a woman is helpful in my field (women’s empowerment) because people do believe I understand young women’s concerns and needs being a young woman myself. It’s also easier for the young women we work with to identify with us and trust us since both me and my co-founder have gone through some of the academic and career challenges they are currently going through.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
I think being young is the bigger disadvantage right now than being a woman. I may not be immediately taken seriously when presenting my organization and work because I seem so young. There are also people who don’t see the necessity of our work, thinking it’s just another “women’s project”.
Please say a few words about your experience with the work-life balance.
Right now my biggest difficulty is handling my work schedule since I work from home. Working from home can be very isolating and requires a lot of discipline. I miss the community that comes with having co-workers and working in an office. In the future I know my work-life balance issues will be more serious, when I decide to start a family for example. I’m hoping that my unconventional career path will lead me to a position that is more flexible and would allow me to balance work and family commitments. But that’s just a dream for the moment!
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I don’t have a specific role model that I look up to. I’m inspired by the strong women around me: my mom, my sister, my friends and co-founder. When I see their hard work, sacrifices and achievements, I’m motivated to continue doing my own work.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
My advice for a woman starting their own non-profit is to expect that there will be many ups and downs. You’ll be surprised by the number of doors slammed in your face, and the number of people who will step up and reach out. Try not to dwell too much on the setbacks and keep on going.
Women LEAD’s crowdfunding campaign on indieGoGo
Women LEAD on Facebook
Follow Women LEAD on Twitter: @womenLEADnepal
– Interview by Elena Rossini
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