Roni Postan-Koren is the founder of Shavot, a leadership and mentoring program for 12-year-old girls aimed at promoting female leadership. A Medical Student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Roni was inspired to start the program after a negative personal experience as Chairperson of the Student Union, where she first realized people could and would treat her differently because of her gender. Now she’s assisting adolescent girls to develop long-term positive self-esteem by providing them with emotional and intellectual support to learn from both success and failure.
My first job ever was… My very first job as a young girl was babysitting, but my first “grown up job” was serving as a soldier in the Israeli Army. I served in the Air Force as a flight simulator instructor training pilots.
My proudest accomplishment is… This one is too easy! Shavot is definitely the most amazing thing I’ve done, and the accomplishment I am most proud of.
My boldest move to date was…In my third year of medical school in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I was the Chairperson of the Student Union. I think my boldest move ever, was leading a student rally drawing attention to student issues. This move allowed me to actively and personally take part in the democratic system, and have our collective voice heard.
My inspiration to start Shavot was…During medical school, I took part in a high-level meeting that included a presentation of our case to various department heads – most of whom were male.
I had thoroughly prepared and was able to clearly present my case at the meeting. Despite this, a senior department-head responded to my presentation by stating, “you’re a child. A naïve child”.
I was shocked, and knew such a comment would not have been directed if I was one of my male student-union colleagues. Afterwards I took time to reflect on what happened, and made the conscious choice not to let that happen again — not to me or anyone else. I decided to stand up for myself and fulfill my role to the best of my ability. This experience was the first time I realized people can and will treat me differently solely because I’m a woman. One year later I co-founded Shavot.
I choose to mentor adolescent girls because… The age of 12, regarded as the age of Bat Mitzvah in Judaism, symbolizes the beginning of adulthood and specifically a girl’s transition into womanhood. Girls this age face many external pressures, be it from parents, other girls, boys, changes in the way they are expected to behave and more.
Research has shown that 12 years old is typically the age where girls begin to form a sense of self – making it the ideal age to engage with them in a positive and constructive way. This is the time to help them understand that they can succeed at anything they put their mind too, if they believe in themselves and aren’t afraid to fail.
My best advice from a mentor was… You can only do the best you can. It is so important to be able to forgive ourselves when something doesn’t work the way we imagined it would. I used to be far too hard on myself. It took me time and practice to become more compassionate to myself, to accept that I can’t do everything perfectly. This is fundamentally important, otherwise instead of going forward and be productive, you’re just wasting time making yourself miserable.
I would tell my 12-year-old self… To be a good friend to herself. To try harder to love herself. And that being smart will be an advantage later in life. It sounds cliché, but as a young girl I felt that I just didn’t fit in and hated myself for not being able to be one of the “cool” girls in school. I would’ve told myself that it was all temporary and that everything gets better by high school – and even better than that alter in life.
I surprise people when I tell them…That I’m a medical student as well as a passionate entrepreneur.
The most surprising thing about working with 12-year-old girls is… Just how smart and intuitive they really are.
My best advice to people interested in a social cause is… Pursue what you’re passionate about. Don’t be afraid to just start, people will follow you if you really believe in what you’re doing. Be ready to work hard and not be deterred by negative responses. Don’t give up, the “yes” will come.
My biggest setback was… All the “No”s I received when I started the organization.
I overcame it by… Not giving up. I continued to believe in my vision and stayed optimistic. I also had a wonderful support system, including my husband, who is also my partner in “Shavot”. And including the vice dean of the social science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She believed in what I was doing, believed in us and the purpose of Shavot.
I never go a day without… Recognizing my accomplishments and finding lessons in setbacks.
I stay inspired by… My school and the amazing people I meet along the way. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the 95th top university globally, and the 79th most innovative educational institution in the world. The university is diverse, has a strong a representation of women in both the faculty and student body, and is one committed to excellence in every field. As I walk the hallways I’m reminded of the 8 Nobel prizes awarded to professors and researchers of the Hebrew University, one of which was awarded to Prof. Ada Yonath, a women who serves as an inspiration to so many young female students.
Last month I travelled Toronto to introduce Shavot, and continued on to Chicago for the Clinton Global Innovation University. There I met students from all over the world, all founders and drivers of impactful project world-wide. These amazing opportunities and experiences enable me to be even more motivated to keep doing what I’m doing.
The future excites me because… I am excited to see the impact Shavot will have on the inspiring young girls currently taking part in the program.