Like many people who have had to pivot during the pandemic, activists have had to reimagine the way they advocate for the causes they care about in an online environment. Not only have we had to make the switch to organizing and engaging people in our advocacy efforts online, but have also had to recognize the increased inequalities amid the pandemic.
Particularly when it comes to women’s issues, gender-based violence, school dropouts, child marriages have been increasing over the past year and a half, with more women at home and lack of access from community allies.
As we thought about how we can take action, and reimagined possibilities for creating the needed policy changes globally to ensure that gender equality is achieved, we came up with the idea for Feminae Carta. Feminae Carta is the world’s first Digital Advocacy tool of its kind, which aims to make gender equality a policy priority in countries globally. We have more than 20 researchers from all six continents who have been working with us over the past few months to develop our initial background guide, which presents research on the current status of women’s well-being, voices and participation in society.
In this article, we hope to share the thoughts of some researchers and their findings, to give you a sneak peek into our work.
Yasmine Nassereddin, Canadian and Palestinian Researcher
Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Girls’ Education in Oceania and South Asia
Education is a powerful tool capable of breaking down and eradicating poverty; reducing child mortality; supporting economic and professional growth, development, and well-being; and most importantly closing the gap in gender inequality (UNICEF). From an economic viewpoint, investment in education expands business opportunities by strengthening a nation’s human capital. A larger and more educated labour force results in better wages and income for stable living. Investing in girl’s education can lead to an increase of females in future leadership positions and new perspectives to old persisting problems. While slight progress is occurring in gender parity in education, girls continue to face many barriers to schooling in all levels of education. In the same year, it was estimated that for every 100 boys only 86 girls were enrolled in secondary schools (United Nations, 2015). Girls education is necessary for acquiring sustainable and healthy futures for everyone. Giving girls access to equitable education is a vital investment for our world. When girls thrive by learning and developing their own passions in life, the world becomes more peaceful and sustainable as new ideas and perspectives are shared. Multiple studies and research has shown the economic, political, social, and environmental benefits of having educated women and girls. Oceania and MENA countries have definitely progressed in making improvements to their female population’s access to education, however, many structural and societal barriers block girls from achieving education they feel respected, included, and celebrated in.
Rosella Cottam, British Researcher
Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Girls’ Education in Europe, Middle East and North Africa
Empowerment has a “transformative ability to affect power relations in societies”, and therefore the empowerment of women is an essential component of the development and interests of nations around the world (Moghadam, 2016). In Europe, the current status of women’s empowerment is dependent on the access of women to services and opportunities within their lives. Women’s empowerment in Europe has been shaped by the legacies of colonialism and this affects the structures and rights of women in the world today. In the case of nations in the European Union, there have currently been some successful outcomes related to increased women’s active role in decision-making in the workplace, yet there are still institutional and resource structures related to leadership, healthcare, and services for the poor which hinder empowerment (Sustainable Solutions). In the Middle East and North Africa (the MENA region), women’s empowerment is currently characterised by significant change in fighting the challenges to the lack of power and discrimination of women in society. There have been efforts towards improving empowerment through raising the voices of women in policy making roles, and increasing opportunities to influence laws and debates. An example of this can be seen in Algeria, where there have been efforts to increase women’s empowerment in national parliaments, and by 2013, this has led to 31.6% of women in parliament. This example shows that efforts have had success, yet progress is still needed to reach greater empowerment.
Change can also be created through increasing public knowledge through innovative processes and research suggestions, which creates opportunities for more inclusive solutions for women. On the ground, young activists have also needed resources in order to deliver change, and this includes technology, networks, skills, and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations to empower women within their communities (UNGEI, 2014).
Soukaina Tachfouti, Moroccan Researcher
Area of Focus for Feminae Carta: Women in the Workplace in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia
The inclusion of women in professional and technical jobs can contribute to drastic changes across all sectors and industries, it can turbo-charge economic growth in regions that will be significantly impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution—making their participation all the more critical. While very few women are breaking through the glass ceiling to top managerial posts, entrepreneurship is gaining importance as an alternative avenue for their economic empowerment, however it is still a widely untapped source of economic growth and social progress, and job creation.
It is extremely critical that women are included in decision-making and hold formal positions so that their voices can be heard and the interests of women, as well as men, are taken into consideration. Integration into employment is not limited only to the will of individuals but to a set of factors that are often interlinked, preventing women from unleashing their talent and full potential. Women in South Asia and the MENA region continue to face a range of cultural, financial, and legal barriers more than their female counterparts across the globe. The economic and labour market specificities have positioned women in a weak starting point compared to men, leaving them with a lot of catching up. Moreover, many of the barriers that render women economically inactive also haunt working women in their careers and slow down their progression. In other words, what hinders women from entering the workforce in the first place also naturally hinders their growth into business and management leadership positions.
There are several policy prescriptions which can help create progress for women in the workplace, not only in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, but also all over the world. Some of these include ensuring girls’ get access to education and the tools they need to access work, and also improving the workplace environment by ensuring that women have equal pay.
While there is a lot of work yet to be done, the progress that has been made and the current work for gender equality is incredibly inspiring, and leaves us hopeful for the future. You can stay updated with Feminae Carta by visiting https://www.theworldwithmnr.com/feminaecarta.
In our fourth interview for our Perspectives column, we interviewed the incredible Wimberly Meyer. Wimberly was our mentor and such a big support in our journey when we were filmmakers in Disney’s Dream Big Princess Project. In this interview, we speak about her incredible journey starting her own production company, Summerjax, what it was like being the production company leading Disney and the UN Girl Up Campaign’s Dream Big Princess project, and her hopes for the future of this field, and her own company. Wimberly has led creative and production for brands such as Disney, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, ROXY and Vans, working on innovative and impactful projects like Dream Big Princess, and Hollister and Khalid’s “Sit With Us” anti-bullying campaign, which won a Billboard Live Music Award.
Our first question for you is what inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I think there’s a lot of different things that inspired me to become a filmmaker. When I was in high school and college, filmmaking wasn’t my dream. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do. And it wasn’t until I had, had a few different types of careers and had many different jobs, and entered my professional career following school, that I realized production and filmmaking was something that I could potentially really enjoy and like.
I started having conversations with people who were in the field, and who had been doing it for years, and just asking questions and digging. That’s when I met Lauren Franklin, who is my business partner now, and we just started talking and we said, “Well, why don’t we try it out? Let’s just go for it and see if this is something we can do and make something out of it.” And then from that, it was like, love at first sight. I never looked back again.
I don’t want to say necessarily that that’s dumb luck, because I think that a lot of the things that I had done previous to filmmaking were actually getting me ready and preparing me for the career that I have now. A lot of those have actually been things that I would never do again, and I’d call the worst job you’ve ever had in your life, but you’re so grateful for it, because there’s an element of that experience that you can draw on, and is actually helping you today. Some of those experiences in my past, that had nothing to do with filmmaking, actually have made me a much stronger filmmaker and a much stronger producer today.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced when you were starting your filmmaking career and how did you overcome that?
The biggest obstacle was that I had never done it before. So I was trying to figure it out through trial and error, and figuring it out as I went. I did not go to film school, so sometimes there can be some bias and judgement around that. But I didn’t let that deter.
People always say, “Don’t take no as an option. Don’t take failure as an option.” Yes, you can fail and you can learn from your failures, but don’t let it keep you down. You have to keep moving, you have to keep going. And in that moment, when you’re so passionate about something and you’re loving what you do, you never even consider stopping. It’s not even an option. You just keep going. So I don’t know if those were obstacles, I think in hindsight now, looking back, we were moving so fast, and I was learning so fast, and I was learning every day, something new was happening, and I’m still learning. We’d had Summerjax for seven years, and every day, something new comes and you go, well, we’ve never dealt with that before, so let’s go figure it out. And I think that’s the awesome thing about filmmaking too, is, you never stop learning. It’s constantly changing. If you are a person that could easily be bored, this is a great career for you, because everyday is different. And everyday is exciting, you’re talking to new people, there’s new challenges.
You mentioned that you started Summerjax with Lauren, and we know that you were inspired to go into the filmmaking journey there, and what has your experience like with the company, and could you describe that journey?
It has been fast! It’s like being on a freight train that just doesn’t have a speed limit, you’re just going as fast as you possibly can. Lauren has two children and I have two children. So, when we started the company, we each only had one, so we both had two since and I feel like we’ve been raising our families and our kids have very much been a part of that journey. Jax is her son, and the company “Summerjax” is named after him. And it’s really important to us. Family is really the root of what we do, and why we do what we do, it’s for our families.
But that being said, it’s a balance, right? Because we’re travelling a lot, I mean, not now during the pandemic, but before that, we were always on planes, we were always gone, we were always away from our families. So trying to find that balance, and Lauren and I supporting one another, like, “You go this time because I need to be back with my family, and I need to make that the focus right now.” And then, I would go another time and then she would stay back for the same reasons.
There’s been really, really good highs, and good moments, working with you girls and all of the Girl Up girls. Doing that program with Disney and Girl Up was probably one of the biggest highlights of my career, something I’m so proud of, and I would love to do more of that. And then there’s been really low moments. Moments of, “Wow! We didn’t see that coming, and that’s not great.” Sometimes you have to have really difficult conversations with people and as a business owner, you have people that work for you, and that need your support and leadership and you need to be there for them. You have clients that are sometimes wonderful, and sometimes not wonderful. And so there’s relationships and conversations that you have to learn to navigate through.
And so all of that is, I would say, on day one when we started, I never would have been able to tell you that those things would be where we are today. I never would have been able to say, we’re going to have children, so Lauren’s going to be out on maternity leave, and calling from the hospital and still working, and I’m going to be making sure my kids get to school to Kindergarten, but also jumping on a plane and taking a red eye to go see this client. I think you take it day by day, and you make the best decisions that you can for the company and for the creative that you’re trying to get across that finish line. But it’s a wild ride when you have a company, and when you’re leading a company.
It’s a really wild ride but it can be so much fun if you let it be. Just really enjoy the moments, and like I said, there are really great memories. We call them the “Remember When’s.” Sometimes they can be really crazy moments, like we’ve evacuated out of hurricanes before, we’ve evacuated out of major storms, there’s just an endless amount of stories that you have that, I think when you set out as an entrepreneur, you don’t know what those stories are going to be, and that’s the excitement, that’s the chase.
Absolutely. That sounds amazing, and it’s so great to hear that there have been moments when it might not have been the best, but it seems like the journey itself, you’re enjoying it so far and it’s so great that you’ve had so many accomplishments as well to accompany that, and it’s a testament to the hard work that you all do in putting this company together, so that’s awesome. On that topic of different projects that you have worked on, what is one project that was the most memorable for you?
The Disney Dream Big Princess project with Girl Up was by far the most memorable. That experience, of being able to mentor all of the girls and make those connections. To see what you’ve all gone on to do in the last three years — I still get chills talking about it, and start to tear up because I think there needs to be more programs like that, and more girls need to have opportunity in this industry to know that it exists. That it’s an option for them, and it’s fun, and you can be successful, and you can enjoy what you’re doing, but you just need to be exposed to it. I was never exposed to it as a young woman or a young girl, so I had to find it later in my life, and that was my journey, so that’s okay, I’m grateful for that. But, I think that if we can expose more girls to filmmaking and other careers, it doesn’t just have to be in filmmaking, then we’re all going to collectively be better off.
If I could go back and do that project every day, all over again, I would. It was just so fun! Talking to you girls, talking to Maud in London, and I was on a twenty four hour clock that I was working on and it was so much fun talking to Brazil, and Argentina, and Malawi, and China, and India, and just hearing what you were all doing. It was really interesting, and I didn’t know this going into the program, that you girls are all living in these different areas of the world, but you all had a similar thread. You were all trying to do something. It didn’t matter what language you spoke, it didn’t matter what your family background was like, where you were in school, or what stage of life you were in, you all shared this passion for wanting to learn something new, and that to me, was so cool to see.
It was like, collectively, it truly is a small world, and it felt like that when I was working on this project. And then of course being able to see all of you in New York, and just the excitement of it, I was so proud.
Yeah, it was amazing! And I think going off of how similar our mindsets and everything was, it was so surprising to see that out of all the applicants and everything, how Disney had chosen the girls, and we didn’t even mention much about our interests and things in our application, but there were so many similarities, and so much overlap. And we look now at people in general, even our political ideologies or our opinions about world issues, they were so similar, even though, you’re right, we’re all from so many different parts of the world but when we talk about something, anything that’s happening in the world, we all have a very similar stance on it. And it’s really amazing. We’re still connected with all of them, and we’re all friends still, and we have this one group chat that we all started before going to Washington and it’s still going like two years now, so just that connection was so special. And all the connections we made with all of you, it was just a mindblowing project, it was awesome. We loved it.
Yeah, I think that has definitely been a major highlight in my career.
Definitely. Our next question, it can be related to any company, how is working in a female-led company, and you lead Summerjax, different than a company that might be male-led or might have more men leaders than women leaders?
I could get in trouble for what I want to say about that. I think that I’ve worked with some really great female leaders, and I’ve also worked with some really great male leaders. So, I think personally, I’ve been very lucky and blessed in that way.
Summerjax is female-led and our internal support is predominantly female. When we go out on set, and the contractors that we work with or our freelancers, and our creatives external of Summerjax, there’s a lot of men involved. Just by nature of our industry, it’s a very male industry, but obviously there’s a lot of females involved as well. I think what makes a really successful company is that you have to have everyone represented. It can’t just be one way or the other.
It’s kind of like the Dream Big Princess project, you know? Everyone brings something different to the table. We all have different experiences in our past, and if there’s five Wimberly’s sitting at the table, that’s going to be really boring. Because you’re going to just go around the table and hear exactly the same thing. That doesn’t solve problems, or make anything interesting. You have to have male voices, female voices, and you have to have different perspectives on everything else, not just male and female.
People from around the world, and around different backgrounds, from across the spectrum. You cannot exclude any one group. I do think that the women that I’ve worked with, have been able to bring a lot of compassion to their leadership style, and I appreciate that. I think that the other women and men that we work with, when we can bring compassion in leadership, even in difficult conversations, even if it’s something that we know is going to be a difficult subject to talk about, if you can bring compassion to the table and really talk it through, then everyone’s going to be stronger and better on the other side. That’s something that I think I’ve personally experienced with great female leaders.
That’s such a great insight, and I think you’re right it’s so important to have men and women, and also people of diverse backgrounds represented. Not just in companies, but in every leadership position that we see, even in terms of our governments, or schools and things like that. It is so important because when people do bring different perspectives to the table, you’re able to make much better decisions that are reflective of the people that you’re serving as well. What are your goals for Summerjax in the future, and where do you see the company going in five years or maybe ten years?
About a year and a half ago, we started getting into documentary work. And that’s something that I would love to continue and push into. I think there’s a lot of stories out there to tell, and people want to hear those stories. Now more than ever, especially in this pandemic where we all feel locked down. In January, I was in a plane for the entire month. And by March, I was in my home not leaving, not moving my car, very much on lockdown. So you’ve got two very extreme spectrums. And my point in saying that, is when you’re travelling and going out into the world and seeing new things, and you’re having new experiences, it’s wonderful. It’s stimulating, it helps you inform yourself. When you’re locked down, you have less of that. You only have what is in your little bubble. Through documentary filmmaking and storytelling, you can bring some of that experience into a home, and into places that people don’t have access to go out and experience in the world themselves. And I think that’s powerful.
That’s amazing! And as documentary filmmakers ourselves, we think you’re absolutely right. When we create documentary films, and even the films we created for Dream Big Princess, you’re able to tell the stories of people that are in real life. Fiction films are great as well, but I think with documentaries they’re real stories and people can really connect with that. So it is an incredible journey and it’s so great to see that Summerjax is looking into that as well and the Dream Big Princess project was like a lot of mini documentaries that you already worked on, so that’s amazing and we’re really excited to see what you all produce. What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers and storytellers?
I would say just don’t give up. I know that probably a lot of people say that about a lot of different things, but filmmaking can be very difficult, it can be very tedious, there’s very long hours, there’s a lot of challenges within filmmaking and within this industry. But don’t give up. If you truly love it, and you are truly passionate about it, there’s going to be a million reasons, and a million times when you want to just walk away from it, and when you want to say this isn’t good enough, or somebody says something about the piece that you have made, and that’s the thing, with filmmaking, it’s out there. So people can see it, which means they can judge it. And you can’t let other people’s judgement dictate what you’re going to create and what you’re going to continue to do, or not do. So be true to yourself, and if you have made something, you are successful. You made that, and that is something that came from you that no one can take away, and you should be true to that and keep going, keep moving.
Absolutely. Thank you so much, this was really inspiring and we absolutely loved hearing about your journey and your advice, so thank you so much!
In our third interview for our Perspectives column, we interviewed the amazing Erica Milsom. We first met Erica during training we had when we were filmmakers in Disney’s Dream Big Princess Project, and have loved watching her journey ever since. Erica is a Film Director and Writer at Pixar, who has worked on films such as Loop (2020), So Much Yellow (2017) and Academy Award-winning Inside Out (2015). In her role as Pixar’s Director of Behind-The-Scenes Documentary Content, Erica has worked on short films that accompany the release of Pixar Animation Studios Films, such as Ratatouille, Brave, and many more. Her short film Loop was part of Pixar’s SparkShorts series, and features the story of how two kids on a canoe with different ways of communicating (including a girl with autism) attempt to connect.
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
When I was eighteen, I took a documentary filmmaking class — and it’s weird because I don’t think any other class in my whole life took as much of my brain space and kind of made my other grades suffer quite as much as that one class.
We worked like crazy on these small documentaries, and I learned quite a lot about storytelling, about the character in front of you, the potential form of telling your story, the technical end of capturing it and making sure that it looks as good as possible, that it sounds as good as possible, that it has an eloquence to its flow. And then, twelve years later, I thought, “Oh, maybe you should do that for a job.”
And the funny thing is, I would have never imagined that as my job. I think it was partially a failure of imagination on my part, but maybe it was also that I had never seen anybody like me having that job. I just didn’t know that would be possible.
So I spent the rest of my twenties doing work internationally and in multiple communities in the Bay Area in non-formal education, meeting people, and I’m super happy that I did. Because I feel like the stories that I gathered during that time and the kinds of people I met were so varied, exciting and different from my own. I got a broader sense of what the human experience is from a village in Nepal, to the back streets of Oakland, to mental health facilities in San Fransisco. All of those places are not places that I would have had access to just as a filmmaker necessarily, but as the person that I was and the hopes that I had for helping in non-formal education, I got a lot of new stories.
And then, when I was 29, I started a graduate program in vocational education, and I realized that I don’t like graduate school. It’s kind of weird when you get to a point in your career where you’re like, the next step isn’t interesting. You have to go back and say, “What have you loved? What do you want to do?” and that thing that I had loved, was that documentary class. So I got an internship and started from the bottom as an assistant editor in this really small educational documentary place, and that feeling I had in college, that there’s so much to learn, has never stopped since then. I started when I was 30 and just turned 50 this year, so I’ve had 20 years of unbelievable learning, and I think that’s the thing I find wonderful about this career.
In filmmaking, there’s a huge community of people who are looking for solutions together and that’s part of why it’s such a transforming technical and creative field. People are talking to each other, and building things together, across the platforms and across the nations. It’s really exciting.
That’s amazing, what a great answer. That brings us to our next question, which is what was the biggest challenge that you came across when you were starting your career in filmmaking, and how did you overcome it?
My first challenge was seeing myself in it, and saying, you should try, you might be really good at this. At the beginning I wasn’t maybe great at it, but I think the part of me that is curious and engaging, and can connect with a person in front of the camera, is the part of me that has stayed with me the whole time and makes me a really great director, a good writer, and a good editor, because I have a sense of compassion for the person in front of me. Despite not seeing anyone like myself, despite not knowing a lot about films (it wasn’t like I was obsessed with watching films and deconstructing how they worked), I knew how to connect with a person and bring in an authentic and vulnerable voice to the screen. I think that was important to see.
The second thing was, when you start out, you’re in these roles that are very low on the totem pole. I started out at this very boutique place (boutique meaning the basement of a guy’s house) being an assistant editor, and there were all these technical things that were really hard to solve, and I learned how to solve them. Things would blow up or there’s a lot of stuff that can go wrong in post-production, and you feel so scared that you ruined it. And there are resources, and I think it’s important to learn how to relax and say that nothing is permanent in the world of digital, but, solutions take a methodical approach to solving, and you need to be able to go out, look for resources and not be afraid to ask for help.
Even the most confident and educated people in the realm of technology, sometimes have a challenge that they don’t know how to address, and they ask for help. So that was a huge challenge in the beginning, and it taught me this massive lesson about not only thinking that I had to solve everything. In filmmaking, there’s a huge community of people who are looking for solutions together and that’s part of why it’s such a transforming technical and creative field. People are talking to each other, and building things together, across the platforms and across the nations. It’s really exciting.
That’s definitely a really great point, and a useful point too. Because I think it was in 2015, we went on a trip to Pakistan and we made this whole documentary, but we lost all the footage while editing. It was so devastating, and we were so young at the time. It wasn’t like we wanted to stop filmmaking, but we wanted to go back right then and just do it again. And so I think that point about looking to others for help and asking for support is really important.
Yes! Well, I feel you. I’m so sorry that happened. The fact that it did not deter you!
It’s okay! Last year we actually made our documentary about girls’ education in Pakistan and it was like a grown-up version of that one, and it was so much better, so it worked out in the end.
Every human being has something that connects them to another human being. I just believe that if we spend enough time together, we’ll find a way to see value in each other’s experience. Because we’re story-driven people. We’re curious. At our core, we humans are curious and interested in the story of life. And the different stories of life are powerful. They’re ways we connect, and ways that we’re different.
What has the experience of working at Pixar been like for you, and how would you describe your journey with the company?
I’ve been at Pixar for about fifteen years. I started on Finding Nemo, on a documentary called Making Nemo. It was very funny going from this very small studio where there were two of us who were full-time employees, to a studio full of people who were collaborating together, and giving each other notes, and making things better. Before that, I had always been in small places and risen to the top kind of fast, and that was not going to happen at Pixar. There’s a lot of top to get through! And I actually grew to really appreciate that. The hierarchy of experience and insight, and how you could come in and learn your slice of the pie, and be appreciated for it. You also got to sit next to someone who was doing either the thing above you or two things above you, and watch them, and they would critique you and give you feedback.
Being a documentary filmmaker at a studio means that any question you have at any point over your entire existence there, you can ask anybody. People are really warm, and they’re inviting, and I think everyone in the studio is passionate about the work and curious. And they’re always trying to improve. And each new film is its own new problem, so they’re trying to address those problems, and grow and transform.
I’ve had this lucky role, where I just spin around and ask everybody about every stage of it. So like, how does the rendering equation work? I kind of know that now, which is a very weird thing to know! But it’s also, how does writing for Toy Story work? What is a challenge that a new director might face when they’re working on a franchise film that has all these rules and all this underpinning, but you have to open up the next story? What is the importance of specularity on a skin? What is the difference between transforming our human representation from the old days when it was mostly white characters, to now trying to transform just even the skin tone of our characters, and let’s make sure that that feels right and honest. I feel really grateful for that studio, because I’ve gotten to listen to so many brilliant people talk about the thing that they love.
I’ve taken one filmmaking class in my life really, and then, I’ve been at Pixar for 15 years, taking this never-ending, beautiful class with the people there. So I love this studio, I think it’s an amazing place and it feels like a campus to me. It feels like a place where everyone is learning constantly, and in the best way, we’re making something together all the time, and then evaluating that and thinking, “Okay what can we take from that to the next thing?”
That’s so amazing, and that brings us to our questions about your film Loop! It was so awesome to see and we loved watching it. Would you be able to tell us, what was the process of creating the film like, and what inspired you to create the film?
It was definitely inspired by the time I had spent when I was taking this year of part-time work (I’d just been working really hard for a while and I thought, I’m going to try and get my head back together). I immediately found out that working part-time made me miss my friends at work. So I needed to make some new friends, and I went and did this volunteer gig over at a centre for artists with disabilities called NIAD near me. And that year I did this thing on acting for the screen, and eventually taught a class on performance. But in the beginning, I was just volunteering and there were a lot of people in that studio who didn’t communicate through speaking. And I didn’t know what to do, so I would just fill up the empty space with Erica chatter and that didn’t get me closer to them. It took a while to kind of figure out how to connect with those folks. And it was really important to me. They were cool artists. They were really interesting people. I wanted to connect. And a lot of it turned out to be just hanging out and waiting, and opening up the space, and listening with that part of me that’s not listening for language. Like watching body movements, and watching the way that they responded, the small moves that they made, that kind of stuff.
So that was formulating in my head, and that experience made me think about this idea of a character like me, who is very chatty and didn’t know what to do, and a character who didn’t speak. And then as I came back to Pixar with that idea. I also wanted to put it on a canoe, because I really wanted it to be a happy story, and weirdly, canoeing makes me happier than almost anything in the world. And it’s a good trap for two characters, to make a small, fast movie.
The SparkShorts are made in six months, and for Pixar time, that’s lightning fast. From the moment you write it, you feel like you’re just on this, “Go! Go! Go!” I just wanted it to be two characters and have them trapped, kind of like that buddy movie thing with these two people in opposition and how they find their way to a connection. So that was the inspiration.
I hope that having more women in film means that we’re all looking a little deeper into our experiences and saying, “Oh! I’m going to look at another side of what I’ve always done and see what I haven’t said there or what I haven’t tried there.”
That’s awesome! What is the main message that you would like viewers to take away from the film, and why do you think it’s important for films to feature characters with diverse backgrounds and abilities?
That’s a great question! Well, the main message is just that you might not quite understand how to connect with someone, you might be afraid and judge someone because they feel different than you, and some element of their behaviour frightens you because it’s different. But if you relax, and let yourself be unguarded, you will find connection.
Every human being has something that connects them to another human being. I just believe that if we spend enough time together, we’ll find a way to see value in each other’s experience. Because we’re story-driven people. We’re curious. At our core, we humans are curious and interested in the story of life. And the different stories of life are powerful. They’re ways we connect, and ways that we’re different.
For me, the message was that there is a way to connect even if you think there’s not. You just have to look for it. You just have to let yourself find it.
And I’m unbelievably excited about more voices coming to the screen, about more authentic representations of people’s identity, of their experience, of their point of view. It’s fun storytelling. We’re not going to listen where there will be some elements of the same story over and over again, because there are some elements of life that are pretty profound, and themes that are resonant across any identity, but the nuance and the power of our difference, and the excitement of that, to me is just really rich and I’m super stoked to see that on-screen.
Definitely. What are the ways in which women filmmakers can contribute to the film industry, and how can companies create spaces to celebrate their voices and their work?
It’s not like we speak a different language as women, but we have maybe a different way of expressing ourselves, and maybe have different aesthetics and style that we want to bring to the screen. Things that have been important to us in our childhood or our lives. If we’re portraying kids, it’s like, “I remember this girl being my very best friend.” For Pixar, it excites people to have that new, powerful, excited voice. .
I hope that having more women in film means that we’re all looking a little deeper into our experiences and saying, “Oh! I’m going to look at another side of what I’ve always done and see what I haven’t said there or what I haven’t tried there.” And I hope that women, who are all walking into this role feel that sort of confidence. I think it’s hard to feel confident in a new place. A lot of times you come in with a sense of uncertainty and worry. You want to do a great job, and I think it’s good to have that drive in any career. But you should have confidence that what you have has value, and it’s going to be exciting for the people around you, and that relationship of finding something new together is going to push everyone forward. You should know that in yourself when you walk into that role, and feel like you’re here to give something new to our community. I feel like that is something that I’m going to always take with me.
In our second interview for our Perspectives column, we were able to speak with the incredible Mariana Atencio. Mariana is such a big inspiration to us in our work because of her incredible career in journalism. She is a Peabody Award-winning journalist, speaker, author and the co-founder of her own production company, GoLike. She was an anchor at Univision/Fusion and a national correspondent at NBC news — travelling the world to cover some of the most volatile conflicts of our times, in English and Spanish, for more than 10 years. Her amazing TED Talk,“What Makes You Special?”, is one of the top 10 most-watched on YouTube, and has been translated into 11 languages. Her first book, Perfectly You, was an Amazon Best Seller for Latino Biographies and an Audible Editor’s Pick and AppleBooks “Must Listen.” In this interview, she shares her journey of being a Venezuelan immigrant who came to the United States to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist. We were able to discuss the ups and downs of her magnificent journey, from covering mass shootings to hurricanes, and her advice to others on finding their authentic voice on social media, in their writing, and on-screen.
What inspired you to become a journalist?
When I was growing up, there were so many things that I liked to do, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Overtime, I realized that I like writing, I like theatre, I like public speaking, and I have this sense of social justice. I grew up in Venezuela, which is a country that was going through tremendous socio-economic and political upheaval at the time so that also influenced my sense of “whatever I have to do has to be of service to others and has to build bridges of understanding.” So if you put all of that in a blender, what comes out? A journalist!
I didn’t quite know it at the time, but it was when the government was growing more and more authoritarian down there, when they shut down the biggest television station in our country, we went out to protests as students. And I still remember holding on to my younger brother and my younger sister, and we had our hands painted white, and we had flowers in our hands as a sign of peace in front of the national guard. It was a lot of what many young people today could also see happening in the United States in some way. And it was in that moment where I said this is my calling. To be a journalist. To tell these stories that aren’t really being told.
Still though, it was tough to admit it to my parents because I grew up in a really traditional conservative home where my mom always said to me “I would love for you to be a dentist. That way, you’ll get your own practice, and have your own kids and go for like half a day,” and I would say, “I have nothing against dentists, mom, but I don’t really see myself with my hand in someone’s mouth the whole day.” But I studied advertising in the beginning because I was like I don’t know if my parents are going to be okay with being a journalist here in this country in this context. But I was miserable sitting down inside that advertising agency. And I said to myself, “Why would I put myself through this?” I have to do what I feel most passionate about. And it was finally then where I said, out loud, “I want to be a journalist.”
We even read about this in your book. It’s just so inspiring the way that you shared your story, and went on to stand up against these challenges that came your way. And going off of that, what was the biggest challenge that you faced when starting your career, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was embracing my authenticity. And what do I mean? There’s always a tendency and it’s really easy to copy other people. And wherever you’re starting out, whether it’s at a newspaper or at a network, and to think this is what the successful person here is doing, it’s easy to copy them. Your bosses and your higher-ups are also going to want you to do that because there are these systems that exist, right?
At NBC they sent me to the Today Show makeup room and they said somebody will teach you how to do your makeup, and they send you a stylist who says this is what you should wear. And little by little, it’s not that they do this purposely, but little by little you start actually telling the stories that you see are getting on the air. But what’s the point of someone like you girls, or me, being at a place like that if we’re not really being true to our voices and telling the stories of our communities? And I always say that for me, that realization came from something as simple as how I pronounce my name on television. Because my name is Mariana, and if you see early clips of me, and you could still find them on YouTube, you can see me going, “This is Mary-Anna!” I remember I did some clips for the Huffington Post, and for Ariana Huffington, and I literally said the Mary-Anna thing, and it’s like who’s Mary-Anna? That is just taking away the very essence of my power, and giving it to somebody else.
So the biggest challenge for me was understanding that I had to be myself, from the way I dress, to my name, and the stories that I push forward, and not copy what everybody else was doing. And yes, that’s going to be hard because you’re going to be met with “Really? You think so? That’s not really the way we do things around here,” but if you respectfully speak up, you will stand out just like you girls stand out because you are yourselves among a sea of people who look and sound the same.
“There’s always a tendency and it’s really easy to copy other people. And wherever you’re starting out, whether it’s at a newspaper or at a network, and to think this is what the successful person here is doing, it’s easy to copy them.”
That’s so true, definitely. And it’s so great to see that you don’t only represent the LatinX community, but also are able to tell their stories in a meaningful way. And not only people in the LatinX community, but also any minority group who might not see people like themselves on television. It’s so important to have storytellers that look like us as well on the screen and it’s so great to see someone like yourself really shining and doing such amazing things. And so can you tell us a little more about the most impactful or interesting stories you have told during your time as a journalist, and throughout your career?
Wow, so many. I’ve covered everything. Being a breaking news journalist, especially covering in Spanish and English, I was especially sent to the big natural disasters and the big tragedies. Why? Because I think that cultures like ours and communities like ours and our families also have this empathy, and our generation has this empathy that’s just such a positive tool that you can bring with you in these instances. Because I’ve had to interview people who have lost loved ones during a mass shooting. I’ve had to interview people who have lost everything during a hurricane. So, whenever I interview those people, I always treat it as, I’m inviting them into my home. It’s okay to put your arm around them, it’s okay to cry if they’re crying.
I think, in terms of journalism, we really break ground by breaking down the stereotype of being this cold reporter that can’t express any feelings. People are so saturated with information and news, that it’s really those moments of just being a human being in those tragedies and natural disasters that will connect with somebody watching you, in Ohio or in California, or in New York, or wherever it is. So for me, it has to be the big stories that also seem really historic. Now, with what we’re seeing in the United States, having covered Ferguson, Missouri on the ground for weeks, having spoken to Michael Brown’s family, I was tear-gassed, and I reported in front of burning buildings and I saw all of the dynamics that we’re seeing now, play out in that community. And that is something that for me as an immigrant, not having grown up in America, made me really understand the plight of the Black communities in the United States in a way that I don’t think I ever could have really understood had I not covered Ferguson.
Yes, that’s so important. And you’ve also written your book, Perfectly You, can you tell us more about the inspiration behind that? You do a really good job of again sharing your story really well and being authentically yourself, and “Perfectly You” as you describe it.
So the book! I love that you have it, we brought it to the Girl Up Summit which was just an incredible platform and all you girls who are leaders in the world were reading it. What inspired me was, honestly this idea that everybody has a story worth sharing. Writing a memoir at my age, I still got those comments from people like, “You really think that people are going to read what you have to say? Aren’t you a little young to be writing a memoir?” But there’s so much value in our stories, and I want everybody to really take that with them after our conversation today. Your story is worth sharing, and if you can tell it as authentically as possible, that’s when it will really resonate with somebody who says, “Oh my god! Look at what Maryam went through, or look at what Mariana went through. I see myself reflected there.”
But writing a book is still hard, right? And I had to write through hurricanes and elections, and all of these things almost on notes on my phone, as I travelled around the world. I still asked myself “Can I really do this?” And it was the passing of my dad, who was my best friend, my personal hero, I know he’s still around me every day and watching this interview now, but it was that moment when I said to myself that wow, we really don’t have a minute to lose on this earth. And I think after what’s happened in the past couple of months and after what we’re seeing this week and last week, there is this sense of urgency for everybody now. We have to put pen and paper, and a form of activism is and can be to tell our own stories on our own terms.
Yeah, definitely. And to expand on that, what was the experience of writing the book like? If you came through a time where you didn’t know what to write necessarily, how did you overcome that? What was the experience like?
It was like “Ahh!!” To summarize it in a gesture. We did it in a really short period of time, I had less than a year for everything, even for the book to come out, which is an incredibly tight deadline. And that deadline was just for me. There was an opening in the universe where I had to write that book. And it helps to have a tight deadline because I couldn’t really procrastinate much. For me, the challenges were two mainly. The opposite of what you said, so the opposite of “I don’t know what to write,” I had too much, and I had to really focus it and say, okay, what is it that I really want the reader to take away with them? And also I really had trouble figuring out where to start. And here I have a takeaway for people reading, an exercise that you can do if you’re thinking about “How would I start my own story?” or “How would I write my own book?” I literally sat down, and I wrote two columns. One for everything positive that had happened in my life, and one for everything negative that happened in my life. Literally bullet points. Because all those moments, I identified as junctures. As moments where my life really took a different turn because of something that had happened or a decision that I made, things like my sister’s car accident, or when my dad passed away, or when I migrated to America.
In the negative column, there was this incident that when I wrote it down, I thought, I haven’t really spoken about this, and I hadn’t really internalized what it meant in my life. It was a moment when I was 23 years old and I was held at gunpoint in my native Venezuela, which could have been the catalyst for me moving to the United States in search of a better life. But it was so traumatic that I had practically erased it from my brain. And that’s what happens with trauma, right? You just put it in a drawer, you shove it in there and you really don’t want to relive it. And what I realized, when I saw that in the list, I was like, this is the beginning of the book. And reliving that moment, from the way that the Earth smelled on that hike when that happened, and what I was feeling as that man drew a gun, all of that made that chapter really make sense as the beginning of my story.
And that moment, us reading that as well, was so powerful in the sense that you described everything, it felt like we were actually there with you. It’s really incredible how you were able to take that trauma but also make it a learning experience for all of the readers and really take them on that journey with you. And so that was really awesome to read as well, so thank you for sharing that. You shared some really great writing advice, but what other advice do you have for aspiring writers who want to write their own book based on your experience of writing your own book?
People will want to read your story. There’s a huge thirst for diverse voices and young voices. You may think that there isn’t, because what we see in bookshelves isn’t really reflective of that, but there is. So take your story, and fight really hard for it. If you see one door shuts in your face, go somewhere else, there’s a ton of publishers out there. I would advise, if you can, get a book agent and really have somebody that believes in you as much as you believe in the book and in the story. Have a book proposal, all of that helps. And also, have everything else be aligned with the coming out of your book. You have to see it as a realization. And you girls do such an amazing job at this, which is that all of your social media is aligned with the book and the message.
A publisher is going to look at you as a brand, so there’s people that I speak to that say, “Obviously Mariana you’re a journalist, you’re a public figure, you’re a brand.” You girls are a brand, too. But I always tell them “No, it’s not just me because I’m a public figure. Today, everybody is a brand and you have to see yourself as a personal brand.” So whenever someone’s going to publish you, and you send them an amazing book proposal, they’re going to look at your instagram account, and they’re going to look at your TikTok account. So have all of that, if your message is about authenticity, or if your book is about dogs or about whatever it is that makes you light up, have everything be aligned with that because they’re going to buy you as the whole package.
“Look within yourself, especially at things that society and employers and your peers have told you are negatives, and instead of eliminating them, try to see how you can flip the script, and turn them into things that would make you stand out.”
That’s a really good point to make. And a lot of people don’t realize that especially when they think about if they have a private account or whatever, but you could be tagged in things. Growing up, our teachers and everyone told us to make sure that you’re careful about what you share on social media because when you put something out in the world, it’s there for the world to see and so that’s also important to consider. In the book you talk about being true to yourself and finding your voice as you navigate your career. What advice do you have for other immigrants and people in general struggling to be their true selves in their work?
I think you have to really look at all of the unique traits you bring to the table, even those that society and other people have told you are negatives. In my case, I was laid off from my first job in journalism and my first ever job in America. So I thought that I was going to die and I have to go back to Venezuela and I was a failure, like this can’t be happening. And I really had to sit down, and I’m a really big fan of lists as you can tell, but I had to write “what makes me who I am?” I always had to start from scratch. And what are these things that employers are telling me are negatives? And these are things like my accent, or my name, or my long hair which you didn’t really see on television, or the way I dressed, or the community that I represented or the fact that I didn’t have a Visa, like I came here without a Green Card also.
And I looked at that list and I thought, these are things that I can’t change. I can’t really change the fact that I don’t have a Visa. I can’t change my name. So how can I turn these things around and make them competitive advantages? And I started looking for opportunities in places where those things were a sought-after skill set. So my first-ever job was at a newspaper where knowing Spanish really well was something that really put me at a different level than everybody else. I said to myself “Okay, if I’m an immigrant and I can’t really change that, how can I cover immigration with my unique viewpoint and one that nobody else has?” I just literally became an American on Valentine’s Day. I will be voting for the first time, and that’s also something that I’m asking myself, “How can I showcase that unique experience of being a first-time voter, on television in these platforms where nobody else is going to have that?”
So the message for you all is to look within yourself, especially at things that society and employers and your peers have told you are negatives, and instead of eliminating them, try to see how you can flip the script, and turn them into things that would make you stand out.
Yes, that’s so important. And being able to share your voice is really incredible not only for yourself but we think that, that’s something that everyone needs to be doing and you show that so incredibly in all of your social media and all the things that you do, but also in the new production company “Go Like,” that you launched. Can you tell us a little bit more about this venture, what inspired it, and what it’s all about?
I’ve been on national television now for ten years between Spanish and English, and there was always this whisper in my ear, and this rumbling of, “there’s more that you could be doing.” I wasn’t fulfilled, and as much as it was the kind of job where people would be like, “Are you crazy? Nobody leaves NBC,” or “People are here for 20 years of their life!” I just kept asking myself, and thinking that there’s more that I can do. And sometimes you will be kind of scared of those whispers and you will be like, “Shhh, I don’t want to listen to you today.” But, trust your gut because ultimately that’s your instinct and that’s your sense of purpose.
And the more I listen to that whisper, the more I realized that I really believed in telling positive stories about my community in a way that would make a difference in the mainstream. I think that’s something that not everybody can do. And I really believe in that. Traditional media, as much as there was so much growth for me there in these networks, and they allowed me to have so many of the experiences that I have nowadays, it was just that you can’t tell your own story in your own terms. It just won’t happen at a national news network. And so I said I’m going to venture out and do it on my own.
And what I loved was that I actually found the perfect partner to do this with. Because I always say if you’re going to jump off a cliff, if you do it holding somebody else’s hand, it’s not that scary. And the person holding my hand was my mentor, and then she became my business partner. And over time we were both thinking that we so believe in this that we both want to dedicate our time to doing this full time. And it has been an amazing ride, with Perfectly You the book, it was our first product and it was a big success so everything else that comes, TV or speaking wise, I know will be a big success as well.
“For those of you who want to be journalists, storytellers, authors, tell stories through social media, or just communicate, do it! We need you. We need you more than ever, and if you have any questions I’m always here for you. The world needs your voice now more than ever.”
That’s amazing! And you also have incredibly positive and influential presence on social media, which we have kind of touched on before too, but can you tell us about how you use social media to connect with your audience and your viral hashtag #GoLikeMariana. And what inspired you to use social media in this way, because a lot of people (and you touch on this in your book as well), you could be sharing about putting on makeup, but you have a different story and a different take on all of this so can you tell us a little bit about that?
I think when you’re growing your social media and curating it, it has to be really authentic to you. I write about it in the book. It makes no sense to become a real big hit doing cooking videos if cooking isn’t something that you’re really into. And that’s literally my example. I can’t cook to save my life so if a video of mine went viral cooking and I had to do it every day I would be like, “No! This is not sustainable!”
I really believe in inspiration, and I really believe in positive messages. I believe obviously in journalism that is reflective of our voices and our communities and I really strive to create a community on social media that has those values. Where people that are there, if you see the comments and all that, it’s all positive, it’s all growth. I think that people have to see you and know that you are real close to them, there has to be an intimacy there, and I really believe in changing the world through positivity so that’s also something you’ll find on my accounts.
Awesome! And you also feature some amazing individuals through interviews on your platform and also share about several social causes. Why is that important to you and why is it important for you to be sharing about these kinds of things and amplifying the voices of others?
It’s critical to what I do as a journalist. It’s lending your platform to other people. It is also joining voices of people who are beacons, like Joy Reid, and I had Amara La Negra on yesterday, and actually today I’m announcing the next guest for Friday. They’re all black women. Why? Because this week, we need to hear from them. And we need to hear how their struggle intersects with the LatinX community in my case for example.
So being able to share your platform and make it a service for other people to have important discussions that you wouldn’t really see on national news, that’s exactly my dream. It’s what I left NBC to do. To have these kinds of conversations that a national network might not say, like “Oh yes, let’s have a conversation between a LatinX immigrant and a black woman about solidarity between the black and brown community, and what both of them could be doing at this time.” That just won’t happen on national television right now. I think the time has passed to wait until more traditional outlets cover these stories and put them on the air. We have to put them on the air ourselves, and then one day, not very far away, they’ll say “Look at this! Did you look at the interest? Did you look at the comments? Why aren’t we covering this?”
Exactly. And social media is a really great tool to do that as well. Sharing the stories that aren’t on national television like you mentioned. And perhaps social media is even more influential now among youth because kids don’t watch television as much and so social media is a really great place to be doing all of this which is really awesome. This brings us to the end of our interview! Is there anything else that you would like to add or another message that you would like to send to our readers and listeners?
I’d love to just say that for those of you who want to be journalists, storytellers, authors, tell stories through social media, or just communicate, do it! We need you. We need you more than ever, and if you have any questions I’m always here for you. The world needs your voice now more than ever.
In our first interview for our Perspectives column, we had the opportunity to speak with one of our biggest role models and mentors, Julie Carrier. We have had the pleasure of working with Julie for the past few months now, and she inspires us with her dedication and passion for helping others every day. We’re so excited to share her perspective here with you today.
Would you be able to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your work?
Yes! My name is Julie Carrier, and I’m a leading authority, author and global speaker on authentic confidence and leadership and do a lot of work supporting women of all ages on how to be even more bold and show up in bigger ways. I am honoured that I was recently recognized by Leading Global Coaches and Thinkers 50 as the #1 Coach for Young Women in the World.
Amazing! You didn’t always do this work. Would you be able to share a little bit more about your journey to how you decided that this is what you want to do, and perhaps talk a little bit about what you did before this and what your career looked like?
Before I became a speaker and an author, and somebody who uses applied neuroscience to teach interactive leadership education for young women and women, I worked as a senior management consultant in leadership development at the Pentagon where I taught leadership skills to executives. What most people don’t know is that before all of these successes, my life actually started very differently. In high school, I had crippling anxiety and self-doubt and tremendous fear about stepping outside my comfort zone. If I could go from someone who was afraid to raise my hand in class to someone who now has spoken around the world for audiences of 20-70,000, I believe anyone can learn how to be confident and it’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about sharing this message with women and young women.
That’s such great advice for not only young women and men, but for everyone. Would you be able to share some of your tips for how women can maintain their confidence in the workplace, or in their everyday lives?
The number one thing I would like to start with is revealing a toxic myth that we have been conditioned to believe — that confidence is either something that you either have or that you don’t. What research shows, just like my life experience shows, is that confidence — just like you would learn how to ride a bike, or just how you would learn to cook, or just how you would learn to create a Powerpoint — is actually a learned skill.
You can actually learn how to leverage the power of your brain and use principles of neuroscience to learn how to be confident. While I normally have a 60-minute keynote or a three-day seminar to teach this, in the time we have I can share a highlight. I developed this brain-friendly learning quote which basically summarizes hundreds of pages of research on confidence: “Fear knocked. Courage answered. Then Confidence arrived and Success showed up.”
Think about that for a moment. Confidence does not just happen. It is developed as part of a process that usually happens in this order. Let’s start with the fear knocking. The reality is that fear knocks any time you are getting ready to do something bold and new, whether it’s asking for that promotion, or applying for that job, or getting ready to share that big post on social media — you are stepping outside your comfort zone. The feeling of fear is actually a normal human physiological reaction to stepping outside your comfort zone.
Sadly, because so many have never been taught the science of confidence strategies and the confidence formula, here is where many people give up because they think that because they feel fear, it’s a sign that they are not “confident enough” to make it happen. They have been given the wrong equation.
The difference between successful people who take bold action to realize their goals and those who don’t, is that successful people feel the fear and push forward to do it anyway. This is called courage. When you practice courage this is what develops confidence. It’s that confidence which will then allow that new thing you did to start to feel like something that’s second nature to you, and that confidence multiplies your success. While this is important, what I especially love is teaching the authentic confidence formula, science and strategies that actually help so many others translate the knowledge and research into action!
Amazing! That’s so inspiring. On that note, would you be able to share a little bit more about the science of confidence? Especially the Default Mode Network you talk about? What you have to say about that is so inspiring as well, and we think that our audience would really love to hear about that.
Thank you for asking that question! I’m so glad that you’ve been to so many of my different programs and have heard me speak about this because most people have never heard of the Default Mode Network and I’m so thrilled that you asked about it. The science of confidence actually starts with the science of understanding self-doubt. When we understand the science, we actually become empowered and equipped to work with our brain instead of against it.
One of the reasons why we feel fear when we step outside our comfort zone is actually because of a very outdated part of our brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN). This is a co-activated set of brain regions that has very outdated programming that thinks it’s keeping us safe by keeping us small (and stuck in our comfort zone). If someone is worrying about how they are going to fail at that big project they have not started, ruminating on something that didn’t go well in a presentation or criticizing themselves about how they won’t fit in during an important social event with new people, they can often thank their DMN.
Just like the heart has the responsibility of pumping blood, and the lungs have the responsibility for breathing oxygen, the DMN has the responsibility of generating this Automatic Negative Chatter. The science of confidence starts with understanding that what we often believe is negative “SELF talk” is actually not you at all. It is actually Automatic Negative Chatter generated from the DMN part of the brain that has very outdated programming. This awareness is actually the foundation of many strategies I teach that help you build confidence and get your power back.
And it’s so amazing to see where you’ve reached now, and the amount of people that you have impacted through your conferences and events you speak at. In working with you, we see how hard you have to work for everything that you do, and it’s incredible to see the impact that you have been able to have. Moving onto the topic of life amid COVID-19, how do you manage to stay positive, and I know that you probably aren’t able to stay positive all the time, but what advice do you have for women during this time, because it is uncertain and things are really changing. How have you changed the way that you are thinking and perhaps developed a routine during times like these?
This is an uncommon answer to your question, but it’s very true and I want to share it. Positivity is actually a math problem. Everything we do in our day is either a plus or a minus as it relates to our energy, time and attention. I call it the Full Can Principle. Have you ever noticed that if you have a full, unopened can of soda or sparkling water and you try to squeeze that can, it’s almost impossible to actually crush it because of how it’s filled up inside? On the other hand, if you take an empty can, it’s super easy to crush. People operate the same way. What influences whether or not you cave under pressure has to do with how much you are filled up inside. So if someone is feeling down, negative, tired, drained and unmotivated, myself included, that often means that “your can is empty.”
Even if you don’t feel like it, these emotions are a message that you need to take conscious action to fill yourself up. The natural state of a healthy mind is actually positivity, hope and optimism. When we get depleted, overwhelmed, and stressed out our abilities to be and feel positive start to lessen. Especially now, I recommend that each person creates a restoration list and a daily routine that involves taking time to fill yourself up. For example, my list includes working out and running with my dogs, making myself a healthy breakfast, spending time doing prayer and meditation, and making myself a beautiful cup of tea before I start work! These are not luxuries, during times of increased stress, these are necessities! I try not to actually do my work until I have completed those other items on my list.
It feels counter intuitive, but if I don’t add those positive restore items into my day, over time, I feel more and more empty and depleted and I get cranky, I get worried and negative. Positivity really is a math problem. You have to spend time adding in things that restore and fill yourselves up to counteract all the negative drains on our energy and time, and this equipped us to be and feel more positive and show up to best serve others.
That’s such great advice. Thank you so much for sharing that. To bring positivity, hope and optimism to youth, it’s been exciting to work together with you to offer Virtual Youth Summits during this time. Could you tell us a bit more about that initiative and how you’re supporting youth during this time?
Absolutely, so here’s what’s interesting — I’m a speaker, and a coach and an author, and most of my work, typically is live at events and speaking for organizations. In this time of cancelled events, it was important to pivot and figure out how to serve differently. Because in this time of distance learning, students have never felt more disconnected. So many things have been cancelled — after-school activities, their in-class activities, their sports and even their summer camps.
Students are really seeking an opportunity to connect and find meaning and hope in some really challenging situations. In order to help this underserved population, I am so honoured to team up with both of you, and the award-winning, amazing UN Youth Champion and role model from High School Musical, Monique Coleman, to start offering these interactive, immersive summits that are virtually held online so students can join from the convenience and safety of their home. Even though it is a virtual event it is still a live event!
We’ve had so much positive feedback. In fact, one principal that hosted one of our Virtual Summits for her school had such an incredibly overwhelming positive response of parents emailing and calling and thanking her for the positive impact it had on their teens, that she actually hosted a second one just two weeks later. We are finding that students are almost desperate for this opportunity to think about the future and build hope and optimism for the future. In fact, one of my favourite quotes that one student said was, “This made my whole life!” and she posted it in the chat with tons of tear emojis.
It’s been so successful that we’re actually filling spots for a global tour right now — that’s the beauty of virtual events, we’re not limited to just one location. So we’re doing a global event tour and we are accepting nominations from different schools and organizations to host their own event. So we actually showcase students from the school or organization right alongside our celebrity role models and we do really cool experiential exercises that bring students together.
And it’s not only helped the students, but it has really uplifted me too. These kids are very resilient. And shout out to you too! They love you as speakers and I’m thrilled that we’ve created this together, it is awesome!
Thank you for taking the time to read this article! We hope you were as inspired by Julie’s amazing insights and words as we are. You can find out more about Julie’s work by visiting @juliemariecarrier across social media and @juliecarrier on Twitter, and find out more about our Virtual Youth Summits initiative with her, by visiting virtualyouthsummits.com!
Maryam and Nivaal Rehman became activists when they were just eight years old. The now 18-year-old twins have since worked in their local and global community for causes including girls’ education, climate justice, gender equality and inclusivity. Through their non-profit, The World With MNR, their YouTube channel and social media platform, they are using advocacy, storytelling and development to take action and inspire others to do the same.
We started “The World With MNR” because… We wanted to create an organization through which we make a difference, and also inspire others to do the same. We fight for the causes we care about like Gender Equality, Climate Justice and Inclusivity, while also telling the stories of the people we have worked with and inspire others to take action for these causes as well.
Our proudest accomplishment is… Becoming filmmakers for the Walt Disney Company and the UN Girl Up Campaign #DreamBigPrincess Project. Our film, which featured MP Celina Caesar Chavannes, was seen by millions of girls around the world and the project unlocked a $1 million donation from Disney to Girl Up, supporting its incredible leadership programs for girls worldwide. We are still inspired by all the films created as part of this campaign, our fellow filmmakers, and the impact we were all able to have.
Our boldest move to date was… Finishing high school a semester early to return to Pakistan and film our documentary. Throughout high school, we always wanted to create a film about girls’ education in Pakistan, but did not have a chance to visit Pakistan to film it because of our school commitments. To pursue this dream, we worked with our guidance counsellor and made a plan through which we could complete our required high school credits in advance, and spend our final semester of high school in Pakistan to create our film “Destined To Soar.”
We surprise people when we tell them… Our age. Ever since we began to attend conferences, summits and events globally, we have often found that we are the youngest people in the room. As we introduce ourselves or share our story, the one thing that surprises people the most is how old we are.
Our most surprising interview was… with Madame Christine Lagarde at the G7 Finance and Development Ministers’ Meetings in 2018. We ran into her as we arrived at the event venue in the morning and she stopped her whole delegation to ask us if we were the twins who were going to interview her later that day. When we spoke to her again prior to our interview and told her our story, she would fill in different moments from our lives like when we worked with girls in our village in Pakistan, because she had already learned so much about us before the interview!
Our biggest obstacle was… Finding the balance between our school, extracurriculars, and our activism. We wanted to make sure we were giving all of our energy to our school work, the eight clubs we were the leaders of in high school, and our activism work, which often included travelling worldwide or spending countless hours working while we were still in Canada. It left us with little time for self-care and ourselves, which is what made finding the balance between all of these parts of our lives so difficult.
We overcame it by… developing a strict schedule, and sticking with it. We also had the immense support of our teachers and our parents, who would work with us to help meet the needs of sometimes overlapping commitments and help us organize our time more efficiently, without wearing ourselves out too much.
Our most memorable interview was… Our interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Malala Yousafzai during Malala’s Girl Power Trip in 2017. It was our first time conducting a Live interview, and we were nervous, but both PM Trudeau and Malala were so kind and down-to-Earth so all our nervousness went away. During that time, we realized how everyone is equally important in this fight for gender equality and everyone can make a difference.
Our best advice from a mentor was… Self-doubt and “negative self-talk” is part of an outdated program in our brains which thinks it is keeping us safe by keeping us small. So whenever you are doubting yourself, know that it is not you talking, but it is that outdated program in your brain, who you can choose to not listen to. This advice was given to us by Julie Carrier, who is an incredible role model for us, and learning this helped us overcome self-doubt when approaching different dreams of ours.
Our advice for other young people with causes they care about is…To start by taking action in their local community, for one cause they care about. The world has so many big problems and it is easy to feel like you can’t do anything to solve them, but by starting somewhere locally, you can make a big difference and open up doors to expand your impact.
The message we would like to tell the whole world is…Your dreams are worth pursuing. If you work hard and stay dedicated, you will find that the universe has a way of helping you realize your dreams. It may take a while, but eventually, you will be rewarded for your hard work with your dreams either coming true exactly how you envisioned them, or in an unexpected, but equally exciting way.
If you googled us, you still wouldn’t know… How to tell the difference between us 🙂
We stay inspired by… Reading books about people who we look up to.
The future excites us because…We like to dream big, and are excited by the idea that someday, those dreams will come true.
Our next step is…Pursuing bigger and bolder dreams.
One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What do you want to do when you’re older?”
In this fast-paced, ever-changing world we live in, society pushes us to make a decision about the rest of our lives at a time when many of us have not even discovered who we are, let alone who we want to become. Our answer to the aforementioned question varies tremendously, often being a version of “We still don’t know yet,” mostly because we still don’t know exactly what we want to do, or what the map of our lives looks like. What we do know is what we are passionate about and what motivates us to keep going. In the process of discovering these things, we have found out more about ourselves, and come closer to determining what we want to do.
Our pursuit of discovering our passions and realizing them has led to opportunities beyond our imaginations. We have been everywhere — from interviewing PM Justin Trudeau and Malala Yousafzai, to making a film about girls’ education in Pakistan. We are always so honoured and thankful for the opportunities we have had, especially because each has led us to discovering more about ourselves, as well as the potential all young people have in making a difference right now.
The truth is, there is so much we can do to pursue our passions and change the world even while we are in school or university, without having to wait until we begin our careers. Over the years that we have been able to work as activists, journalists and filmmakers, our experiences, as well as all the incredible young people we have met along the way, have proved to us that we truly are the leaders of today. In the process of doing what we love or are passionate about, we will be able to find our calling, and potentially discover the answers to questions like what we want to be when we grow up, too.
“While we still don’t know the exact answer to what we want to do when we are older, we’re satisfied with being on a journey of discovery for now, and further exploring exactly who we are, before determining who we want to become.”
One of the greatest lessons that we have learned, and we encourage all young people to discover themselves, is the importance of dreaming big. The first time we recognized the power of dreaming big was when we met our hero, Imran Khan (now Pakistan’s Prime Minister), despite everyone around us (including staff members of Khan’s political party) telling us it was impossible. We were thirteen years old at the time, and spent months sending emails and making countless calls, trying to meet with one of the most important people in Pakistan.
It was our determination and perseverance which allowed us to meet Imran Khan at his home, and personally deliver a donation we had fundraised at our middle school, for the second Cancer hospital he was building in Pakistan. Everyone we knew couldn’t believe it, and to be honest, neither could we. But throughout his life, Imran Khan never gave up on his dreams despite what other people said, and after we met him, realizing one of our biggest dreams at the time, neither have we.
If Imran Khan taught us the importance of dreaming big, then being filmmakers in Disney’s Dream Big Princess campaign taught us to redefine our dreams, and stretch the limits of our imagination, because anything is possible. We grew up watching Disney movies, and creating amateur films using our mom’s video camera. If you told those little girls that one day they would be making their first professional film with the Walt Disney Company, they would have never believed you. In fact, being part of such an incredible project, and being chosen from thousands of applicants globally to participate, is still unbelievable. What we know for sure is that the Dream Big Princess project has left a profound impact on our outlook of life, and has helped us pursue bigger, bolder dreams than ever before.
Perhaps the most important lesson of all has been discovering what we value the most, and what motivates us to keep going. We identified this during the most fulfilling moments of our lives, which have been working with girls in our village in Pakistan, and empowering them to continue their education. We have been working in that community since we were eight years old, and spending time with the girls there is always so inspiring for us.
Supporting other girls and young people in general, while striving to create equal opportunities for them to realize their dreams is tremendously important for us. During this process, we have also found out more about the intersectional nature of causes like gender equality, climate justice and inclusivity. For the girls in our village, the disproportionate impacts of climate change that they have to face prevent them from consistently going to school. It has been first hand experiences like this, which have led us to make Gender Equality, Climate Justice and Inclusivity the focus areas of our non-profit, The World With MNR.
Today, we study many topics related to social issues and justice at university, while being storytellers, activists and the co-executive directors of our non-profit, among other involvements in our local and global community. While we still don’t know the exact answer to what we want to do when we are older, we’re satisfied with being on a journey of discovery for now, and further exploring exactly who we are, before determining who we want to become.