This piece is part of our #EmpoweringInnovation series for International Day of the Girl. Join us for the inaugural event at Google D.C. on Oct. 11th https://memunatuempoweringinnovation.splashthat.com/
Amy Badiani, Ashoka
MM: Who in your life has most inspired you? Why?
Badiani: My mom. She has an unwavering resilience, brilliant boldness, and soulful humor. When I was in elementary school, I fondly remember running off the school bus, rapidly pulling against my clinking and clonking backpack, jolting towards my mom. “How was your day?” was often a loaded question – I found myself wanting to share acts of boldness with my mom – whether it be starting a tree club with friends, stepping up to be solo singer for chorus even though the thought made me very nervous, or becoming a bus patrol. Of course, there was also the occasional ‘can I get some new Lisa Frank stationary?’ She would avidly listen, ask me some tough questions, and make sure I followed through.
My mom pushed me to do well in school, but ‘well’ meant getting good grades, creating or seizing opportunities, and being a good friend. She has lived by this throughout her life. She has climbed up tall fruit trees in Uganda without fully thinking how to get down, run a family business with her siblings, moved across continents with lots of uncertainty and risks, and has unconditionally supported and loved our family and friends. In the midst of hardships, she keeps up the laughs, lives healthy, and well. She is the reason I strive to be a bold do-er, stand up strong from failures, and sustain positivity with people and endeavors, all while being well and keeping light hearted. Easier said than done, but the journey is exciting.
MM: What challenges have you had to overcome?
Badiani: When I was around 7 years old, I was yelled at in art class for not being able to cut paper properly. I am left handed and was trying to use right handed scissors. When I did another private art class, I was told I couldn’t paint, the instructor took my painting, re-did it, and told me I could just sign my name on it.
Being repeatedly told ‘I can’t’ made me clam up for a long time. But I found a way to hold onto the boldness that was a core part of me. My sisters have championed me through this and have been some of my toughest critics. I turned the ‘cant’s’ into ‘cans’ and ‘I am’. I can be creative through my actions – bringing a community together through cultural dance and performances during a drought, writing poems and stories, co-founding a youth-led initiative in Rwanda, and starting intrapreneurial initiatives in my work. I am uniquely me and I am growing. I began to own my idea of creativity and breaking down stereotypes, and when I did that, I felt free and creatively boundless.
MM: What motivated you to continue to make strides on your journey?
Badiani: Collaborating and teaming up with more people who believe in me and energize my authenticity. Carnegie Mellon University, my alma mater, was profoundly formative. I got to experience the power of acting locally – whether it was fighting human trafficking in Pittsburgh – joining a student-led initiative to pass a city ordinance, raising awareness of the world water crisis and co-launching the UNICEF Tap Project in Pittsburgh with my friend Sruthi, or observing user interaction and co-designing a ‘do-it-yourself’ space at a local Construction Junction alongside students from design, to engineering, to the social sciences. I went to Carnegie Mellon because I wanted to get hands-on, problem-solving experience. In the process, I found myself deeply engaged with student life and fostering a strong and supportive community. My peers enabled me to thrive interpersonally and practice empathy. I take these experiences wherever I go. I also get to volunteer for Development Solutions Organization, a volunteer-driven international development consultancy founded at Carnegie Mellon. The team of passionate professionals and students push me to be a better me and make meaningful social impact every day.
MM:How do you innovate in your field?
- Demonstrate empathy in action – understanding and relating to the needs of the people and communities I aspire to support.
- Co-create solutions – collaborating with the people and communities I aspire to support to developing sustainable solutions.
- Execute, execute, execute – piloting, iterating, and following through with ideas.
- Be a changemaker – practicing empathy, team of teams work, fluid leadership, and creative-problem solving.
- Have fun!
MM: What do you find most interesting about Memunatu?
Badiani: I love how community-driven Memunatu is from design to implementation. I am inspired by the founding story, how Elisa, a young girl in Memunatu’s initial focus group, stepped into her bigness – she became a tutor for other girls, became class president, and ‘catapulted’ in impact. The Memunatu approach is scaling the powerful idea that literacy, leadership, and empowerment start from within, owning initiatives with confidence, and that community-driven publications such as magazines can be impactful social change complements to education.
MM: What advice would you give to teenage girls around the world wondering how they can innovate in their communities
“What changed me was, the way we communicated, the way we came up with ideas, if we were teammates, we were all leaders.” – Siphumelele, Changemaker at African School for Excellence
“…the teacher is not the fountain of education, but we are also the leader of education” – Sharai, Changemaker at African School for Excellence
“Yesterday I was a reader, today I am a leader” Nandi, Changemaker, African School for Excellence
I have had the incredible opportunity to collaborate with teenage girls such Siphumelele, Sharai and Nandi to co-create a sustainable Storytelling for Changemaking initiative. Along with a team of changemakers, they have become community problem-solvers and are bravely creating positive change, connecting their hearts and personal whys with purpose and action, every day. They are leading the way.
They have shaped how I innovate and the advice I would give to girls is similar to the above: demonstrate empathy in action, co-create solutions, execute, be a changemaker, and have fun! Be authentically you. We are the world, the world is ours.