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/
Heather Burke, girltank
MM: Who in your life has most inspired you? Why?
Burke: I’m inspired every single day by the people in my life who, day in and day out, are relentlessly fighting for what they believe in. I’m completely energized by my community because they remind me that while there’s so much to fight for in this lifetime, there are a lot of intelligent, passionate, and wildly courageous (and fun!) people working to make the world better, safer, and fairer for all of us step by step, every single day. I try to surround myself with these kinds of optimist changemakers–they remind me why I do the work that I do and they keep me grounded and laughing.
MM: What challenges have you had to overcome?
Burke: When you have a strong point of view and a nontraditional career path, you’ll often get pushback from people who don’t understand your approach. I’ve had to wade through a lot of disapproving voices and naysaying critics who either didn’t understand the value of my personal mission or felt uncomfortable by how I chose to pursue my goals. Especially when I wanted to talk about feminism and its importance in my personal relationships to my work in social innovation. That subject to this day received mixed reactions. I power on. It’s definitely important to test out your ideas, seek advisors, and collaborate with others who see the world differently than you. However, I also firmly believe that it’s important to cultivate you own point of view–to know when to stick to it ferociously and when to bend. It can be a challenge to navigate naysayers and critics when you’re leading a curiosity-driven, entrepreneurial path. It’s important to remember that you are the best advocate for your vision and personal mission. You are the only one who sees the world through your eyes. It’s therefore important to communicate what you see: what you’re witnessing and experiencing. Your voice matters a great deal.
MM: What motivated you to continue to make strides on your journey?
Burke: A crazy belief in the importance of shaking up the status quo! I believe that change in the world begins with a change within. Once I honored–I mean truly began to live–the value of my unique perspective I was able to stand in an authentic leadership particular to who I am (which is quirky and constantly evolving I might add!). People often say that you’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I would add that it’s important to be uncomfortable on your own terms. Seek out the kinds of opportunities that will build you up and allow you to productively face your fears.
MM: How do you innovate in your field?
Burke: Innovation happens in the most unexpected of places and it certainly doesn’t happen working alone! I seek out collaborators with diverse backgrounds to tackle challenges and identify opportunities on issues that are of common interest. I also look for untapped “entry points” for innovation on any project that I am working for by looking at the issue systemically–look at its roots–and then identifying the levers that will have the greatest accelerating force for change.
MM: What do you find most interesting about Memunatu?
Burke: I love Memunatu’s holistic and community-based approach to inspire and engage girls. It’s genius to build an infrastructure for girls’ changemaking and skills building through the school system. At a time when girls and women of all ages are inundated with images and prescriptions of how they should act, look, live, eat, and what they should learn Memunatu is a catalyst for girl-centered solidarity, girl-sensitive education, and girl-led innovation: for girls to tell and live their own story.
MM: What advice would you give to teenage girls around the world wondering how they can innovate in their communities?
Burke: Don’t wait to join someone else’s movement. Build your own movement. This is my personal mantra and it’s worked out pretty well for me. Identify what you’re passionate about or simply want to learn more about and get to work. Innovation doesn’t require a special degree and it isn’t some kind of ivory tower that’s only accessible to a select few. Most importantly, don’t wait for the right time, or more information, or anything else you can think of to delay making a difference in your community! Innovation starts with you, right here and right now. Innovation requires equal parts curiosity, experimentation, perseverance, and relentless dedication (because you won’t succeed on the first try!). Seek out collaborators–peers and elders from all walks of life–who share a common interest or goal with you and make a plan of action. The only way to innovate is to be one hundred percent immersed in the issue. So, take the time to understand the issue you’re working on–what’s working, what’s not, and why–and be ready to listen to voices from both sides.