TEDxUNPlaza: 3 Women on Empowerment & Trusting In Yourself

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I was involved in the first ever TEDxUNPlaza event last week in New York City, a full day TEDx event focused on the theme BRAVE with 24 speakers who inspired over 300 people at the United Nations Building.


Considering how many conferences and events I’ve been to over the years where there have been so few women on the main stage or on panel discussions, it was refreshing to see the very first session of the day focus on women empowerment.


While two fabulous men were also in this session: Steven Rogers, a professor at Harvard Business School and Dr. James Doty, the founder and director of the Center for Compasion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, this post focuses on the three awe-inspiring women who moved me with their passion, commitment and perserverance this week.


New age yogini Deepika Mehta, writer and animator Brenda Chapman and healthy living educatorSarah Hillware rocked the TEDxUNPlaza stage Monday morning.


Deepika Mehta faced a severe emotional challenge when she was told she may never walk again. Today, she speaks from a place of gratitude now that she is not only walking again, but entertains people with her dancing and yoga movements.


Deepika-Mehta (39)

A traumatic rock climbing accident in 1998 made her re-evaluate what was important around her. Since then, she has experienced a profound healing and transformative power through the ancient practice of yoga. She continues to learn from teachers and spiritual masters in India and throughout the world. 

Deepika-Mehta (64)


She has also trained with some of the top Indian film stars and is one of the youngest instructors to teach at one of the most celebrated Yoga festivals in the world, The International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram.


Brenda Chapman is another great model for resilience who credits her mother for giving her the courage to be where she is today. She says that young girls are trained to be passive and reactive whereas young boys are trained to be proactive. While that may be less the case today than it was twenty or more years ago, old habits are still engrained.


Brenda-Chapman (1)


Role models can teach resilience she asserts. And, she says, “they can be family members, teachers, role models…they can be women, they can be men, they can be you.”


Brenda has always had a passion for storytelling and movie making and ever since she was a little girl, her dream was to work at Disney. Not only did she achieve her dream, but she became the first woman to direct an animated feature for DreamWorlds Animation’s The Prince of Egypt and more recently directed the Pixar film, Brave, the very theme of this TEDx event.


Brenda-Chapman (13)


Like Sarah Hillware would echo later on in the session, Brenda talked about the importance of girls having role models, even if they’re distant ones. She also reminded us that it’s not just about the successes that result from what we learn from those role models, but failures as well. “Failures are just as important as our successes,” she says.


“Inspiring by example is a key way you can pass along your inspiration,” she adds. “If you can look into a little girl’s eyes and let her know that you believe in her, you might just transform her life.”


So true, I reflected as I thought about a few people who did that for me when I was 5, 10 and later as a teenager. Was there someone who inspired and encouraged you along the way?


My Take Away: maybe the nieces, daughters and cousins in our lives won’t have to fight some of the same battles we had to fight, but there will be battles and stepping up to be a mentor can make all the difference.


Sarah Hillware started her talk with the same tone, as if she was picking up the thread from Brenda’s important messages but extending the importance of mentorship to education and health awareness, which is both her strength and her passion.


Sarah-Hillware (3)


Says Sarah, “when you educate a boy, you educate a person. When you educate a girl, you educate a family and a community.”


Her background in health and educational systems and as founder of Girls Health Ed, she asserts that health education isn’t just about physical health, its about inside out wellness. She asks: how do we translate these ideas and the energy that we have into concrete action?


Perhaps having a community base in adolescent health in schools is a key ingredient to getting things moving.


Some of her stats back this up, including the direct correlation between health, particularly mental health and school attendance. Based on her work’s outcome, she focuses on three core goals: Positive Development, Individual Goal Setting and Community Inclusion.


Sarah-Hillware (7)


In order for these goals to be achieveable, she believes that all interventions need to be relevant to the individual and the community depending on the challenges they face every day. For example, in the western world, standardizing a course on body image in our schools would greatly benefit women. In the developing world, a course on menstruation and menstruation management would be more relevant and therefore more beneficial.


Sarah ends with encouraging people to get behind programs and behind girls we can help in our own lives, thinking from a proactive not a reactive place. She also strongly believes we need to redirect research towards prevention. Hear hear Sarah. We couldn’t agree more!


Also see my post on Sarah Hillware: Harnessing the Power of Girls on the TEDxUNPlaza blog.


All photo credits: Renee Blodgett.


All photo credits: Renee Blodgett.

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