Do you ever stop to wonder how much potential is left unlocked when more than half of the world's population doesn't have equitable access to basic needs like healthcare and education?
At Watsi, we're committed to breaking down those barriers and making healthcare a reality for all. And we know that we can't do it alone.
That's why this International Women's Day, we want to celebrate the diverse women of Watsi working tirelessly to make our vision a reality. From our co-founder to members of #TeamWatsi, from our medical partners to our talented surgeons, women play a vital role in every aspect of our work. We come from different backgrounds and play various roles, but we all share a passion for radically changing how healthcare is delivered and making a lasting, meaningful difference in the lives of others.
Ready to support our vision and passions, and work alongside us to make our patients' dreams come true? Before you dive into our stories, consider taking a moment to unlock potential for girls and women around the world by directly supporting their healthcare on Watsi today. Ready? Let's go!
Meet Grace, Co-founder and Board Member, Watsi
First up, meet Grace, the ultimate storyteller with a heart of gold and a passion for bringing out the very best in others. As co-founder of watsi.org and a seasoned social entrepreneur coach, Grace has dedicated her life to transforming broken systems and empowering change-makers worldwide.
So whether you're a budding social entrepreneur or just someone who cares about making a difference, Grace is the kind of person you want in your corner. With her infectious enthusiasm, dot-connecting wizardry, and boundless commitment to igniting the light in all of us, she'll help you turn your wildest dreams into reality.
We had the opportunity to ask Grace some questions about her entrepreneurial journey, leadership style, and advice for aspiring women leaders. Here's what she had to say:
What are some of the most significant lessons you've learned in your entrepreneurial journey to start a healthcare nonprofit, and how have they shaped your leadership style?
"I’ve learned to trust in the simplicity of asking someone what they need, believing them, and doing everything I can to make sure we deliver it to them on their own terms. This can feel like swimming upstream in an ecosystem where there are many different people and entities involved, each with their own preferences and desires, that often need to be considered and addressed in some way.
But it has shaped my approach by forcing me to come back to questions like, “Who are we ultimately here for? How would they define whether or not this was successful? What parts of our work directly result in the end state we want to help bring about and need to be treated as non-negotiable, vs. what parts are a means to that end and can be treated with more flexibility? Under what conditions would we be willing to fail, because of our allegiance to the principles and priorities of the people we exist to serve?”
I think this process is important because it builds muscle memory around reorienting your focus, again and again, to what brought you to this work in the first place and what matters most at the end of the day."
What advice do you have for other women who aspire to become leaders in their fields, especially in historically male-dominated industries like tech?
"Dedicate time and energy to getting to know yourself – what work gives you energy, what experiences make you feel alive, what problems light a fire in your gut and make you want to play a role in solving them, what environments most support your learning and growth, what types of people do you love to be surrounded by?
I remember in the early Watsi days, parroting origin stories I’d heard from other tech founders. Like how they always knew they wanted to build things and remake systems, because as children they would spend all day taking things apart and putting them back together, just to understand how they worked and could be improved. Did I actually do any of that stuff as a kid? No! I spent my days lost in novels, making up elaborate stories with my sister, and convincing my friends to act in movies I wanted to make. Understanding that my real passion came from absorbing human stories, elevating narratives in ways others could connect with, and collaborating with people to act in response to those stories, enabled me to become the kind of leader I wanted to be, rather than get lost in trying to become the kind of leader I thought I was supposed to be."
Meet Dr. Stella Njenga, OB-GYN Consultant at our medical partner in Kenya
Dr. Njenga is the OB-GYN Consultant at Kijabe Hospital in Kenya and is a ray of hope for countless women and families. From safely welcoming new babies to the world to performing life-saving surgeries, the future looks bright with Dr. Njenga leading the way. So join us to get to know this incredible doctor who is changing lives, one birth at a time!
What inspired you to dedicate your career to medicine?
"My first inspiration was my mum who was a midwife when I was younger. We always used to wait for her at the hospital from school so that we could go home together. I really loved the whole hospital experience. I started calling myself Dr. Njenga while in nursery school. My second inspiration was my younger brother who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I had promised to discover a cure for him when I became a doctor. He, unfortunately, passed away before I could fulfill my promise."
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing health workers, particularly women, today?
"As health workers in general, I think the biggest challenge in Kenya now, is the lack of employment opportunities, especially for the younger doctors who have graduated within the last 5 years or so. I would say the biggest challenge as a female health worker is work-life balance, especially when one has a young family."
Meet Mackinnon, Executive Director, Watsi
As Executive Director of Watsi, Mackinnon is a force to be reckoned with in the world of social impact. But that's not all — she's also a mom to two young kids (who love meeting patients on watsi.org) and a lover of all things adventure. When she's not leading the charge at Watsi, you can find her channeling her inner Mary Oliver, hiking, and exploring the great outdoors with her family and their dog Frida. Mackinnon knows that balancing work and family is no easy feat, but through living each day with intention, a big heart, and a whole lot of grace, she's found a way! Get ready to be inspired by this powerhouse woman who is changing the world and living life to the fullest.
How has your earlier experience as a woman in the United Nations humanitarian sector influenced your leadership style and approach to running a nonprofit?
"I was lucky enough to start my career with a dream job — working for the UN. I remember for important meetings at Headquarters we would use a room that had a central table for the principals and then all the working team would sit around the outside ring in chairs. One meeting I looked around and the main table had all men and the outside ring was all women (incredibly brilliant, dedicated women might I add)! It was such a stark and early example of how unequal this sector is. This was many years ago, so I’d like to hope that the table is now much bigger and filled with many other voices and perspectives than it was that morning. That's the table I certainly strive to fill every day too."
As a woman leader in healthcare, what initiatives have you implemented to promote gender equity and inclusion in your organisation?
"My natural leadership style is rooted deeply in empathy, so this lends itself to building a culture of belonging, authenticity, and where our team feels their unique contributions are valued, every day. On our team at Watsi, each person brings their own gifts and together we make magic out of them. I believe an organization really thrives when all team members feel valued and have ownership and autonomy over their work, even more so at a place like Watsi where you can so clearly and tangibly see your impact in the world."
Meet Sonam, Director of Marketing, Watsi
Meet Sonam, who has successfully made the leap that many dream of: from the corporate world to the social impact sector. Sonam believes that working in social impact isn't just a job, but a joyful responsibility to serve others and make a positive difference in the world. From finding your purpose to developing new skills, she knows what it takes to thrive in a different, yet still fast-paced, innovation-driven industry.
Join us as we delve into Sonam's journey, and gain insight into what it means to lead with purpose and passion in the nonprofit sector. After all, as Annie Dillard said, "how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."
What advice would you give to young women who are aspiring to transition into the development/impact sector, but feel intimidated or unsure of how to get started?
"Transitioning into the development/impact sector can feel daunting, especially if you're not sure where to start. But the good news is that the sector needs talented, passionate people like you! In fact, according to the United Nations, women make up 70% of the global health workforce and play a critical role in advancing social impact initiatives.
My advice is to start by doing your research and networking with professionals in the field. Attend industry events, join relevant online communities, and seek out mentors who can offer trusted guidance and advice. This is how I got my serendipitous start at Watsi!
Additionally, don't be afraid to take on volunteer or internship opportunities to explore a budding passion, gain experience, and make valuable connections. Most importantly, remember that the work you do in the impact sector is a joyful responsibility. You have the power to make a positive impact on people's lives and contribute to creating a better world. So, don't let intimidation hold you back!"
What’s the biggest misconception people have about working in the non-profit/development sector, and how would you dispel it?
"That it's all about volunteering and charity, and that it's an easy or low-paying job. Non-profit work is a challenging and rewarding career path that requires a unique skill set, including fundraising, grant writing, project management, communication, and advocacy. You have to wear many hats, yes! It's important to dispel this misconception by showcasing the measurable impact of non-profit work and emphasizing that it offers competitive salaries and benefits. Non-profit work is an excellent career choice for those who want to make a difference in their community while also pursuing a fulfilling career. Let's embrace our privileges and use them to create positive change in the world."
Meet Kanchana, Founder and Director of Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF), Watsi's medical partner in Thailand
Kanchana, the founder of Watsi's medical partner Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF), is a glass-ceiling-breaker extraordinaire. Her unwavering belief and steadfast actions toward the important mission she has devoted her life to have been an inspiration for many, including all of us at Watsi!
How if at all has being a woman impacted your journey as a healthcare worker- both in good and challenging ways?
"Despite the well-documented gender bias in many occupations, I am lucky to have strong role models - both male and female in my life – grandmother, mother, partner and colleagues and friends. It’s important to choose your friends and colleagues wisely - having realistic, optimistic people around solves most issues."
What do you think is the most important skill or quality for a healthcare worker to have?
"Healthcare workers – anyone working with people – need a vast range of skills. Listening to people is important - knowledge, experience, resilience, and decision-making, all play a critical part in our daily work as health providers."
Meet Hla, a Watsi patient, a refugee, an agriculture day laborer, and a loving mom of two.
Kanchana's work has deeply impacted thousands of other women over the years, including Hla who recently underwent life-changing mass removal surgery with the help of 44 Watsi donors. Hla's biggest hope was to be able to work again after her surgery and support her family.
Hla said, “I am very happy, even more than I can explain. I feel released from worry and feel relaxation without pain. I would like to say thank you very much to all the donors who helped pay for my treatment cost. I can’t imagine how my life would be without your support. Thank you very much to BCMF and all the Watsi donors for your great support.”
For Hla and so many of our patients, the circumstances of their upbringing forge a deep tenacity and a natural way of striving to make things work on their own. But when the talents of women and all people are leveraged to build something as meaningful as Watsi, the possibilities seem endless. By coming together and bringing out the best in each of us, we can do so much more and lift people like Hla even higher on their journey.
Let's unlock the potential for a healthier, more equitable world today. Wondering where to start? You can head to Watsi and directly support a woman in need of healthcare right now. Together, we can create a brighter future for all.
The Watsi Team
Everyone deserves healthcare.
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