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I started to realize my journey to empowerment at age 17, standing inside Mumbai airport for the first time in my life and getting ready to fly 8,000 miles away from home. I had received a Rotary Youth Exchange Scholarship to study in the United States for my senior year of high school. After going through exit immigration, I turn around and could see my parents waving with tear-filled eyes. As I left, I reflected on how much of a leap of faith they had made.

Although it was almost inconceivable that a young Indian woman would leave her parents’ home so early to embark on such a far-flung adventure, my parents took a tremendous leap of faith and supported me. They saw my potential, wanted me to be unbound by tradition and encouraged me to chart my own path. Their support and unwavering trust are what gave me the confidence to be independent and to step alone into a culture unlike any I had previously experienced, leaving behind family, friends and most of what was familiar at the time. I eventually stayed on in the U.S. and pursued my passion for engineering.

My parents strongly influenced my conviction to empower others, and my belief that helping others find their voice and confidence to reach their full potential is an essential part of my role as a leader.

When women are empowered, society wins

Around the world, barriers continue to keep many women from fully realizing their potential. Conscious and unconscious biases place real and perceived boundaries on opportunities for girls and women. Traditional gender roles and societal expectations have kept women out of the workforce or redirected career paths. Even personally, I experienced moments where I have seen these kinds of bias radically influence decision making, perceptions, attitudes and reactions.

These systemic barriers have heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has severely impacted roles predominantly filled by women, such as in the service sector, the arts and paid caregiving. Combined with school closures and limited childcare availability, many have had to make the hard choice of leaving the workforce, affecting women from marginalized communities at higher rates. Yet, we know these are not issues for women to tackle alone. It should be the interest of everyone who wants their community to prosper.

History has shown that when women are empowered to fully contribute, society benefits overall. The increased participation of women in the workforce fueled much of the economic growth over the last century. USAID estimates that if the same number of women worked as men did, global GDP would grow by $12 trillion by 2025.

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