Janet, you are a global leader and work with nations around the world on the FSUN fund as President and Executive Chairman. Additionally, you are a successful business woman. What is your personal story and how did you become a leader in these capacities?
Janet: I believe the sense of that need and willingness to take on responsibility, which stemmed from my earliest childhood years, became the bedrock and foundation of who I am and what I continue to do. Looking back, you could say I'm one of those kids who grew up way ahead of their years, and also was "raised by the entire village". My mother was widowed at a very young age -- when I was barely 5 years old, and my brother barely a year old. Strong willed, entrepreneurial and fortunate to have a very strong support from her big family, my mom devoted her time working tirelessly on several small businesses, before settling on growing her catering and restaurant business. All these, while raising her two kids. As a child, I saw all these, all my mom's hard work, tenacity, grit, struggles -- and sheer determination to make sure she provides only the best for her kids -- education and care at the very top of the list.
Long story short, I became my mom's right hand -- her "side kick". She gave me responsibilities that as a child for me were "larger than life", taught me so many things about business, the realities of life, how to deal with people from customers to her employees, took me with her to so many weekend trips to meet her suppliers at their farms, usually at the break of dawn which means waking up three, four in the morning. I remember sleeping in the car all the way to the farms, head bopping and all. Above all these, I remember very well how my mom taught me and my brother as kids to be mindful of people in need. Back then, her way of giving back from her catering and restaurant business would be like a tiny version of what we now have as a neighborhood "City Harvest", as an example. And she made sure my brother and I joined in handing over bags of food and supplies to people in need, some of them to children as young as we were.
It is this childhood foundation that shaped me as I grew up and started dreaming, started seeing how I wanted my life to be, started venturing out as a young adult into the big world, started living my life and pursuing my goals, started to lead people, companies and organizations. The same foundation that continues to guide me as I build relationships with friends and partners whose hearts beat for the same shared causes and life missions, whose minds are tirelessly finding solutions and collaborations so others can breathe better -- whether through conscious business practices or timely humanitarian projects.
What have you noticed from your work around the world? What thread unifies women leaders across all populations of difference?
Conscious, inclusive, compassionate and an "evolved mindset" leadership across all levels is critical, regardless of countries, circumstances, vision. Working with all types of leaders from around the world, I have seen how organizations, governments and even community - level clusters of people benefit from a leadership anchored around these four elements. For the many women in leadership across the globe whom I have met, some of them collaborated with, many of whom I continue to nurture years of relationship with -- a very strong binding thread that stands out is COMPASSION. I think it's inherent to women, embedded in the female DNA. And it is this compassionate leadership, coupled with brilliance and an extraordinary level of tenacity that makes women a collective force to be reckoned with.
What do you feel is the most important way to move money, mostly in the hands of private equity and male leaders of privilege, to help women and low-income break the cycle of poverty and reach financial success?
A next-level, proactive engagement of leaders and decision makers in the business sector at the highest level, (which is still majorly male dominated) to raise awareness that translates into action, investment and capital deployment, powerful activation of public-private partnerships across the board to move money and resources, evolved and on-the-ground philanthropic initiatives, and finally a shift in the mindset of everyone involved, are what I believe is key to effect much-needed economic change in our society. Change that leads to prosperity -- change that breaks the cycle of poverty.
How can we get more women to the top jobs as you are in, to Boards and into government roles where they can have more influence and impact?
We must do everything in our power and use our influence to not only help change archaic, systemic leadership structures, but most importantly to open the doors of OPPORTUNITY as wide as we can, for as many women as we can mentor, sponsor and support -- to enter those doors -- and take their seats at the decision-making table.
What do you most want to say to the emerging generation of leaders who look up to you today, on the International Day of Women?
To all our emerging generation of leaders -- I have a challenge for you: In the next few days, set aside some alone time — and examine who you are as an individual. After you’ve done this and are most comfortable with who you are as an individual — commit to start making decisions that reflect the best version of yourself. And as you do this, always choose that need for action from a more positive perspective. Remember — we can each make a difference in the lives of others simply through our hopes and choices.
YOU are young, dynamic and well-informed — with instant access to tremendous information downloadable at massive volume and lightning fast speed — YOU have the undeniable ability to bring about change. So never be afraid to go forward in pursuit of your ideals. Never. And lastly, I wanted to share with each you these powerful words that I have always loved from one of the many great speeches of our former US President Barack Obama:
"Our success shouldn’t be determined by the circumstances of our birth. It’s determined by each of us. It doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from, what your last name is, who you love — what matters is the strength of your work ethic, and the power of your dreams; and your willingness to take responsibility for yourself but also for the larger society."