By Nadya Okamoto, Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD
This is the first in a series of posts by Nadya about her experience partnering with T-Mobile for the Changemaker Challenge. She'll continue to share her advice for young changemakers looking to make a difference in their communities. For more, please stay tuned to the T-Mobile Newsroom!
When traveling for speaking engagements, I meet so many people who tell me they are passionate about an issue and have been wanting to "do something" about it for a while. The most common question they have for me is, "How did you start?" My honest answer: I just did. The biggest barrier that can hold you back, especially as a young aspiring entrepreneur, is this anxiety that you might take the wrong first steps. The reality is, there are no right first steps! You just have to go for it! I know it sounds simple, but I think that so much of the success in the beginning of starting this journey really comes down to your attitude, team, and vision.
When my co-founder and I decided to start PERIOD we were just two 16-year-old high school students with no idea what we were doing. In fact, he was still learning what menstruation was in the first place! Our first meeting consisted of hours spent searching for questions online like "What is a nonprofit? What is the IRS? What are taxes? What is a 501c3?" Through research, I was embarrassed about my lack of knowledge for period poverty, angry that at the time 40 states in the US had a tax on period products, and shocked that periods are the number one reason girls in developing countries miss school. My passion for the issue and the emotions I felt about it catalyzed a fire within me that I had never experienced before, and it told me that my taking action was not only something I wanted to do, but it was urgent. If the adults in the world weren't going to stand up and talk periods, I needed to.
Recognize what you don’t know, or what you’re not good at, and be hungry to learn. When I started PERIOD, I was a control freak about things — that kid in class who would rather do the entire group project, than wait to collaborate with others. That was an attitude and habit I had to eradicate pretty much immediately when I started PERIOD. Now, I try to walk into every room and onto every stage with a drive to learn from others. If I don’t know an answer, I don’t sit there feeling stuck — I start with Google and do some of my own research, and if I still have questions, I reach out to role models (usually starting with my mom) to learn more. I have also learned to assess what my strengths are, and what would be better delegated to someone else. Building a start-up is a lot of work, and you will be more productive and have more joy if you’re spending your time doing things that you are good at — and find teammates who complement your skills!
The launch pad for PERIOD was a four-day leadership conference I took part in when I was 16. I applied with an idea to distribute period products to people in need, but felt insecure about how I shared my story and pitched the concept. I felt alone because at school it felt unusual to try and start something on top of being a student, and even more unusual to talk openly about menstruation. At that conference, I found mentors and workshops that made me more confident in myself and my abilities, and I incubated my idea to build a plan for growth. That week changed my life. It launched me into growing PERIOD to now be the largest youth-run NGO in women's health in the world. It inspired me to recognize my power as a young female leader, eventually leading to my run for public office, publishing my debut book and going to Harvard.
This is why I am so excited to be partnering with T-Mobile on the Changemaker Challenge, to give young leaders with bold ideas the same opportunity that I had to get their ideas off the ground. So, if you are aged 13-23 with an idea to better your community, I highly encourage you to apply. If you are a top 30 winning team, you'll be flown out to the T-Mobile Headquarters in December for a three-day Changemaker Lab, where myself, Ashoka and an awesome team from T-Mobile will help you build skills, create community, develop plans to bring your projects to life - and receive seed funding from the T-Mobile Foundation. The team from Ashoka are experts in the world of youth changemaking, and will arm you with what you need to make your idea a reality. All you need to apply is that attitude of feeling ready to learn and take action, along with an idea that you passionate about bringing to life. Join the #TMoChangemaker challenge and #MobilizeForGood!