Shattered Hope

Ten and a half years ago, I graduated from Yale and moved abroad. I wanted to go into politics, and I thought that I would be a better future member of government with the perspective of living around the world. I also knew that most of the world’s major problems were global in nature, not held within American borders. Solving them would require close cooperation with the rest of world and this required understanding their differences. I wanted to learn; I wanted to meet people who had not grown up in white middle class suburban towns; I wanted to understand other cultures’ values, even if they radically conflicted my own; and I wanted to work with people with vastly different backgrounds.

I have shared tea with artisans, trekked with monks, heard business ideas from tuk tuk drivers, sold real estate to the world’s wealthiest tycoons, raised startup money from European investors, completed an MBA with classmates of 100+ nationalities, met girls supporting their whole families with less than I earn in a day, witnessed economies decimated by financial crises and societies rebuilding from debilitating dictators, visited refugee camps, explored slums, seen the horrors of war, understood the benefits of socialism and met people who have pulled themselves up from inconceivable poverty levels. Along the way, I saw the power of the human potential, and came to believe that with the right tenacity, support and access, any human being is capable of anything. I became a staunch believer in open borders and diversity, valuing a world where ideas and opportunity flow freely, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or country of origin. Rooted in this, I founded MOVE Guides, a business with a mission to make it easy to move anywhere in the world and built a team filled with nationalities, genders, races and sexual orientations.

When Obama got elected, I felt so proud to be American. Obama embodies everything that I love about America and American global leadership — collaborative diplomacy, free trade, social mobility, liberal immigration policies, women’s rights, capitalism with social safety nets, individualism with empathy, and most of all equality and opportunity regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. I finally felt that we had entered a new era — a type of post-racial, post-gender, post-nationality society where we would work together as not just an American society, but a global society, to tap the power of human potential and solve problems like climate change and conflict that will impact all of our children.

From my view, Cameron embodied similar things in the UK. London’s diversity is exactly the kind of place where I want to live. I campaigned staunchly against Brexit to preserve the UK’s diversity, liberal immigration and free trade, and was devastated when we voted to leave the European Union in June. I felt a similar sadness watching Trump win the US Presidency, but one so much more deep than for Brexit. This is not about Republican or Democrat or policy differences. It is about values as human beings, and the fact that half of our country seems to reject the very notion of the equal, post-gender and post-racial world that offered so much hope to me in the last eight years.

I never expected the level of sadness or anger that I feel, or that I see most poignantly in my female friends. This sadness is one of shattered hope and fear — fear that while we work hard, make progress and believe we’re equal, a great deal of the electorate actually doesn’t agree. The America that we have always embraced as equal is really not — and while we have had female leaders for years in the UK and Germany, we still have work to do in America. Despite Hillary Clinton’s many political short comings, I staunchly believe that would have won if she was a white man. It is the only way that I can understand how so many voters turned a blind-eye to rape accusations, fraudulent business, violent bigotry, sexual harassment, entangling foreign powers in a US election, endorsement from the KKK and many more egregious behaviours and crimes, but focused so heavily on paid public speaking engagements and an email server deemed acceptable by multiple FBI investigations.

It is not accepting Trump as the US President that I find difficult. It is accepting the jarring realization that this is the world that we still live in. And digesting, that although I understand educated Americans in New York and San Francisco, social mobility in emerging markets and immigrant motivations, I really don’t understand white middle America. It is an anger and sadness that I see in my friends and family — we do not struggle to “accept Trump and move on” as so many others advise. Rather, we feel deflated and viscerally angry by the scale of discrimination and unconscious bias that remains in our society, something I have never accepted as fact, despite the fact that I am one of less than 5% of women CEOs leading a venture capital-backed tech company.

So out of this election I am going to do two things. Firstly, I am going to try to understand it. I am going to read more diverse media, talk to more people with views different than me and take trips around the middle of the US (and UK) to sit with people — just like I have done in other parts of the world for the last decade. I am going to suspend my judgement and digest it, just like I have done trying to understand the different views on women’s rights in the Middle East and the Communist Party in China.

Secondly, I am going to work harder, and be a better leader. As the returns came in Tuesday night, my mother texted me: “This is just a reminder that as a female, you have to be WAY better than the men.” Momentarily, I was grateful that my deceased father, the ultimate champion of the equality and social mobility that I hold dear, didn’t live to see this election. While accepting the result, I gradually started to feel determination and fight boiling up in me. Hillary may not have won the election, but she gave females of all ages an invaluable gift — an example of grit and grace that I will take with me for the rest my career and through the rest of my hardships. I don’t know if I’ll ever go into politics, but I do know that I am determined to finish what Hillary started and be a great female leader and a forever champion of equality.