Meet Poonam Rahman
CEO of two international 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations
Designed to provide free resources to historically marginalized communities.
Poonam Rahman is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of two international 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations designed to provide free resources to historically marginalized communities. The first international nonprofit she founded — Virtue Mental, aims to provide free mental health resources to historically marginalized communities while her second nonprofit, Shattering Bias In S.T.E.A.M., aims to provide free academic and professional resources to young girls who are considering pursuing a career in S.T.E.A.M. but do not have the adequate resources to do so due to their socioeconomic status and other related factors. She has also written a book (to be published in early 2022) also named “Shattering Bias In S.T.E.A.M.” which focuses on bridging gender gaps within the field of S.T.E.A.M. and creating a more inclusive work environment for all womxn. Poonam has also led a workshop at the Girl Up Leadership Conference alongside keynote speakers Meghan Markle, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, and more.
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Founder & CEO of Virtue Mental and Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M.
Founder of two international non-profit organizations for historically marginalized communities, all while being a psychology student! What inspired you to take these initiatives?
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago with two elder siblings. During my elementary and middle school years, my peers bullied me based on my racial background and “odd” name. While all the other kids had pb&j sandwiches for lunch, my mother used to pack homemade ethnic food for which I was belittled at school. As time passed, the hurtful words and discriminatory attacks took a massive toll on my self-esteem and mental health as a young child. I have always been gravitated towards taking initiative whenever I see something that needs to be changed or eradicated. I felt compelled to create an organization and platform which focuses on fulfilling the mental health needs of historically marginalized communities such as the South Asian community. And this was a strong motivating factor for me to create Virtue Mental.
Growing up, I have also witnessed the lack of representation and mentorship within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics that drove me to create my non-profit, “Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M” and work towards creating more representation and resources within these careers.
Tell us more about “Virtue Mental” and how immigrants can benefit from it?
Virtue Mental is an international nonprofit founded in May 2020 that focuses on providing free mental health resources to immigrants and historically marginalized populations through psychoeducation sessions, informational workshops, group therapy sessions, and more. We collaborate with many therapy practices and nonprofit organizations that focus on the immigrant populations who then refer our services to them.
Virtue Mental relies heavily on collaborations to provide services to immigrant and historically marginalized communities, so if you would like to collaborate, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
What are some biases that exist in S.T.E.A.M and how do we shatter them?
Some biases (and issues) that exist within the field of S.T.E.A.M. include implicit gender bias/discrimination, lack of representation, and lack of mentorship. In my book “Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M.,” the focus is on creating more mentorship programs and opportunities for young girls to gain experience within the various careers within S.T.E.A.M.
Building representation within the field is a stepping stone towards eradicating the biases and issues that are prevalent in male-dominated careers.
Your views on why side hustles are important now more than ever before. (and/or) How has your background in psychology helped you in the entrepreneurial venture?
My background in psychology has helped me realize the importance of maintaining one’s mental health as an entrepreneur as self-care acts have a significant impact on one’s productivity. I have also learned ways to foster more meaningful relationships with my team members, partners and explore ways to build sustainable workplaces.
How has mentorship played a role in your growth?
Mentorship has played a significant part in my life as I couldn’t have made it this far as an entrepreneur and in the nonprofit sector without my mentors, Ashley Olafsen and Tassbieh Hassan. A special shout out to them! Their guidance and mentorship significantly influenced the development of both myself and Virtue Mental. Ashley and Tassbieh have provided insight on ways to build meaningful connections with my team members, how to network with other nonprofit executives, and more tips that have led to the expansion of Virtue Mental.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other women entrepreneurs just starting?
Take things one step at a time as this is also an effective way to prevent burnout. When I initially launched Virtue Mental, I had no sense of time management. I wanted to do everything in one day which eventually led to a breaking point for me.
You do not have to check every single box off of your extensive to-do list in one day, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Another piece of advice I would provide to any aspiring entrepreneur is to find people who are just as passionate and dedicated about your mission as you are. It is essential to have people on your team who share your vision and have ambitious goals for the direction of your business/nonprofit.
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