Compiled by Raquel Small and edited by Clarissa Bukhan
Feeling thankful this November, Women of Silicon Valley would like to highlight those who dedicate their time to giving back to their communities. In celebration of their work, we’re sharing the stories of 19 resilient women who dedicate their time to important yet often underappreciated non-profit work - from Daisy Ozim’s Resilient Wellness, a public health tech organization that addresses intergenerational trauma, to L.Y. Marlow’s Saving Promise, a national domestic violence prevention organization. We hope that you’ll be inspired by their words and the impact that they’re making in communities around the world!
Nkia is Executive Director of CASA of San Mateo County, a nonprofit court appointed special advocates program that recruits and trains community volunteers and pairs foster and abused children with those volunteers to provide one-on-one support, mentoring and advocacy in the courtroom and beyond. In her current role, she manages a staff of program and development professionals, encouraging their efforts to recruit, train, support and retain volunteers who provide a consistent adult presence in the lives of our community’s most vulnerable children.
Before her current role at CASA, Nkia practiced law as a civil litigator for the San Jose City Attorney’s Office, where she managed and tried employment, civil rights and personal injury cases. Prior to joining the City Attorney’s Office, Nkia represented children in child abuse and neglect cases as an attorney with Dependency Court Legal Services (now dba Children’s Law Center of California) in Los Angeles County.
Nkia earned a BA in International Relations and English from Tufts University and a JD from the University of Southern California. She also currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Menlo School in Atherton, California.
“After law school, I represented children who were under the court’s jurisdiction due to abuse or neglect. One client that I represented was around 18 years old and was moving into transitional housing, as she started her adult life without the support of family or the support network on which so many of us rely at that stage in our lives. She invited me to check out her new apartment, of which she was so proud, and she handed me a note thanking me for being there for her when no one else was. This was amazing to me because I had only been able to see her a couple of times outside of court and her court dates were months apart. The appreciation she showed reminded me not to take my role for granted.”
Gigi Gatti is Technology for Development Director at Grameen Foundation, a global nonprofit with deep understanding and experience in developing, integrating and using technology in underserved and poor communities. Gigi leads the technology innovation team and works closely with leadership and program teams to identify opportunities to use technology to create breakthrough solutions for women and families in financial, agricultural and health services. She is passionate about bridging the digital divide between those with access to technology and those without.
“I shadowed a loan officer in India who was doing his round during one of the coldest days in New Delhi. There was fog everywhere, with almost zero visibility. I sat with the women’s groups as they diligently counted their loan repayments and signed the attendance register in a house with no roof. One of the women explained that if money was tight, the roof was the only thing in their home that had value so it was the first thing to be sold. Being able to continually access credit was important to them, so despite harsh weather, they’d still give priority to repaying their loans and taking time to meet over their comfort. From there, I tried to learn everything I could about microfinance. I devoted the next few years to thinking about ways to make the delivery of services to these women easier, faster, and more economical. In my current role at Grameen Foundation, I’m drawing on that vivid experience and my technology background to help strengthen the ecosystem for women. When we use technology smartly, we can strengthen their peer networks and support gender equity. We can ease women’s access to vital information, expertise and markets for their produce. We can create products and services that serve poor households.”
Aji (she/her) is a Senior Program Manager at Google. She works with a myriad of teams on operational initiatives focused on program scalability, quality, and product excellence. She sits on the Board of Directors for SFCASA, an organization that supports youth in the foster care system. Aji recently started a blog called Pivot Points, with the aim of conveying her life advice to women of all ages.
“One of the most challenging moments of my life was a volunteer experience on an Everest Challenge trek. I raised over $5,000 for educational programs in Nepal so that women, children, and ethnic minorities could receive an education. In addition to raising that money, I trekked to the Mount Everest base camp over a two-week period. The experience changed my life, as it really forced me to overcome many of my fears. I came out of that trek a new woman, with a new outlook on what’s possible.”
Anees (she/her) is a Global Program Manager in Google Cloud’s Customer Engineering organization, where she partners with business leaders to enable their organization to meet business goals — including launching a structured technical sales engagement model and overseeing the publication of technical documentation to cloud.google.com. Over the last four years, she’s partnered with senior Google business leaders to rapidly grow their teams and achieve operational efficiency. Anees enjoys writing poetry, traveling, and dancing with abandon at concerts. Anees earned her B.A. in Sociology from UCLA, with minors in Education Studies, LGBT Studies, and Political Science. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Organizational Leadership and Learning from George Washington University, and lives in San Francisco.
“Growing up in a multicultural and multiracial household led to many questions and conversations around privilege, race relations, and equity early on in my life. As the white-passing daughter of a Pakistani, Muslim father and an American, Catholic mother, my childhood existed at the intersections of Eid and Christmas, of biryani and beef stew. I witnessed how differently family members experienced life in the US due to the color of their skin or the specifics of their faith, and I became passionate about diversity, inclusion, and accessibility.
Within the technology industry, I focus on addressing stereotype bias in the workplace, creating spaces for women in technology to connect with business leaders, and advocating for military veterans. Prior to joining Google, I worked in the nonprofit sector, planning fundraising events for 1,000+ attendees, improving donor engagement for a LGBT film festival, and overseeing a community service organization of ~2,000 undergraduate students leading 20+ local nonprofits.”
Daisy (she/her) is the CEO of Resilient Wellness, a public health technology company designed to address intergenerational trauma as a causative factor for poor health.
“Starting a social enterprise at 22 is no small feat, especially when you’re a woman of color without generational wealth to support your startup. I’m proud that I was able to overcome a lack of access to adequate resources, which could have negatively impacted the growth and development of Resilient Wellness. Since 2014, at Resilient Wellness we’ve:
- Served 2,000+ community members annually, primarily focusing on the most vulnerable members to alleviate the impact of healthcare budget cuts with holistic care
- Instituted a comprehensive network of 100 program partners for service delivery, research, community engagement and economic development
- Created career opportunities for low-income individuals interested in nutrition coaching, maternal child health, herbalism and peer counseling
- Produced 4 major research studies that have lead to the development of the Berkeley Health Zones Initiative
- Developed a blockchain project for public health that has partnerships with 2 clinical networks, 3 public health departments and 2 hospitals
- Created an assessment for trauma in schools, in collaboration with Kaiser”
Emma L. Leiken
Emma (she/her) is an enthusiastic, creative, and mission-driven storyteller dedicated to social impact. Currently working in People Operations at Google, Emma has experience in research, ethnography, nonprofit management, arts education and international development. She is particularly passionate about child rights and education, South Asia, and storytelling as a vehicle for social change.
“Chiplun Youth Arts Initiative (CYAI) is an arts education program where we employ local performing artists to teach students about the arts. We operate in low-income, government schools in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, India. Through the program, students are pushed to think critically, collaborate across differences, and honor each other as co-creators. The program aims to empower students to tell their own narratives through art, and to facilitate the building of community in the classroom. Although I’ve spent two of the past four years living in Maharashtra on and off, my biggest challenge now is the fact I’m in San Franicsco, while our entire team is in Mumbai/Chiplun, India. Thanks to Whatsapp and videochat, I’m able to remain connected to my team and students: my co-founder Sameer Mohite and I schedule regular planning calls, and I have bi-quarterly meetings with the core team of artists. Running our social media also lets me stay present. After each arts session, I go through all the videos and photos to figure out how to best share our narrative online. So all this is to say, we’ve made it work!”
Erin (she/her) is an account Manager at Google working across Dyson and Newell brands. She works to create positive change throughout her accounts, making it easier to optimize and strategize, as well as in her outside passions, building awareness and support for the Navy SEAL Foundation.
“One of my best friends is an active Navy SEAL, as well as my second cousin, a retired Navy SEAL. I’ve educated myself on the duties of the SEALs, including what they and their families have to go through in order to protect our country. Families are broken up at times, and that’s when the Foundation steps in. They’ll make sure every soldier is able to afford to fly home to see their families, make sure their children are able to participate in educational experiences, and ensure that when soldiers are back from deployment, there’s therapy in place for them and their families if needed.”
Erin (she/her) is the founder of Wordnik.com, the world’s biggest online dictionary. Wordnik’s mission is to collect and share data about every word of English, especially the 52% of English words not included in traditional dictionaries. Before founding Wordnik, she was the editor in chief of American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press. She also works for Google on open-source strategy.
“When Wordnik became a nonprofit in 2014 (after being a venture-backed startup since 2008), I went from being someone who occasionally helped with minor coding tasks to someone who was solely responsible for the entire Wordnik tech stack. It was a huge learning curve, but thanks to lots of good advice (both in-person and from Stack Overflow), lots of units tests, lots of deep breaths, and very understanding and empathetic users, I now feel confident maintaining and updating our website and our API!”
Janine (she/her) is a Senior Program Manager at Google, who manages global and transformational business technology projects to automate business processes for Google Data Centers. Outside of Google, Janine is the Founder of Capture the Dream, Inc., a nonprofit that helps low-income youth achieve their educational endeavors. The organization has been operating 100% volunteer-run since 2006. In the past 12 years, Capture the Dream, Inc. has helped thousands of low-income youth via backpack school supply drives, micro-grants towards educational goals, free educational field trips, mentorship programs, and scholarship programs. It has been awarded over a dozen awards, including the Jefferson Award from President Barack Obama, and received featured on international media including People Magazine and KTVU News.
“Growing up in Oakland, I would have been sent to a public school that had a 50% drop-out rate. I was fortunate enough to have parents who could afford to send me to a private school for a better education. Not everyone in life gets that opportunity. I want to be able to give that opportunity to others, so they can get the resources, support, and mentorship they need to succeed. I truly believe that education can help break the cycle of poverty, and that investing in our youth at an early stage in their lives leads to a brighter future.”
Jodie (she/her) is a University Programs Specialist at Google, managing Google’s relationship with universities to provide access and opportunity to students of color in the tech space. She splits her core work with Google’s Product Inclusion team, ensuring that Google is testing their products with an inclusive demographic, including Black and latinx students, and helping them feel more proximate to machine learning/AI. Outside of Google, she has created two organizations with the intent of sharing resources and building community: one a “how-to guide” for college students looking to break into competitive industries, and the other a group for women entrepreneurs of color — which has over 100 members and been nationally sponsored by Google.
“After graduating from Northwestern, I moved to Minneapolis to work at a Fortune 500 company. After three months, I quit; I was overwhelmed by the city, by the culture of the organization, and by the work. At the time, it felt like an epic failure — I had barely lasted a quarter into the proverbial “real world” before moving back in with my parents. But that experience completely aligned me with my true calling. Instead of being consumed with my parents’ or peers’ career aspirations, I applied to work at a small nonprofit helping students of color break into banking since I had previously worked at Morgan Stanley while in school. From there, I realized I was incredibly passionate about providing access to Black and Brown students and leveraging my privilege to open doors to competitive industries. It sparked the foundation of my two organizations!”
Keena (she/her) is the Executive Assistant at The Education Trust — West. Her background in special education, behavioral therapy, and administration includes: providing day programs and home therapy for autistic children; working at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics; and volunteering at cancer camps and centers for people with visually impairments. She recently spent over three years providing human resources, office management, bookkeeping, and event planning for a start-up education nonprofit focused on dismantling the cycles of poverty, court-involvement, and unemployment of young people. She has a B.A. in Family and Consumer Sciences from San Francisco State University.
“As an immigrant and a Black woman, I grew up poor and struggling. There were lots of things I remember feeling weren’t fair. As I grew up, it became apparent to me there are legitimate entire systems that aren’t fair, and I wanted to be a part of changing them in order to serve people like myself. One challenge in particular I’ve faced in nonprofits is finding leadership who truly understand the backgrounds of the people we serve. There are so many people in the nonprofit space who come from wealthy, super-privileged backgrounds, then serve communities with whom they can’t relate. Many leaders understand there’s a problem and work hard to solve it without necessarily understanding why the problems exist in the first place. Understanding the why is important, because it helps inform who can create change, and how they should do it.”
L.Y. Marlow (she/her) is the founder of Saving Promise, a national domestic violence prevention organization inspired by five generations of mothers and daughters in her family that have suffered and survived more than sixty years of domestic violence: her grandmother, her mother, herself, her daughter, and her granddaughter, a little girl named Promise. Learning of her granddaughter Promise’s experience with violence gave her the courage to walk away from a 20+ year corporate career in technology, project management, and engineering to found Saving Promise. Saving Promise has been featured in publications including the Washington Post, USA Today, and Democrat and Chronicle. Here is a video narrated by Promise about the women in her family.
“I’ve walked away from a 20+ year promising corporate career to launch Saving Promise. I’ve used up all my life savings, liquidated my retirement, borrowed money from friends and family, been audited by the IRS, filed bankruptcy, become a victim of identity theft, taken on considerable debt. And if that all wasn’t bad enough, I’ve watched my health decline from all the stress to the point I was diagnosed with serious life-threatening health issues that attacked every part of my body, from my brain to my heart to my immune system. But what I’m most proud of is the fact I had the courage to embrace what I know is my life’s purpose: Saving Promise!”
Nithya is a Senior Software Engineer at Google, where she works on creating an enriching experience for kids and families using Google products, and helps create healthy digital habits. Outside of her day job she helps run Pudiyador, a non-profit that aims to provide quality education and a nourishing childhood experience for children in underserved communities in Southern India. Here, she directs strategy, mentors employees and has a keen interest in the content delivered to kids and families in the communities that Pudiyador works with.
“I’ve volunteered for Pudiyador for over 17 years now. At one point, I worked with a high school kid, who was talented and did well academically. Within a short span of time, she had suddenly eloped, dropped out of school, and had a baby, only to realize within that first year that she had married a serial abuser. As much as we tried, our organization couldn’t get her out of this situation, since she had completely resigned herself to it. Now, I’m working on a relationship curriculum for the teens in our communities and one thing we teach them is how to identify common patterns in abusive relationships. In developing this curriculum, we got feedback from some kids who said that they believed a little bit of abuse wasn’t an issue, since that’s what they saw in all relationships around them (and in the media). I’m hoping that our work to help them become better communicators will help them understand that non-abusive behaviour and communication in fraught situations is possible and something that they can strive for and attain. This is ongoing work, but something that I’m committed to working on for a long time to come.”
Robyn Fisher, Ed.D is the Advisory Board President of the Choose College Educational Foundation, and President/C.E.O. of R.T. Fisher Educational Enterprises, Inc. Since founding RTF in 1999, Dr. Fisher has subsequently co-founded and chaired an umbrella of initiatives directed towards academic excellence in the Bay Area’s communities of color, including both Choose College and the African American Regional Educational Alliances (AAREA).
Dr. Fisher’s educational consultancy and curriculum design work have impacted students across the state of California for nearly 20 years. Her ever-evolving curriculum and programming models target students’ college readiness through the lens of cultural responsiveness and relevance.
“I got my feet wet with educational outreach work in the mid-90s, while at a large, four-year public university. From within the university system that I was a part of, I found that resources for and about the college-going process were… limited. That’s where the roots of our current work trace back to. Access to education and academic excellence have always been emancipatory achievements for African Americans, but many in our community are left distrustful of the U.S. public school system following histories of traumatizing and dehumanizing experiences. We are not only an education-focused organization, but a culturally and socially-relevant, educational-focused organization. We have served up our credibility and compassion to reach into our communities, rebuild their sense of trust in the educational system, and ultimately empower students and their families to self-advocate.”
Sara (she/her) is the Executive Director of the Social Justice Sewing Academy, a youth education program connecting artistic expression with sewing and activism to advocate for social change. She works with the core team to facilitate free sewing workshops in high schools, community centers etc. where youth create textile art that engages and educates communities.
“The murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012 by George Zimmerman instigated a series of protests and actions across the country, including the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. I was only 14 days older than Trayvon at the time, and his death illuminated the deep disenfranchisement of Black folks and the intrusive ways society perpetuates the brutal policing and surveillance of Black bodies. For 13 years, I had quilted the same traditional patterns, following industry standards and spending thousands of hours refining my craft in the company of quilting mentors. However, in these privileged spaces I began to realize that conversations of social justice were deafeningly absent. No one spoke about Trayvon’s death, the protests, or the acquittal of his murderer and I felt like I needed to do something to change that. My quilt, “Rest in Power, Trayvon”, commemorates the life and legacy of Trayvon Martin. It was the beginning of quilting with a purpose and it planted the seed for the Social Justice Sewing Academy.”
Stacy is the Area Director for Young Life in Midtown West. She pioneers outreach and builds teams of caring adults that significantly invest in the lives of youth in the Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen areas of Manhattan.
“One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my new role as an Area Director has been embracing the call that I’ve been given to pioneer and develop opportunities for reconciliation. As the only single woman of color serving as an Area Director in Manhattan, it has been difficult for me to become comfortable working in such a traditionally homogeneous setting, but I have shared with my co-laborers how they can become allies and that has opened up opportunities for us to learn and grow from one another. Additionally, the incredible support I’ve experienced from other women in leadership not only inspires but, empowers me to confidently walk in my purpose!”
Sydney (she/her) is a senior data and development strategy consultant and acting Interim Director of Development and Communications for ECPAT-USA. She works with leadership, program managers, and volunteers to undertake projects that increase the data capacity and resources of her nonprofit clients. She has a proven track record of conceptualizing and operationalizing strategies to increase collaboration, efficacy and the impact of mission-driven organizations and social actors. She received her masters in Social Enterprise Administration from Columbia University and her bachelors from Boston College. Sydney currently serves on the Board of Directors of ECPAT-USA. When she’s not working, you can find Sydney cooking for many, organizing quirky New York City activities for her friends, or volunteering.
“Taking the leap into working for myself was a huge challenge for me. The uncertainty of consulting in general, paired with the imposter syndrome that I sometimes feel was a significant obstacle to overcome. As a strategist regularly working with technical teams, I often find myself in awe of the sheer brilliance of the folks who I’m lucky enough to collaborate with. It takes effort to remember I have a deep understanding of the methodologies they’re utilizing, and even though I might not be able to do the actual programming, my skills are still technical, and highly valuable to my clients.”
Victoria (she/her) is a Technology Account Executive for Google Marketing Platform. She works with Fortune 500 financial advertisers on data operationalization and measurement, helping shape the future of the digital marketing industry. She is on the board of Challenge Day, an East Bay-based non-profit that breaks down the social divides between high school and middle school students.
“I was first influenced by Challenge Day as a 15-year-old high school student at Liberty High School in Brentwood, California. The co-founders, Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John, led a daylong assembly for our sophomore class to unite our campus. I always found myself to be a bit of a “social wanderer”; I was a 3-sport athlete and valedictorian of my graduating class, occasionally dabbling in small roles in school plays. But possibly the worst obstacle I bore was having their parent as a teacher. My mom was the Geometry and Algebra 2 teacher at my high school. If people didn’t like her, they automatically wouldn’t like me, without ever having exchanged a word with me. If they loved her, they typically loved me too. So the preconception worked in both directions. However, as a child of teachers in my community, I found I was under the strict expectation to overachieve, get straight A’s, do a laundry list of extracurriculars, stay away from the party life, all while “being happy.”
For me, Challenge Day represented my safe space, where people knew and saw me for me. We’re all burdened by stereotypes, and Challenge Day is a life-saving organization in that it allows students to be seen and heard. In our increasingly digital-driven, image-conscious, and numb world, programs like Challenge Day are a refuge.Even as an adult, I’m still inspired by Challenge Day’s message of empathy. And now, I have the opportunity to help strengthen their digital footprint, not only in the US but globally.”