In supporting the young girls and women of Shadhika, know that you are standing in the shadows of their greatness.
When She Leads: Tara Risser
By Shadhika Staff
September 30, 2021Reading Time: 6 minutes
This interview is part of our When She Leads: Board Members collection. Learn more.
Tara Risser is a corporate-partner leader, a long-time supporter, and now one of Shadhika’s newest Board Members. She was interviewed by Ami Shah, Communications Manager. Learn more about corporate partnership opportunities here.
Hi Tara! Could you introduce yourself and share how you joined the Shadhika network?
The company I work for, Equinix, joins together every October for to serve our communities through volunteering and fundraising. Back in 2016, I was looking for an event to host in our local Denver office and connected with Shadhika leadership to brainstorm engagement ideas.
The more we spoke, the more it felt like it was the perfect opportunity to involve our Women’s Leadership Network, a global employee connection network internal to Equinix that brings together women for the purposes of elevating women at Equinix and beyond. We wanted it to be a learning experience on both sides – helping these young women in India, elevating them on their learning journey, and for the women at Equinix to learn more about the challenges women face around the world and how we could personally be more involved, engaged, and understand the privilege we have in the process.
Over the years this led to creation of Girls Writes, a pen pal program between Equinix women and girls at Shadhika partner sites in India. We started with 16 girls and now, in our fifth year, are up to 60! To be honest, we always have more Equinix employees wanting to engage as Pen Pals than girls available to do the writing, which is such a cool feeling knowing that this program is more than just my involvement – that it’s become part of our corporate culture.
Could you highlight a key moment for you in developing this partnership between Equinix and Shadhika?
As a company, we focus on inclusion. Our company mantra is “I’m safe. I belong. I matter.” When I think about Shadhika’s own mantra, “when she leads, change follows,” I see how both organizations are so focused on enabling and empowering people to become everything they can be. Our core values, in this way, are so aligned.
Equinix started with fundraising for English language tutoring at just at one of Shadhika’s partner sites in India, Baale Mane. Then we did a library program where we made and sent bookmarks and raised money to have books about women’s leadership and empowerment locally purchased and donated to the site. The first time we did the library program, we received photos, videos, and feedback from the site and girls. Seeing how meaningful it was for them to know that there were other women in the world there to support them, be there for them, and to lift them up, that captured all of us. Rather than hearing about sadness, how hard life is, and need, it’s so much more powerful to hear about what people can accomplish, achieve, and the impact they can have. That’s what excites people and compels them to be part of something bigger, to truly change the world. That event, during our second year of involvement with Shadhika, really pushed us over the edge and made our program take off.
What compelled your leap from being a supporter to a Board Member?
I bought into the mission of Shadhika and most of all, the approach. This is not a one-and-done operation but rather committed to helping women through all the stages of their early life to get the leg up that so many of us take for granted. The method and model really resonated with me. I have also been really impressed with Shadhika’s Executive Director, My Lo Cook, her leadership, power-shifting perspective, and efficient ways of empowering others.
What are some of the goals you hope to achieve through your service on the Board?
I would love to amplify the actions that are already happening – expanding programs, continuing to empower girls, and promoting advocacy for gender equality all around the world. Seeing how involved Equinix employees have been in Shadhika programming is amazing but I do realize we are not unique. I think there are people all over the world just as passionate about girls’ empowerment and education. One of my Board service goals is to reach out to and bring in other corporations, like Equinix, to share opportunities for service and involvement with large groups of people who want to do more but just may not know how to engage.
That’s an inspiring goal! As a long-time supporter of Shadhika, do you have a message for current and future donors?
In supporting the young girls and women of Shadhika, know that you are standing in the shadows of their greatness. You will be overwhelmed and overcome by them and how much they have achieved already and what they can achieve. Their energy, their leadership, and their capabilities are inspiring and humbling. Shadhika’s model is sustainable in leveraging these young women to turn around and support so many other girls, young women, and even men in their communities to continue to drive that change beyond the individual. That model to be able to amplify and multiply impact along a journey is why I encourage people to support and donate to Shadhika.
This year UNICEF’s theme for International Day of the Girl is “Digital Generation. Our Generation.” Do you have any thoughts to share on this occasion?
As a technology company, we at Equinix are very involved in bridging the digital divide. We all take for granted how fundamental connectivity is in this day and age. We may not realize how not having connectivity is such barrier to equality and equity around the world. It is clear to me that girls and young women all around the world are the ones who are going to change the world. Their bravery, their goals, their motivation, their dedication, and their focus on the community is what is going to truly make change on the ground. I’m honored to get to be a part of it!
On October 11 at 7am MST, Tara will moderate the “Towards a Feminist Tech Future” panel with tech leaders examining the practical implications of the gender gap in technology. Learn more about this event here. Also, visit Shadhika’s toolkit celebrating girls and young women, bridging digital divides, and driving empowerment by equal and educated access to technology.