In the final event of Saturday’s OWN It Summit, a panel of women in technology, non-profit and service work discussed impactful action and how to measure its success.
Head of Global External Affairs for Airbnb Courtney O’Donnell moderated the discussion, which featured United States Chief Technology Officer and former Vice President of GoogleX Megan Smith, Dosomething.org Chief Operating Officer Aria Finger, and Malala Fund Co-founder Shiza Shahid.
O’Donnell started off the panel discussion by asking the speakers to share their personal motivations.
Shahid recounted her experience growing up in post 9-11 Pakistan. Having witnessed suicide attacks within less than a mile’s radius, she devoted herself to advocating for social justice in the developing world.
“[I] try to understand how to bridge the resources and mentorship network that exists here to really empower people in the developing world, leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs to bring change in their community,”Shahid said.
Smith said that she is constantly motivated to improve the U.S.’s technology.
“If we are the country that makes Amazon, Facebook and Twitter and all these amazing things, why should our websites be not good?” Smith said.
Finger described how the use of text messaging enhanced her organization’s communications with young community leaders. She said that connecting with young people interested in making changes in their communities motivates her to work every day.
“We used to be all about the elite people at the top of the pyramid who are creating non-profits or doing incredible things and I actually thought that we are leaving folks out,” Finger said. “There are a lot of young people who couldn’t access anything.”
Relating lessons from her careers, Shahid suggested searching for both passions and strength.
“It’s knowing what draws you and also what you are good at,” Shahid said. “That’s a life-long process of reflection.”
Smith also emphasized that passion is necessary for success and urged students to be open to all different topics and models.
“There are so many people in the world,” Smith said. “If you feel obligated to do something, that’s probably not the reason to do it. You should do it because you are invested in it. … It may not be that you have a specific idea, it may be that you hear an idea.”
Finger said that each young person should pinpoint something that they excel at and constantly work to improve that skill.
“Know what you are not good at and know what you are good at,” Finger said. “It’s way better to be really, really good at what you are good at. And those are the people who can be really successful.”
O’Donnell also asked the panelists about their hopes for the future.
Smith said she hopes that technology can help reduce poverty rates as the world enters the digital age.
“If we do collaborate between science and technology and Internet and network ourselves to discover solutions that already someone has, we really will get to the point where poverty is something in the museum,” Smith said.
Finger said she sees hope in the younger generations, and is encouraged by their passion and drive.
“The next generation is what makes me hopeful,” Finger said. “You talked to old people. They are not excited. They are not idealistic. They are not thinking about the right thing. Then I see 13,000 internship applications in the summer for our summer internship program.”
The panelists then participated in a question-and-answer session and discussed cultivating self-awareness and entrepreneurship in STEM education, among other topics. Capri Starks (GRD ’16) said that she was inspired by the impactful women on the panel and their discussion of politics and socio-economic issues.
“I absolutely loved it,” Starks said. “Especially because it’s the first group that is about politics and socio-economic issues. That really speaks to one core and also the fact that STEM jobs are really lacking especially in this country. To see women so empowered in those industries and driving those industries like Megan was fabulous.”