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The Power of Partnership

Power of Partnership

James Joyce called it an epiphany, that moment, known to all of us, when life or some form of intuition seems to spark a new idea or creative endeavor.

Mine began as a spark and consumed me for the better part of last year– just when I was ready to take a sabbatical from writing.

“Let’s take a year off and concentrate on growing Visionary Women nonprofit,” I told myself.  I certainly have spent a good deal of time with my fellow co-founders in creating a dynamic women’s leadership platform in Los Angeles, and I am happy to announce that the hard work has paid off.

But just a few months into my sabbatical, I jumped right in and started reading the biographies of important change makers.  And then, out of nowhere, it struck me!  So many of the women I have written about have had fathers or men as their mentors, allies, and partners.

Sandra Day O’Connor, Shirin Neshat, Malala Yousafzai, Marina Abramovic, Amelia Earhart, Miuccia Prada, and Marie Curie are but a few women in my previous book, Visionary Women, who had a male figure or partner steadfastly supporting their work and advocacy.

And this flash of an idea was the catalyst for my year-long research and exploration on the dynamics of male-female partnerships.

It is uncanny, how this topic has captured our attention in the past few months. Men and women in every part of the world are struggling to come to terms with the global epidemic of sexual violence and the opportunities and challenges of gender dynamics.

The current state of affairs only creates a much-needed sense of urgency to discuss the ways in which men can become (and many are indeed) our potential allies and supporters in women’s growth.

Considering this momentum, I find it most interesting to step back and take a closer look at the dynamics of some of the world’s most important male-female partnerships.

How have partnerships changed through time? What are the varying dynamics of some of the world’s most important partnerships? What happens when the female partner has been the focus of attention or vice versa? And, most importantly what makes for a gratifying and productive partnership? Some of my case studies will be husband and wife teams, while others will be partners in work only.

Above all, one quality seems to stand out more than any other—partnerships are energized by a shared purpose and a desire for collective success. And when partners bring out the best qualities in the other and complement each other’s strengths, the output and creativity is exponential.

As Rei Kawakubo, the revolutionary founder of Commes de Garcon, once said in a Wall Street Journal interview, ”Collaborations have no meaning if 1 + 1 does not equal much more than 2.”

Just recently, while I was going through the vast TED TALKS library, I came across a fabulous duo— Conservationists and National Geographic Explorers in Residence, Beverly and Dereck Joubert. You will find their collaboration to be simply exhilarating and inspiring!

[To view this TED TALK, click here.]

For nearly three decades, the pair has celebrated nature and wildlife in documentaries, books, scientific journals, photographs and magazine articles. The couple’s arresting visual work has earned them five Emmys

Their life’s work validates the famous saying: “If you want to go fast, work alone. But if you want to go far, work with others.”

So, here I go! I will start the new year with writing my new book on partnerships!

The Creative Process

The Creative Process - Angela NazarianCharles Bukowski, who is one of my favorite poets, was adamant that the writing should burst out without coercion or commercial ambition.

His advise to writers was simply: “Don’t Try”He went on to say, “That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.”

Well, I have taken his advice to heart. When I finished my book tour in mid May, I personally gave myself a self-imposed sabbatical for a few months. This decision was primarily because I wanted to give myself the space to be creative without the added pressure of being productive. How many times have we all felt so guilty of spending time on a hobby or doing what we love because we feel that we need to be “working” on a project somehow?  I am certainly guilty of that!

In many ways, the past few months have been a real gift as I have the luxury of reading so many books, going to galleries and talks,  and letting my natural curiosity lead me in creative process.

Although I have had no specific agenda in my readings, I seem to keep reading biographies.  This is not done out of habit for my work, but because I am endlessly fascinated by people’s lives.  Interestingly enough, I am piecing together interesting overlaps and coincidences in the lives of the people I am reading about….  Yes, yes, I think to myself that these discoveries will somehow percolate into a definitive book of some sort, but for now, I am letting the creative process take its course.

Indeed, if there is one thing I have learned about myself during this time is that the real joy in my work lies in the process of discovery itself. The rest is the by-product!

Happy Summer to everyone!

Cherish Life and Live in the Moment

The months of March and April are a flurry of activity for me as I go on a self-imposed, and much-awaited break during the summer months.

I was asked of my views around work-life balance in a recent interview in Toronto. And plain and simple my response was: “I think the whole notion of balance is overused, lacking any substantiate meaning.”  You see, What I would subjectively refer to as a balanced life may be too overs-stimulating  or who knows–maybe someone else in my shoes would pack more things in their schedule yet!

The past couple of months though, I feel I have been doing double duty both at home and work—a remodel, a major move, some health issues with older family members, plus doing work, and organizing events on the two nonprofit boards that I have co-founded and traveling for my book tour to boot. 

Would I in any way, change anything about my life.  The answer is a resounding “NO”.  What I am beginning to understand through experience ( And yes… it seems like theory and other people’s wisdom are not as impactful as true-life well-earned experiences) is that life has its own ebbs and flows. Some days, I feel I am handing everything smoothly, while at other times, I feel I am overwhelmed.  But that is the reality of life, isn’t it?   

But in the midst of all this, I have come to see how much I cherish all the fullness in my life—the time spent with friends, husband and my two boys; how I get filled with so much energy when I come out of a talk or a book signing.  Each and every of these moments, when I was completely focused on experiencing that moment was fulfilling and nourishing.  

Reflecting on my speaking tour this past month, I can tell you had 3 real highlights that I would love to share.

I had been invited to be the keynote speaker for the Pepperdine University Women’s conference earlier in the month, hours before I was due to fly out to Hong Kong.  A day earlier I thought I was utterly out of my mind for keeping both of these events on my calendar.  But when the day came, I surprisingly enjoyed every single moment of the day.  I absolutely loved speaking to a group of intelligent and ambitious professionals and graduate students, who had so much to share with me as well.  I also discovered that a part of me is still that Psychology Professor of yesteryears, and I revel spending time with students, deans, and researchers.

No sooner when I returned from my trip to Hong Kong, I was on a plane heading to Austin, Texas.  Neiman Marcus was hosting a book signing and talk for me and my dear friend, Suzanne Deal Booth, was chairing the event for me.  I spent the day having girlfriend time with Suzanne, catching up over lunch and great hike near her home.  The next day, I met with so many incredibly talented women over lunch at Neiman Marcus… I met an incredible woman by the name of Megan, who had essentially organized a fundraising group to save her all- women liberal arts college from closing down.  Would you believe this core group of 8 women raised millions of dollars in the course of a month?  It is even more fascinating that they raised such a huge sum mostly through interfacing over the internet!  Now that was incredibly inspring!

And finally, I am just returning from the heals of a very special book event in Toronto. (As a matter of fact, I am writing this blog on the plane.)  Suzanne Cohon, a brilliant and exceptional executive in Toronto, had graciously organized a cocktail reception celebrating my latest book.  My friend, Ruth Mandel, who also is a member of Women Moving Millions had also invited some friends too, which brought the total of attendees to 90 people. What I loved most was the diversity of the women present.  The guests ranged from corporate executives, directors of foundations and non-profits, to moms and teachers and community activists.  There was a special electricity in the air last night as women were discussing ways in which they want to give back and also bring in the new generation of girls into the leadership fold.   Now this was the true meaning of what I wanted to accomplish with my book.

And now, as I am heading home and preparing to host our family Passover dinner, I think how lucky I am to have packed all these experiences in the past three weeks.

Who knew when I was a little girl living in Iran, that I would one day go around the world, have a meaningful and exciting vocation, and meet so many people along the way? Who knew? And the icing on the cake is that I have these loving, incredible men in my life (my boys and my husband of nearly 28 years) supporting me.  Now it makes all the madness of the days all worth it and then some!

Want to Bridge the Gender Gap? Mentorship & Strong Role Models Work, A 1st Person Success Story

The first crack that widens to a gender gap begins long before women enter the workplace. Mine began opening when I was 11, a girl from Tehran, enjoying a two-week visit to see my older brothers in Los Angeles.

Seemingly overnight, I went from delighted tourist to startled refugee. On television, we watched the footage of familiar buildings of my home city being set ablaze. It was December 1978, and the Iranian Revolution was gathering momentum. With the worsening political situation, my parents decided my siblings and I should remain in the U.S. and study.

Initially I was entranced, taking in the sheer plentitude of California. Six months passed, and the shock of adjustment set in. It would take five and half years until my parents escaped Iran to join us. I began navigating this new culture, one that seemed in constant collision with the one I had left.

I admired the women in my family for their resilient spirit and their orientation toward keeping a strong, tight-knit family, but it was always at the cost of not having a viable outlet for their own personal ambitions. Around me, few women in good financial standing worked outside of the house.

I had always assumed that I shouldn’t entertain too lofty goals for myself, fearing that I was veering out of my restrictive cultural mandate; however, I was shocked and strangely fascinated by how the American girls who had become my friends were mapping out their target universities and career plans. These girls were direct. They articulated their goals with confidence and enthusiasm.

I grappled with a feeling of “doubleness”–not fully belonging to any culture. Could I build a life in America while retaining my Iranian values? Would I be deemed too self-centered by my family if I chose to work?

Looking back, I see that I longed for a mentor to help me navigate this rocky terrain. I remember casting about for role models, but none were readily available. So, I found my mentors by reading biographies of bold people who challenged the status quo. Their journeys, their stories, opened a larger framework of purposeful and meaningful possibilities for me.

Today, young women in every country are in need of mentors to spark their first visions of wider options. They need help creating personal connections with inspiring women, for support, motivation and encouragement. We need to build access to achievement.

The World Bank Group’s report “Women, Business and the Law 2016,” released in early September, studied 173 world economies and found that 90% of them had at least one law that discriminated against women, limiting their individual—and by extrapolation—their countries’ economic prospects. This is sobering news, especially coming 20 years after countries pledged to work toward gender equality at a United Nations conference in China.

Although a growing number of organizations such as Best Buddies International, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and MENTOR have formal mentoring programs and networks, the playing field remains far from level.

According to National Mentoring Partnership, 17.6 million young Americans today are in special need of mentors. Of that number, only 2.5 million are in mentoring relationships, while the remaining 15.1 million are left in a mentoring “gap.” Surveys of upper-level American managers find that almost half of women of color and close to a third of white women cite a lack of influential mentors as a major barrier to advancement.

Emerging research shows that girls’ social and emotional learning is most impacted through group mentorship. Developing more formalized links with girls’ associations and girls’ groups and enrolling young women in an afterschool peer and mentorship groups is one way of making quality mentorship scalable and available to a larger population. Those enrolled can then participate in skill-building programs, corporate visits, be introduced to women leaders in various industries and take part in internships and conferences, to pass the invisible boundaries set by narrowly conceived possibilities.

At most conferences that I attend, women leaders are usually addressing other well-established women. When do we ask young women, or disadvantaged youth to join the conversation?

Given my personal story, when I organize a salon, I provide a bus for inner city high-potential girls, who might feel like “outsiders” themselves, to attend. My colleagues and I have found that some of the most interesting questions and memorable interactions have come from this group. Many of our panelists and speakers make themselves available to offer guidance to these girls through email, a phone conversation, or one-on-one chats.

We might close the country’s mentorship gap effectively and avoid duplication of systems by bringing together public and private sector organizations and leaders across each state. Such collaborations can facilitate statewide, centralized mentoring services.

In Canada, for example, the Alberta Mentoring Partnership launched the #8000Mentors recruitment campaign in 2014. The Partnership is a coalition of government, business and community groups whose mission is to provide a mentor for every youth in care in Alberta. Certainly this campaign has brought mentorship to the forefront of priorities.

Women “lean in” in different ways, one of which is becoming a champion for other women and girls. Anyone who has had a success has had people, programs and personal experiences that bridged the gap between their present and future selves. Our young girls and women, especially those of minority and lower-income backgrounds, deserve the opportunities that mentorship can provide.

Visionary Women Book Launch: Celebrating Sisterhood

October 6th will go down as one of the most memorable days of my life.  My dearest friend, Lili Bosse had warned me ahead of time, “You better be prepared.  It will be a big celebration. Mark my words.”   She was obviously imaging the day in her mind’s eye as she was the one who was hosting the book launch.

I am no newcomer to book launches, after all “Visionary Women” was my third book, and I have gone to support numerous other book parties.  But somehow, when Lili and I were planning this event, we wanted it not only to be a book launch but a celebration of sisterhood, of women coming to support other women, and most importantly, a celebration of women’s voices.

It seemed as if all who joined us that day had instinctively understood the purpose of the event and the reasoning behind writing the book. I was quite taken when guests started arriving half an hour earlier than expected and shortly thereafter a long line of cars started forming.   Lili and I had invited our friends from our elementary school years, and high school years. We had friends from work and the nonprofits that we are involved in.  We also had invited some new friends and family members.  An hour into the event, close to 500 enthusiastic friends were mingling in the garden, listening to an all-women band, and taking up the festive atmosphere.

But it wasn’t the sheer number of people that made an impression on me. Quite frankly I was so moved by the show of love and support by all those who were there. Friends and family gave me warm embraces and congratulated me and so many people bought multiple copies of the book to gift to their nieces, friends, and sister. I was truly touched.

When the two years that I was engrossed in learning, researching, and writing about the lives of 20 trailblazing women in the world, I felt as if I had formed my own interior world of fearless tribe of women.  That day at the book launch, I looked around myself and saw that so many of them were in reality gathered there in the garden.

I hope we always find ourselves in tribes of women who are generous in spirit and encourage others to greater heights.

Empowering the Next Generation of Female Leaders

My husband David and I, through our Social Innovators in Residence program at Wharton, were so pleased to have had a stellar woman — Diana Ayton-Shenker come and speak. Named one of “25 Leading Women Changing the World” by Good Business New York, this social-impact strategist came to inspire the next generation with her insights. This is one of the other ways to empower female leaders and reach the next generation. I hope you will read and enjoy her article:
Big Ideas That Matter: Reframing Philanthropy in 2015

Visionary Women’s “Women at the Forefront of Technology” Salon

Victor Hugo once said, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” I wholeheartedly agree.

An idea, a focus, and an energy to build a community of visionary and empowered women is something that has been stirring in me for many years now.  I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of women who have broken ground in their fields – and shared a passion to know and educate others on what is it exactly that gives some that spark to create change.

For me, February 26, 2015, marks a special moment in my life. Together with the help of my talented co-founders and executive board members: Mayor Lili Bosse, Veronica Smiley, and Ambassador Nicole Avant, and committee, we launched Visionary Women into the stratosphere with the “Women at the Forefront of Technology” Salon.

Three hundred and twenty inspired women leaders and fifteen girls from Communities in Schools Los Angeles’ Ladies First program joined us for a panel discussion at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills to hear some of the top women leading technology today. Our panel lineup featured Dawn Ostroff, President of Condé Nast Entertainment (CNÉ), Pauline Fischer, Vice President, Original Content at Netflix, Julie Uhrman, Founder and CEO of OUYA and Doris Kim Sung, Founder of do| SU Studio Architecture.  Five-time Emmy Award winning journalist, Giselle Fernandez moderated the discussion and the attention from the audience was palpable.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the day – although there were many:

“Listen to your inner voice. Trust your intuition. It’s important to have the courage to trust yourself.” – Dawn Ostroff

“Understand yourself enough to know what you are most passionate about. Don’t compromise on that because you are going to have to work hard no matter what.” – Julie Uhrman

I know that Visionary Women is an idea whose time has come, and I’m so grateful to have the support of so many friends, family and community members.

It’s an incredible feeling to be doing the work that you love with others whose heartbeat echoes your own.

I’m also grateful to our event sponsor NET-A-PORTER.COM, whose passion for empowering women mirrors our own.

Thank you to those of you who have supported me on all the twists and turns of this exciting journey.

~Angella

A Wonderful Time with the Women of YPO Quebec

It must have been a few month back when I was in the midst of writing one of my chapters for my upcoming book that I answered the phone. A woman by the name of Marie-Christine had contacted me from Quebec, inviting me to their YPO Chapter there for a talk. We finally decided that I would coordinate my trip around my upcoming visit to New York so my travel time won’t be as long.

Well, I never thought about weather conditions or storms when I booked the speaking engagement, but the week before my scheduled arrival, Quebec had a big storm. Just days before leaving I had checked the weather there and I surprised to see that it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit!

The last time I was in that kind of weather was when I was stuck on a ski lift at age 21!

I will have to say that my flight to Montreal was easy and uneventful. From up above the snow covered landscape was so beautiful that it reminded me of an abstract painting. Marie-Christine was awaiting my arrival at the airport and on our way to the airport we got a chance to talk. I say this with great sincerity, but one of the nicest experiences on all my work travels has been meeting interesting people and learning about their lives and what they do. Quebec did not disappoint. Marie-Christine, Nathalie, Ruby, along with the 60 other YPO spouses who had come for my talk were warm and welcoming. My talk about leadership took an hour but we spent the next three hours chatting, laughing and sharing our experiences. I learned about the great work of so many of these women and how each was striving to do something that was reflective of their character, talents, and interests.

You know you love what you do when you can’t keep track of time. What was supposed to be a two hour event became four hours— the evening ended with laughter and many hugs and embraces. Somehow I hope to revisit Quebec. Who knows maybe for launch of my third book!

When Visions Come to Life

Marina Abramovic

There are moments in life when dreams and ambitions become realities, when we are thrust from the ordinary rhythms of life into the extraordinary. These moments serve as reminders that while the work may be long and hard, the journey is worthwhile. While writing my second book on women world changers titled, Visionary Women, I started to see one of my life-long dreams manifest.

Sandra Day O’Connor

Over the last several months, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some of my all-time favorite women leaders first hand (or those in their close inner circle) to round out my research. My interview list reads like the who’s who of the last century. For someone like me – interviewing these truly great individuals is a dream come true! So far, my list of interviewees includes: Katharine Graham, news magnate of the Washington Post, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, the niece of Carmen Amaya, the world’s most famous Flamenco, Asha Kowtal, General Secretary of the National Dalit Women’s Movement, Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist and Nobel laureate, the grand daughter of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire, and newest and youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai’s partner and co-founder of the Malala Fund, Shiza Shahid.

Malala Yousafzai

My adventure continues — in the coming weeks I am flying to New York and look forward to meeting and interviewing the world famous performance artist Marina Abramovic in her studio. There is so much to glean from these amazing women, and my new book will be full of new revelations, insights, personal stories and ideas to stimulate our own growth. I look forward to sharing this incredible journey with you! So, stay tuned…

 

Powerhouse Women Connect at the WITW Conference

Every year I look forward to going to NY to attend the Women in the World Conference. Tina Brown packs the two and a half days at the Lincoln Center with the most compelling stories and women change makers. For someone like me, who writes, lives, and breathes these topics, it is one of the most interesting venues to attend.

I want to share with you some of the highlights from the conference:

I had a chance to meet two Syrian women (Hiba Sawan and Rania Kisar) who are activists in their war torn country. Their story of saving victims of bombing and war was incredibly touching and I had a chance to sit next to them at lunch.

Who can forget the in-depth conversation between two of the most powerful women—Hillary Rodham Clinton and Christine Lagarde. The moment where they high-fived one another was caught on camera and was in the news the very next morning. Funny enough, I ran into Christine Lagarde at the Carlyle hotel and enthusiastically went over to congratulate her on her inspiring talk. She is not only brilliant and fearless, but chic and approachable.

The list of impressive presenters continued: Lorene Powell Jobs moderated a panel on education; Jimmy Carter made a passionate case on behalf of women and girls in his new book, “A Call to Action”; the comedian, Sara Silverman and her sister, Susan, who happens to be a rabbi talked about their shared spirit of activism (by the way, Susan is as funny as Sara); the list went on.

Of course, one of the highlights was listening to the experiences of Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. To think that for months we were following their trial and tribulations in Russia and they were onstage talking about their new NGO, Zona Pravda.

I came back to LA brimming with ideas and thinking about the women who I would like to write about in my next book. Stay tuned: I will have a surprise story of a brave-hearted “untouchable” woman that I want to showcase in the near future.