Why She Leads: Nadya Okamoto
Over 13,000 women have started their journeys to elected office with the She Should Run Incubator. These are their stories. There is no shortage of fierce women leaders, and with over 500,000 elected offices across the country, there is no shortage of seats waiting to be filled by them.
What is your most memorable career and personal accomplishment?
My most memorable career and personal accomplishment is serving as the founder and executive director of PERIOD, a global NGO that educates and advocates for equity in menstrual hygiene.
We’d love to hear more about your leadership path. How did you get to where you are today?
During my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my family experienced what it was like to live without a home of our own. During this time I was constantly thinking about the balance and spectrum of privilege around me, and connecting with homeless women who were in much worse living situations than I was, and hearing how periods were one of their biggest challenges pushed me to realize how strongly I believed menstrual hygiene was a right, and not a privilege. As a result, I founded PERIOD, which is now one of the largest youth-run NGOs in women’s health. In just 3 years, PERIOD has grown to include a network of 90 campus chapters and through grassroots engagement alone, PERIOD has distributed over 94,000 menstrual hygiene products to those in need. I credit my organization’s success to my “team” and value the power of teamwork. I believe in engaging the voices and passions of the community to strengthen social movements and catalyze progression.
What is your personal mission related to running for office? Why?
I am running for Cambridge City Council to bring much-needed perspectives, experience, and revitalized energy to our local government. From housing instability to unequal access to quality education, the issues the city of Cambridge faces are many that I have personally experienced. Through my personal and professional experiences, I want to introduce lasting solutions to address housing affordability, educational equity, and sustainable living.
More than 32% of Cambridge’s population is under 25 years-old, meaning that the city is home to many future leaders. My campaign pushes forward a precedent on the civic engagement of young people and stresses the importance of having representative democracy. As a young person, I can bring new perspectives, ideas, and community relations to the Council. Furthermore, as a university student, I want to encourage civic engagement of college students and bridge the divide between the 5 institutions in the city and the community. During my early years of high school, my family was displaced from our home because we could not afford it; it was through this time that I thought extensively about privilege as a spectrum. I serve because it is my way of reconciling the privileges that I do have, including having a supportive family and access to education.
How has the Incubator helped you clarify your leadership vision?
The Incubator has helped me clarify my leadership vision by providing a network of both practical and emotional support. With thought-provoking and actionable guidance, I have been able to build upon my personal foundation of experiences, skills, and networks. In addition to improving my leadership abilities and strength in public service, I have gained exposure to a community of equally-ambitious women who have provided mentorship and encouragement beyond running for office alone.
What are steps you’ve taken on your path to a future run?
Since publicly announcing to run in late March, I have met with almost a thousand different individuals, from local leaders of community organizations to representatives in Washington D.C. I also have a campaign team working full-time, which include a campaign director, field director, policy director, finance director, director of local engagement, director of development, and director of national outreach. In addition, we have created an internship and volunteer program for high school students and have about 20 volunteers, some working abroad. I have also gained the support of 3 current city councillors who have publicly announced their support for my campaign. In the past 3 weeks, my campaign team has knocked on over 3,000 doors canvassing. To this day, we have reached about $5,000 in fundraising and are reaching out to donors everyday to increase our funds. As the first candidate to release a full policy platform, I have stayed in contact with many Cambridge residents, some I have met simply by walking down the street or canvassing door-to-door, to alter my platform to best serve my community. I also had the largest kickoff event out of all the candidates a few weeks ago. Now, we are collecting signatures to officially put my name on the ballot.
Tell us about your favorite She Should Run “aha” moment or success story. Why are you an Incubator member?
My favorite “aha” moment and success story involves the first week of publicly launching my campaign. The tremendous amount of support I got within the city and all over the world truly blew me away and motivated me even more to strengthen my campaign. As a young woman of color, I definitely knew that I would face much criticism running for Cambridge City Council. When headlines focused on my age and some angry Facebook comments starting come in, I was not knocked down. In fact, I felt more motivated than ever as I saw the response and engagements of young people to get involved in local politics. I am an Incubator member because I want to inspire more women, especially young women and women of color, to not only run for office but to also take initiative and leadership roles in public service.
What’s your advice for finding time for your personal life (family, personal growth)? Dare we say it, how do you make time for fun in your life?
I am very good with time management and though I have a very busy schedule, running an entirely youth-led campaign and working on two NGOs, I always make sure that I also prioritize family, friends, and personal reflection. Making time for fun in my life isn’t something I have to go out of my way to do and that is because I genuinely enjoy all the things I do in my hectic, jam-packed schedule. I enjoy running my campaign and NGOs so much that the “work” does not feel like “work” to me. I truly believe that this has a lot to do with feeling personally connected to the work and being genuinely passionate about it.
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