Sabrina Merage Naim

Sabrina Merage Naim is the Principal of Echo Capital Group and the Vice President of Corporate Strategy for the international investment firm, Consolidated Investment Group (CIG). CIG is the family office behind the co-founder of Hot Pockets, David Merage, and focuses on real estate, capital markets, direct private equity, and philanthropic activities. Echo Capital Group and CIG combine their expertise and resources to collaborate on transactions in the food and beverage space and beyond. Sabrina also founded the Sabrina Merage Foundation (SMF) in 2008 to empower partners and community leaders to create paradigm shifts that spark inclusiveness between diverse societies. SMF supports innovative solutions to bigotry and divisiveness.

What were the key moments in your career that led you to today?

When I graduated from college my grandmother gifted my cousins and me philanthropic capital. Instead of forming one large family foundation, she gave each of us our own individual foundations. This was a unique approach that empowered us to be philanthropically involved in our own way. This gift forced me to learn about management, finances, humanity and how I can convert my passions to meet the needs of the world.

My father sold the company Hot Pockets and then worked in real estate. We started a private equity initiative and I acted as a deal sourcing manager. At the time it was clear that I was often one of the few women in the room and always the youngest. I served as the token millennial and everyone turned to me whenever the question was ‘how do we attract the millennial consumer?’ I was surrounded by a bunch of old, white, finance guys who didn’t get it. I saw an opportunity to support early stage entrepreneurial efforts focused on millennial start-ups, which led me to found Echo Capital.

Tell me more about Echo Capital.

Echo Capital is founded and run by millennial entrepreneurs. We have been investing in companies for 8 years and have 16 portfolio companies (14 are still active). Since we don’t have outside investors, we have a lot more flexibility. Most venture capital funds spend a lot of time fundraising and are not strong partners for their portfolio companies. We are able to focus on what the companies need to grow and never pressure them to exit before they are ready. We mostly invest in consumer product companies focused on food and beverage because that’s our expertise. But we’ve since branched out and have a healthcare and supplements company and a cannabis data analytics company. A typical investment ranges from $250k-2 million.

What is your foundation’s focus?

The Sabrina Merage Foundation was founded to bridge the divides that are continuing to grow between us – socioeconomic, religious, political, etc. We are raising awareness and starting conversations between different societies and thought groups. We need more empathy and dialogue. We need to come together with people who think differently and experience things differently. For example, we funded an organization called Building Bridges that brings high school girls from Israeli, Arab and Palestinian backgrounds to a retreat in Colorado. These girls spend time together and realize that their commonalities are greater than their differences.

Why did you start Evoke Media?

Through my non-profit work I’m hoping to shape the future. But I’m impatient and also want to see immediate impact and results. I started Evoke Media as a subsidiary of SMF and began investing in documentaries. I thought it was an exciting way to utilize storytelling, an effective and more immediate way of opening hearts and minds.

We’ve invested in three documentaries and started a podcast called “Breaking Glass.” Through the podcast, we elevate incredible stories of women and men who are changing gender dynamics.

Is there a common theme that runs through your career?

It was always about women and being a young woman. I wanted to prove myself as a woman in finance. I want to support women through non-profit work. I was seeing and experiencing firsthand what my female peers had experienced for generations and it was extremely frustrating. My dad never treated me differently from my brother. But then I was seeing people around me who were struggling so much just to be on equal footing as their male counterparts.

What do you struggle with?

My biggest obstacle is an internal one. I’m impatient. I’m very passionate about all of the things I’m involved in. I want to see a systemic shift and I want immediate impact. I need to temper my expectations.

Angela Benton

Angela Benton is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Streamlytics, which uses data to bring transparency to what people are streaming while helping consumers own their data. She is a pioneer of diversity in the technology industry and raising awareness around the inequalities that exist in that space. In 2011 she founded NewME (acquired), the first accelerator globally for minorities. Through her leadership, NewME has accelerated hundreds of entrepreneurs, helping the nascent companies raise over $47 million in venture capital funding. Benton has received numerous accolades, some of which include Goldman Sachs’ 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs, Fast Company’s Most Influential Women In Technology, Business Insiders’ 25 Most Influential African-Americans in Technology, Marie Claire’s 50 Women Who Rule, Ebony Magazine’s’ Power 150 and many more. In addition, Benton has been featured in numerous national and international media outlets including CNN’s award winning documentary series Black in America: The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley, MSNBC, Bloomberg, Inc, Forbes, Good Morning America, and the Wall Street Journal.

What were the key moments throughout your career that led you to found Streamlytics?

I started as a designer and then worked as an engineer in the tech industry. The first pivotal moment in my career was teaching myself how to code. That piqued my interest in technology and opened up all of the career opportunities that I’ve had. I was working as an executive within a company that was being incubated by an accelerator. Originally, I was hired as a designer, but ended up running digital strategy. Often I was the only female and the only black person in the room. While I was working a full-time job, I created a website featuring African Americans in the technology space. I wanted to take a leap and start something that I was passionate about while filling a need. When the company I was working for didn’t end up succeeding, I had a choice: I could either do the responsible thing as a single mom of three and get a steady job or I could take a risk and start my own company. I was 26 and decided to take the risk. I founded NewMe, the first accelerator globally for minorities. Eventually I sold NewMe and started Streamlytics.

Explain how Streamlytics works – who would use this service and why?

We’re helping people in fast growing communities gain access to data while also monetizing personal data. We take data files and turn it into a universal standard format. Our data may be used by marketers or technology companies that are building algorithms.

It is very important to us that the data is ethically sourced. All consumer data is issued a license confirming their ownership. A lot of browsers are changing and getting rid of cookies, which makes it difficult to track people on the internet. We have over 70 million data points from African American communities.

What do you give consumers in exchange for this data?

We have an algorithm that values data and pays consumers based on that value. The algorithm looks at the data file and the data source to back into data valuation.

How much can people make from selling their data and how do you determine how much they should earn?

There’s a range. We have super-users who constantly upload their data and get thousands of dollars and others who only post their data occasionally and get $40.

How is Streamlytics working to override gender and racial bias?

We use algorithms to make the decisions, instead of people like loan officers. Law enforcement uses facial recognition and they are not being trained on diversity. If we can be the largest provider on diverse data, then people building algorithms now have a source that is fair and equitable.

What are some interesting insights people have gleaned from Streamlytics?

We just pulled data on Nielsens Top 10. Up until now we knew how many people were watching a TV show, but we didn’t know what those people were doing on other platforms. For example, we found out that Greys Anatomy consumers were also more health conscious. People who watched The Crown and Bridgerton bought more supplements on Amazon. The shows Black-ish and Mixed-ish are similar, but those who watch Black-ish are listening to sci-fi books and those who watch Mixed-ish are listening to relationship-focused books.

The way people are living now is generating data points simultaneously across digital platforms. While we’re streaming a show, we’re also ordering an Uber and using Amazon.

How was starting the accelerator NewMe different from Streamlytics?

NewMe was always people heavy. The goal was to help more people. Streamlytics is all about data so the mechanism is technology. Though as we’re building out Streamlytics, we’re trying to put the humanity back in data. Data is a cold thing – it’s all ones and zeros but we want to do it in an ethical fashion, pay people appropriately and value it appropriately. A lot of the values of NewMe are now infiltrating Streamlytics even though they are very different companies.

What are you short-term and long-term goals?

Short-term: I want to process a billion data points. Right now we’re at a little over 70 million.

Long-term: I’m thinking about what the world will look like in ten years and how users can maintain control over their data.

Looking back at your career is there anything you would have done differently?

I wish I had cared less about what other people thought and had more confidence to push boundaries.

What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Approach everything like you’re a novice. Try things because you’re curious. Don’t enter into anything with preconceived notions about what you’re supposed to do.

Zibby Owens

Zibby Owens is the creator and host of the award-winning podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, where she interviews authors about their work. She was named “NYC’s Most Powerful Book-Influencer” by New York Magazine and is referred to as “the Oprah of books”. Owens is a regular contributor to Good Morning America online and the Washington Post, and has contributed to many publications including Real Simple, Redbook, Parents, the New York Times online, Scary Mommy, and Huffington Post. All of the proceeds of her latest book, Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology, will be donated to the Susan Felice Owens Program for COVID-19 Vaccine Research at Mount Sinai Health System in honor of her late mother-in-law who lost her life to COVID.

How’re you feeling? I’m so sorry that you got COVID – and right before your book tour…

I become myopic when I’m focused on something. I was highly immersed in launching my book, but then COVID knocked me off of my feet and made it impossible. I knew the book tour would be remote and virtual – I was ready for that. I didn’t expect to be in bed for nine days.

How did you go from business school graduate to writer?

Writing has always been my first love. I interned at Vanity Fair and learned that there was no clear path from intern to writer. I was also interested in psychology, which led me to pursue a career in brand strategy and marketing. I went to business school but was always writing on the side. I lost my best friend on 9/11 and wrote about it. I then decided that I needed to do something that brought my whole self to my work. I took a year off and wrote a novel. I got an agent, but it ended up not selling. I ghost wrote a book and continued to freelance.

Has there been a common thread that’s run through your career?

Everything I do involves how people think and feel mixed with entrepreneurship. I love starting things, branding things and connecting people.

You have four children, an award-winning podcast, an illustrious freelancing career, books published, etc. How do you balance it all?

Each day is different. I’m always reprioritizing my time. I try to start working as early as possible. I do things really quickly. I’ve assembled an amazing team. There are also days when I’m overwhelmed and I just cry.

Why do you think you were pulled to the literary world?

I love to read and I read quickly. I’ve been a reader and writer my whole life. I’m truly curious about people. I’m a connector and bringing books to people is another way I like to connect people.

Why are you uniquely positioned to help authors connect with readers?

I have formed this platform. I have a small team and I’m able to pivot. When I have an idea, there’s no gate – I just do it. For example, I recently started a fellowship for aspiring memoirists. I’ve also had many ideas that haven’t been successful, but there’s not a lot of downside or cost so I keep trying new things.

How do you select the authors to interview and the books to feature?

I’m inundated with pitches from publishers. I keep a folder of pitches on my computer and I’m constantly going through that folder.

I love the title “Moms Don’t Have Time To.” What is the meaning for you behind that? You certainly have made the time to accomplish a lot – is the takeaway that you prioritize what’s important?

When I was writing parenting essays my husband suggested I create a collection of my essays and turn it into a book. I responded, “Moms don’t have time to read a book!” Then I thought that’s a great name for a book.

The title is a tongue and cheek way of saying that you should take the time for things that matter. When you’re in the “mom years” it feels impossible to even breathe. But there are things you can do during the crazy times to make the crazy times a little less crazy. For me, that’s always been reading.

I’m acknowledging the craziness and business of motherhood, but also trying to send a life raft to other moms. We can make time and we’re still the smart, capable, multi-dimensional women we were before we had kids.

Who is your target audience?

Despite this title, my audience is not just moms. My audience consists of caretakers – those who are putting their own needs second.

What’s next on the horizon?

I have a second anthology coming out in November called Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids. I also have a children’s book coming out called Princess Charming.

You’re very talented at bringing people together and championing authors through your podcast and your online community. How do you balance promoting other writers vs. delving more deeply into your own writing?

I do not take enough time to write myself. I focus 99% of my energy on other people.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Remember your story is going to be important to someone. It doesn’t have to be a bestseller, but it will touch someone and that makes it worth it.

What book has had the greatest impact on you during the pandemic?

Writers and Lovers kept me up until 2am. It has themes of loss, writing, and mother-daughter relationships. It captures a lot of issues in my own life.

Who inspires you?

Both of my parents are voracious readers and always made the time to read. My step-grandfather owned a small printing press and he published a book of mine when I was nine, which was such a thrill.

How do you think the literary world has changed over time?

I think and I hope that there’s more of a movement in understanding the author’s personality. Just like when you read about a movie star’s personal life, it allows you to enjoy their work on a deeper level. Until recently no one paid attention to authors and you could be sitting next to them on the bus and not even know. Now they are getting the celebrity status that they deserve.

Milda DeVoe

Milda DeVoe is the founder and executive director of Pen Parentis, an organization aimed to provide resources to professional writers who are also parents. She recently published a book, Book & Baby: The Complete Guide to Managing Chaos and Becoming a Wildly Successful Writer-Parent. DeVoe holds an MFA from Columbia where she was a Writing Fellow. Her short fiction has been internationally published and has won more than 20 mentions and awards. She also won the Regina Russo Outstanding Recent Graduate Award from her alma mater in June 1999, and her creative work has just been nominated for a fourth Pushcart Prize. A full list of her publications and awards can be found on her website.

How did your career path lead you to found Pen Parentis?

A common theme that’s run through my life is that I throw myself into things and create whatever doesn’t exist.

I started out wanting to be an opera singer but once I blew my voice out I became an actress and started theater companies. I learned nonprofit administration skills by starting these theater companies.

While I was working as an actress I was also working at a Japanese bank as an assistant and I had to look busy. I started writing a novel and the receptionist would edit my novel chapter by chapter. One day someone at work got angry and accused me of stealing her paper clips. I did not want to be in an environment where people were fighting over paper clips. So I quit. I applied to graduate school and was accepted to Columbia’s writing program.

After I graduated, I was writing and had two children at home. I heard that the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council gave a grant to artists to create a public event downtown. I applied to do a reading series called Pens and Pacifiers for writers with kids. Eventually, we changed the name to Pen Parentis. We developed a following, and a lawyer who was a regular attendee offered to help us become a nonprofit.

DeVoe at a national Writer-Parent Meetup with volunteer Sarah Lybrand.

You filled a gap in the market. Why do you think this gap existed for so long?

People don’t like the idea of artists being parents. There is a cognitive dissonance. Lawyers and doctors are respected for juggling their careers with parenthood. However, writing isn’t viewed as a legitimate career so it’s easy to denigrate it. There isn’t a human resources department to turn to when you work in the arts. I became the HR department for writers. Once people understand that writing is a career, then it’s easy to conclude that writers need to find the resources to do their jobs and take care of their children.

Tell me more about the Fellowship for New Parents.

We’ve been awarding the Fellowship since 2010 to one person a year. The only requirement to enter is that you need to have one child under the age of ten. The submission piece must be fiction and always has a very small word count. The Fellow is awarded $1,000 to use toward their writing career, which may include childcare. They also have the opportunity to read at a Pen Parentis salon with other writers, get published in Dreamers Creative Writing magazine (both online and in print), and receive a year of mentorship. When you have young children, it’s the hardest time to keep yourself going. That’s when people give up writing. We wanted to support writers during this time.

From left to right – Arlaina Tibensky, a friend who started the salon series with DeVoe in 2009, with guests Emily Raboteau, Victor LaValle, Sean Ferrell in Lower Manhattan at a Pen Parentis Literary Salon.

What advice do you have for writers who become parents?

Don’t stop. There will be guilt so just move on. Your baby doesn’t affect your talent so use it. You make time for things that are important. You just need to acknowledge that your writing is important.

How is Pen Parentis sustained financially?

We have government grants that support our programs and we have individual donations. Our funding base consists of a lot of small donors. We’re like Bernie Sanders.

DeVoe with Jennifer Egan at a Literary Salon.

How has the pandemic affected your work?

There have been no in-person events, which has been a big change for Pen Parentis. One of our pillars is community, (the others are professionalism, balance and inclusion.) We had to maintain community during the pandemic. We moved everything online and made our Facebook and LinkedIn pages more active. All of our salons are now virtual.

How has being an author changed over time?

When I first started writing it was pre-Facebook. Now people are pitching agents on Twitter. The number of writers has proliferated. There used to be ten MFA programs in the country and now there are hundreds. People are reading more writing online that hasn’t gone through an editing process. It’s become a fascinating free for all. I think traditional publishing still has a place, but hybrid publishing has accelerated the pace of getting published. A lot of writers also now prefer to be published online because then they have a broader reach.

DeVoe with Kelly Link at a Literary Salon.

What was your biggest career mistake?

I wish I had taken advantage of the help that was offered to me when I was young. I used to think if I didn’t do it myself then it wasn’t my work. When I was in graduate school, people who worked at big magazines would offer to show my work to their editors and I never took them up on it. I was appalled that they even offered. I didn’t understand the value of a network.

What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

When I was 15 my parents sent me to Germany in the 80s to attend a Lithuanian Boarding School. I had never been out of the country before and I went alone and lived there for two years. I saw that the world was a much bigger place than my little bubble in Texas. It was very insular where I grew up so going abroad opened my mind so much. I was ready for it because I had always been a big reader so I knew a larger world existed.

DeVoe at the Vatican with the Pope when she was 16 years old in Lithuanian national folk costume (and wearing a Monsignor’s coat).

Dr. B. Sarah Haynes, Ph.D.

At age 29, Dr. Haynes earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. At 31, she completed her postdoctoral clinical training—to improve health outcomes among African-American and Latina communities—and then was invited to join the full-time clinical research faculty at Georgetown School of Medicine. At 35, she was a tenured professor. Dr. Haynes was recruited to Silicon Valley to join Sherpa Capital, a prominent Venture Capital firm. As Chief of Staff of the firm with $650M under management, she worked directly with founders in leading the investment committees of Uber, Airbnb, Cue, Curology, Doctors on Demand and Slack. Dr. Haynes has worked in multiple sectors and roles, including: micro-mobility transportation, as the co-founder, Co-CEO and Chairwoman of Bolt Mobility; business development; venture capital; behavioral health; and collaborative consumption. She most recently founded the Dr. Haynes Collective, a boutique telehealth executive coaching practice designed to help maximize professional and personal growth.

You’ve had such a varied and illustrious career. Is there a common thread that ran through your professional life?

My career trajectory has always been unconventional. I like to break the mold. I always want to reach the greatest number of people with the limited time I have on earth.

How has your background influenced you?

My family fled Iran – a country where women’s rights were removed overnight. We first came to America in 1976 when my father had a scholarship at Catholic University. When we returned to Tehran, the Revolution started. We left our homeland and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland but this time around there wasn’t a scholarship or any financial support. My dad worked as a taxi cab driver even though he had a degree from Catholic University. My family went from having maids and chauffeurs to becoming maids and chauffeurs.

My mom started her own nail salon and I helped manage that business. I was going to college at night and was a pre-dental major at the University of Maryland. I learned that dentistry is not the path to develop long lasting relationships with people. However, I loved my psychology classes and was always curious about what motivated people to do good and bad. I wanted to understand what caused people to be resilient like my parents – who had excellent coping mechanisms and overcame adversity – while others succumb to depression and substance abuse.

What were the key moments in your career that propelled you to where you are today?

I went to graduate school in Florida and did research on trauma with Haitian and Latina populations. I worked in multidisciplinary teams where we came up with solutions quickly because we were all tackling the same problem through different lenses. We discovered how much can be accomplished through collaboration. Later in my career, I brought this multidisciplinary team experience into the business world by having all of the departments in one weekly meeting to set aligned goals and come up with solutions. Everyone from the intern to the CEO would sit around the same table. 

After 9/11, I became a tenured faculty member in Florida. Instead of term papers I asked students to write self-improvement journals. By teaching classes filled with 200 students every semester I felt that I could maximize my impact and reach the most number of people.

I was recruited to Silicon Valley where I was chief of staff for a venture capital firm. I would review investments relating to healthcare and human behavioral change. We were one of the early investors in Uber. I was always interested in solving transportation problems. I understood the underlying problems of access to affordable and reliable transportation having watched my father work as a taxi cab driver.

The VC firm moved its operations to Miami and started a tech startup incubator. We incubated multiple companies including Bolt Mobility where I eventually became CEO. Last year we hired a new CEO and although I’m still involved in Bolt, I pivoted to start Dr. Haynes Collective to help solve some of the problems I saw in the fast-paced startup world.

What motivated you to start Dr. Haynes Collective?

As executives and founders, we tend not to prioritize our health and I wanted to celebrate and provide a different, more sustainable solution. It’s a badge of honor among entrepreneurs to work around the clock and brag about sleep deprivation. I brought in a multidisciplinary team to showcase women and underrepresented experts to support the five pillars of the DHC (Dr. Haynes Collective) methodology. The pillars include: 1) Career/Financial 2) Leadership/Personal Evolution 3) Health & Wellness 4) Family/Intimacy 5) Community/Network. The main objective is to have a long-term, sustainable and balanced approach to personal and professional development.

Who approaches Dr. Haynes Collective for coaching/training?

I’m receiving requests from business executives and top Fortune 20 companies to develop strategic roadmaps. A lot of millenials and underrepresented minorities have also been reaching out for executive coaching because they don’t typically have mentorship in their families, communities or current workplaces to help them navigate the many challenges of working in a fast-paced environment. At Dr. Haynes Collective, we create a community to increase access to experts where everyone works together to support one another.

How has covid affected your work?

I started Dr. Haynes Collective last December. Even before covid, I wanted to use technology to improve access to health and wellness via telehealth platforms. In the past months, people have adopted new behaviors like increasing their comfort levels with technology platforms such as zoom. Technology has become more ubiquitous for communication and offering support in the comfort of one’s home.

People are facing different challenges and therefore, need different coping mechanisms to adapt to an ever-changing world. Through telehealth we’re able to support people regardless of geographical limitations.

However, increased isolation and unstable societal/geopolitical issues have made it easy to feel disempowered. I think it’s important to empower individuals to help avoid a victim mentality. A lot of businesses are struggling and people have had to change their work structure and adapt. People are also feeling burnt out by the level of assumed accessibility. Everyone is at home and as a result, experiencing zoom fatigue. There are no boundaries between home and work. Parents have had to adjust and shift their work and family responsibilities. Alternatively, we are seeing a more authentic representation of people’s lives. Zoom has added a human element to our work environment where you might see a messy room, or hear children and pets in the background. People are losing control of their image and can’t always present the most polished versions of themselves. The reality of our lives is now more visible.

What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs who are struggling to achieve balance?

It’s important to assess the support and resources you have in your community and social network. It is hard for driven and capable individuals to ask for help, but it’s critical to lean on your community since it can provide incredible support. Being part of a community is not only about extracting value, but also about giving back and adding value. Dance with the person who brought you to the party.

The partner you choose also plays an important role in helping you achieve your goals. My husband probably thought I’d be a tenured professor with a relatively easy schedule and long summer breaks, but I had an entrepreneurial spirit and my husband had to adjust his perception of my career. When you’re in a relationship that values growth, it’s important to strive for win-win solutions at different stages in your development.

Sometimes as female entrepreneurs, our ability to balance the many hats that we wear can be underestimated. Being underestimated is actually my superpower. For me, there’s pride in surprising people who have a limited mindset of what I can accomplish. Women are supposed to do it all and neglect themselves. You need to communicate and be your own advocate. You can’t always be an unsung hero.

Mori Taheripour

Mori Taheripour teaches Negotiation and Dispute Resolution for the undergraduate and graduate programs at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She is a six-time recipient of awards for excellence in teaching. In 2004, Taheripour co-founded the Wharton Sports Business Initiative (WSBI). She is a business consultant and has worked with clients including Major League Baseball (MLB), NBA Players Association, National Football League (NFL), Goldman Sachs Foundation, and United Parcel Service (UPS) among others. Taheripour was appointed the first-ever Senior Advisor for Sport for Development at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2010. She served as the senior U.S. Government Representative tasked with promoting sport as a tool in the advancement of U.S. international development goals. Her first book, Bring Yourself: How to Harness the Power of Connection to Negotiate Fearlessly was published in March 2020.

How did you become a negotiation expert and sports business consultant?

My parents wanted me to go to medical school and though I didn’t want to become a doctor, public health appealed to me. I worked for an organization that dealt with public health for at-risk communities and it was an opportunity to see the health disparities around the world. I then started a consulting practice around big social marketing and education campaigns.

I’ve always been interested in sports. When I started my company, I was able to work with Earvin “Magic” Johnson and other sports celebrities on different campaigns. I love the power of the sports industry. Sports can influence people in a really positive way by raising awareness and changing behaviors.

After five years of running my company I decided to go to business school. Shortly after I got to Wharton, the university launched the Wharton Sports Business Initiative. It was a great way to blend my interests. I worked with professional athletes and trained them to be better decision makers and ready for life after sports.

How can sports play a role in the advancement of international development goals?

Sports can represent leadership development and teach health practices. Sports can serve as something hopeful and uplifting when all else is lost. When I became the Senior Advisor for Sport for Development at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I witnessed how sports could advance various international development objectives. In some regions we used sports to foster peace and bring together disparate communities. In other regions, we were focused on female empowerment and helping young girls feel strong. I was a sports evangelist and saw firsthand how it can be a universal platform and an incredible tool.

What has your experience been as a woman in this field?

Sports is a male-dominated industry. I see the challenges, but I also see change, and I’m celebrating the cracks in the ceiling. I’ve never been hung up on my gender. I believe in showing up as the best professional that you can be. I always saw being female as an opportunity to change minds and hearts. If you’re self-confident and open to possibilities that come your way, your career can be so rich.

What are some of the misconceptions of negotiations?

There is this notion that only a certain type of person can be a good negotiator. You’re not born a good negotiator – it’s a learned skill.

Another myth is that you have to act a certain way – more aggressive, more contentious, and focused only on your own goals. Instead, there is a whole human element to it. Relationships and the way you treat people matter.

We need to change the perception that a successful negotiation means winning. What does “winning” even mean? I don’t like that term. Someone doesn’t have to “lose.” Success is actually finding mutually beneficial interests. 

How has negotiating evolved over time?

Negotiating has become so contentious that we can’t even have conversations with people who are different. We’re not hearing and listening to one another. It’s exhausting to focus on differences. It’s also extremely difficult to change people’s minds. Now is the time to better understand each other.

How has the covid pandemic affected your work?

I launched my book right at the beginning of the pandemic. I stopped traveling. We had to pivot from traditional book events and book signings to turning everything virtual. Although it’s harder to sit in front of a computer screen for consecutive hours, I can reach broader audiences now.

What is it like teaching at a university during this time?

All of my teaching is done virtually so there are new challenges. I used to ask all of my students to put their devices away in the classroom so they could be present. There are more distractions now, but you have to shut off the distractions and focus harder in order to engage. There’s a greater sense of connection and intimacy when you dedicate yourself to being present. It’s a form of self-care to focus on your learning and these conversations. Listening is so much more important. Spending time with people, even if it’s virtually, is critical. We crave a sense of belonging.

Have you noticed any changes in the way the student body learns and engages with the material over the years?

Academics can’t operate in a bubble. Whatever is happening outside of the classroom affects the inside of the classroom. For example, politics and immigration issues impact students – how they feel and how they think. A classroom is a microcosm of the greater society.

Teaching is water for my soul. I take my students’ emotional temperature. Especially during the time of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter I couldn’t enter a class and pretend everything was normal as usual. You need to ask them how they’re doing and tap into their hearts and minds. My students want to be heard and seen in a nonjudgmental environment. I allow students to speak their minds. I want them to be empowered to communicate their perspectives and be vulnerable.

What life experience has had the greatest impact on you?

I was diagnosed with MS in 2010. It has made me prioritize my health and made me appreciate my physical strength. It was life changing – but for the better. I learned to tell my story in a way where it didn’t define me. From that day on I stopped taking my wellbeing for granted.

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Damali Peterman

Damali Peterman is the CEO of both Damali Law LLC and Breakthrough ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution). She has extensive experience in corporate law, mediation, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Peterman teaches people how to listen, negotiate and resolve everyday situations in the workplace and beyond. She is a highly skilled mediator and conducts trainings for Fortune 500 companies, educational institutions, government entities, nonprofits and small businesses. Prior to starting Damali Law and Breakthrough ADR, Peterman worked at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in the Mergers & Acquisitions group and then at Deloitte as Assistant General Counsel.

What led you to start your two companies – Damali Law and Breakthrough ADR?

Following the U.S. Presidential election in 2016, I felt we needed more conflict resolution. I was also thinking about the legacy that I hoped to leave. My Masters degree is in International Policy and Conflict Resolution and I wanted to use my skillset to help more people. I started Damali Law LLC, a boutique law firm that focused on preserving relationships and finding the best solution for any given situation. At the outset, Damali Law had a traditional legal business as well as educational training resources and mediation.

Later I decided to separate the legal component from the non-legal side of the firm. I founded Breakthrough ADR, which is focused on conflict resolution and crisis management. Sometimes the better solution does not require legal action. In addition to running these two companies, I also judge international mediation competitions and work on educational trainings for both public and private organizations. I’ve done trainings for the New York Police Department and the New York Department of Education, among others.

Who is a typical client of Damali Law vs. a typical client of Breakthrough ADR?

Damali Law has three main clients: 1) small to medium sized companies that have a need for external general counsel to negotiate and draft contracts both internally and externally, 2) individuals/influencers/authors who need a lawyer to review their contracts and get them the terms they need (to have an intermediary between them and the contract counterpart), and 3) people who want to start a for profit or nonprofit company. 

Breakthrough ADR’s clients are companies who desire support with training and consulting for their staff and management with respect to conflict resolution, management and prevention.

How do you attract clients?

Clients find us through word of mouth, social media (LinkedIn especially) and Google – we have a 5 star rating on Google. 

When do clients decide to pursue mediation instead of legal action?

Clients have to be aware that mediation is a viable option for dispute resolution in order to choose mediation over litigation. Litigation is popularized on TV and in pop culture. Most people’s orientation with mediation is usually in the context of divorce or family matters. At Breakthrough ADR, we spend a lot of time doing outreach and education so that people know that there are alternatives to litigation before they actually have a problem. 

Why were you interested in conflict resolution?

I’m the oldest of seven kids, so you can imagine how much conflict resolution I’ve been doing from a young age.

Why do you think that the world is more divided than ever?

The U.S. is a very polarized nation. In 2020, many things that were occuring in the background were suddenly revealed. For example, 800,000 women had to leave the workforce. We haven’t seen that number in a long time. Many women were forced to resort to the more traditional role of homemaker. Race relations and racial injustice have come to the forefront. Distinctions between public and private education have become more prominent. Currently, most kids in public school are not going to school five days a week. Instead, it’s a blended model of virtual and in-person learning. [Editor’s note: since the time of this interview, many more public schools have closed]. Most kids in private schools are attending school full-time. The disparities that we’ve ignored are now coming into the foreground. 

How has the covid pandemic affected your work?

There’s always a demand for quality legal assistance. At the start of the pandemic, people were trying to get a better handle of what their contracts allowed them to do since they were suddenly facing an “unforeseeable” situation. We were very focused on contract negotiation. One of the positive results of the pandemic has been the shift from in-person meetings to virtual meetings. This has benefitted people who can now attend trainings virtually and it has expanded my reach.

What are your short-term and long-term goals?

In the short-term for the legal practice, I’m continuing to evolve and keep up as the law changes. On the conflict resolution side, it’s important to do outreach and inform others that there are people like me who can help them with conflict de-escalation.

In the long-term, I want to empower people to independently resolve their conflicts. I want to educate people so that the next time, they can do it on their own.

What are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the work that I’m able to do with Breakthrough and the community of conflict resolvers that we’ve created. I’ve built a brand and given people the tools to resolve conflict at work and beyond. It fills a gap that I saw in the ADR world. I’m empowering individuals to find solutions to their problems.

What are you struggling with these days?

Self-care. I feel like I’m busy trying to help people become conflict resolvers while also helping my children succeed, but I’m neglecting myself. I need to carve out more time to take care of myself.

The polarization of the U.S. I’m an American and the fact that our nation is so divided keeps me up at night. As a problem solver, I want to facilitate conversations on all political sides. Something has to change in this country to protect our democracy. We now have a lot of data from the election and we have to use that information to heal.

Coronavirus. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. What will the impact of school closings be? What is the long-term effect of quarantine?

Who inspires you?

My mother. She always told me that I can do anything and be anyone. There are so many stereotypes of what people can and cannot do, but my mom – the person I trust most in the world – told me there were no barriers.

Alice Panikian

Alice Panikian was Miss Canada in 2006 and former professional model. She currently works in operations at a small venture capital firm. Panikian has become a leading voice advocating for nontoxic beauty, gaining fame through her blog The Bronde and her Instagram account @alicepanikian. On The Bronde, Panikian shares helpful tips on how to live a healthier lifestyle, recommends the best clean products and elucidates the complicated and often opaque nontoxic beauty industry.

Why did you start The Bronde?

In 2013 I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a reproductive disease that afflicts an estimated 1 in 10 women. I did a lot of research and found out that certain chemicals like parabens can mimic estrogen in the body. Since endometriosis is an estrogen dependent disease, I thought it made sense for me to avoid these chemicals.

I was upset to discover that the FDA has almost no regulations in place and the cosmetics industry is essentially self-regulated. This means that cosmetics companies are free to put almost anything in their products, even known carcinogens and hormone disruptors. For years I had been unknowingly exposing myself to harmful, toxic chemicals on a daily basis, which undoubtedly played a big role in the advancement of my endometriosis.

I started writing about nontoxic beauty and was encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response I received.

Do you think being a former Miss Canada has helped give you this platform?

I’m so grateful for that experience and definitely think it has allowed me to build the network that I have today. I only wish I had been Miss Canada during the Instagram era so that I could have reached a larger audience.

What advice do you have for a newbie looking to make a transition to nontoxic beauty?

Start slow because it is overwhelming and expensive if you do a complete overhaul of your products. However, once you know the truth about what’s in your products it’s hard to keep using them. I used most of my products until I ran out and then swapped them out. There are places to shop that only sell nontoxic products like The Detox Market and Credo, which take the guesswork out of it for you.

You can also go through all of your products and look them up on the Think Dirty app, which rates products from 1-10 based on toxicity. If they aren’t on Think Dirty, try using the EWG Skin Deep page.

What are your top makeup and skincare products?

Skincare:

Beauty:

What are the top products to avoid?

Baby powder. Recently women with ovarian cancer have been linked to specifically using Johnson & Johnson baby powder. Baby powder has talc, which is often contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen.

Be wary of any products that contain “fragrance.” Brands don’t have to disclose what’s in a fragrance since they can claim it’s proprietary information. Therefore, they often hide harmful ingredients in the fragrance.

Does your dedication to nontoxic beauty extend past skincare and makeup to an overall lifestyle?

It definitely does. I’m not a scientist or a doctor but intuitively I know that our choices are really important for our wellbeing. I want to lead as nontoxic a life as I can. I try to eat organic and make healthy choices, but I definitely have my vices – I love pasta, cheese and chocolate.

Where do you think the nontoxic beauty industry is heading?

I compare it to organic food. People became more conscious of what they were eating and now the organic food market is huge. People care about what they’re putting in their bodies and now they’re starting to think more about what they’re putting on their bodies.

Reproductive issues, autism, chronic illnesses, and cancer are prevalent. Something in our environment is causing us to get sick. People are realizing that the environment – and not just genetics – is playing a critical role. Clean beauty is going to blow up. You have to be careful, though, because a lot of conventional brands are trying to “green wash” their products, which is when they use certain packaging and marketing to pretend they’re more clean than they actually are. Anyone can slap the word “natural” on a product and it doesn’t mean anything.

Talia Eve Schlussel

Talia Eve Schlussel is the founder of Evewear, a sleepwear brand catering to every type of girl. Evewear is committed to sustainability by using only leftover fabric and unused material. Without intervention, these fabrics end up in landfills. Evewear also supports the community in Los Angeles by making all of its clothing locally. The brand has become a favorite of many celebrities and recently pop singer Halsey wore an Evewear pajama set in Vogue. There will be an Evewear pop-up shop in LA at 3118 W Sunset Blvd February 28-March 1 to celebrate the launch of the Spring 2020 collection.

How did you end up founding Evewear?

I was always interested in fashion. I did an internship at Dolce & Gabbana. From that experience I learned that I wanted to work for an American company where all of the creative teams were based in America. I then interned at Ralph Lauren, where I discovered that I wanted to work for a smaller company. I went to Parsons and sustainability became very important to me. I hated the idea of being wasteful. I was that person who couldn’t throw away a rubber band if I thought I could possibly use it later. After Parsons I moved to L.A. and decided to start my own brand. I wanted to make clothes for everyday and not just create special pieces that never get worn. I wanted my art to be lived and not just hung in a closet.

How has your experience been being a young female founder?

On the one hand, it’s very exciting because in our current society, women have a voice and more opportunity. There are companies providing funds for female employees to freeze their eggs now. Even if they have ulterior motives, these companies understand that women bring so much value to the table and should have equal opportunity.

On the other hand, it’s also difficult. My dad is an entrepreneur and he’s my mentor. Without having him as my resource I know it would be a lot harder. For example, if I want to get a temporary real estate lease, he helps negotiate the pop-up space. I’ve learned from other experiences that just by hearing my voice on the phone I’m not going to get anywhere in a real estate negotiation.

Why did you divide the Evewear collections into categories like Tomboy, Free Spirit, Icon, Girl Next Door and Romantic?

At Parsons I learned that when you design, you have to have one particular customer in mind and know her inside out. You make up this fictional person. Does she like to read? Is she a vegan? I never understood this way of thinking. Women are multidimensional. We’re complicated. I didn’t want to meet someone and decide she wasn’t my customer. Instead, I wanted to point her to the collection that might work for her.

What are the constraints of using sustainable materials?

Rolls of fabric are mostly made overseas. Obtaining this fabric is very wasteful because you have to order 55 yards or 110 yards and there is always going to be leftover fabric. I buy the leftover fabric from different warehouses. The biggest constraint of using sustainable materials is that some of the styles that get sold out won’t come back. Once I cut a fabric that’s the end of that fabric. The original fabric can’t be replicated.

What are your short-term and long-term goals?

I recently launched hair clips as one of our accessories. Accessories are more affordable to customers who can’t pay for a pajama set.

Originally when I founded Evewear, I wanted to start with something niche. Long-term, I’d like to expand into going-out clothes and maybe bedding.

What are some of the challenges you’re facing?

When you run a business it’s 24/7. I never realized in my previous jobs that it’s a luxury leaving the office and leaving work there. Being young, I’m still navigating what it means to be a human in the world and now as a business owner I also have to juggle having employees and managing a company.

What’s your advice to someone who is starting a fashion brand?

Listen to your inner voice and answer that inner voice. Everyone will have advice for you but don’t get lost in the sauce.

How do you create a unique voice for your brand?

This brand reflects my inner world: pastels, playful, strong female energy. I saw a quote that resonated with me and it was “My soul is baby pink.” I have a team, but I’m behind every aspect of Evewear.

Ashley Wu

Ashley Wu was working as a fashion writer when she wanted to find a place to work outside of the home. During her search for a co-working space, she found the available options on the Upper East Side uninspiring. At the same time she became a mother and was navigating the challenges of balancing a career with motherhood. She decided to create what she, herself, was craving: a female-focused club where you can go to work, attend an event, or simply have a haven to decompress. She spoke about her vision for Maison and how she turned it into a reality.

How does Maison distinguish itself from the other female-focused co-working spaces?

First, men are allowed and can apply to be members but Maison is a brand that puts moms first. Moms are usually an afterthought. All of our programming takes place after school drop off. Our amenities are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Second, this is the first female-focused club on the Upper East Side. The other clubs are all downtown. And Maison is designed for women further along in their careers, most members are 30-50 years old rather than in their 20s. Other female-focused clubs are centered on how to be more productive and do more with less time. I have a different philosophy at Maison.

What’s your philosophy?

There’s this notion that busy is better. I want to encourage people to slow down. We’ll all be more productive if we prioritize ourselves.

There was a study that found that moms prioritize the following from most important to least important: kids, pets, older relatives, spouses, themselves. The fact that moms rank themselves two tiers below the family pet is shocking and sad.

How does Maison encourage women to prioritize themselves?

This is a place for you to think. You can definitely come to Maison to work. But you can also come here and read for pleasure. Women and especially moms already lead busy and complicated lives. I want Maison to be the break in their day. Maison is defining wellness beyond green juice and yoga.

There are already so many expectations and pressures put on women. Professional productivity is not what gives us value. If I have the space to think about who I am, who I want to be, how I want to raise my kids, and what kind of legacy I want to leave, then I’d consider that a productive use of time.

What kind of programming does Maison offer?

We create partnerships with likeminded organizations and communities. We held an event where we brought in the CEO of Planned Parenthood. We also do fun things like manicures, facials and acupuncture for our members. We’re still figuring out the cadence of our event calendar but we generally plan 2-3 events a week.

How do most members utilize Maison?

The space is flexible – it’s not set up with just a row of desks. Most members work from here. But there’s also wine on tap. Some people stop here on their way home from work and grab a drink before they go home to the chaos. Many members are entrepreneurs so it’s an opportunity for them to interact with other people. There are many moms who took a break from their careers and are now turning passion projects into businesses.