Vista • Fall 2009 • Volume 14 • Number 2
Here are profiles of seven alumnae who have forged bold career paths. Ask any of these young women what has most helped them to get where they are and to aim even higher, and they’ll tell you their Mount Holyoke education was essential to their journey.
Innovator and Entrepreneur
Analisa Balares ’99 | Founder and CEO | Womensphere
Analisa Balares ’99, founder and CEO of Womensphere, describes herself as a Renaissance woman: “I love business and entrepreneurship, the arts and literature, science and technology, public policy. I love tackling a myriad of problems—from fighting poverty to empowering women, to educating underprivileged children, to environmental stewardship.”
Womensphere embodies Balares’s passions and ambitions. A network of more than 7,100 women leaders from many fields, including business, law, public policy, education, science, media, and the arts, it brings together communities of women through conferences, educational programs, and media around the themes of leadership, career development, innovation, and entrepreneurship. “At Womensphere, we create opportunities, we unleash potential, and we inspire impact,” she said. “Living by this mission is most exciting!”
Balares grew up in the Philippines, raised by parents who impressed upon her the necessity of working hard for what you want in life. Her parents, neither of whom had finished high school, also modeled a deep appreciation for education. She earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and worked for several years at Microsoft and Goldman Sachs before launching Womensphere in 2007.
At Mount Holyoke, Balares majored in economics and mathematics and was actively involved in debate and public speaking. “Having a rich liberal arts background is truly key to what I am doing now, as the CEO of an independent media company, as publisher of cutting-edge literature for women, and as a convener of global summits focused on leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation, and social change,” she said.
After graduating in 1999, Balares founded the Lyons Network, a student-run leadership and career mentoring organization for young women. She remains deeply devoted to the college that supported her own leadership aspirations—and offered her a life-changing scholarship. “There’s a soul to Mount Holyoke,” she said. “The reason I keep coming back is because Mount Holyoke has preserved its soul. It hasn’t lost sight of its compass or its spirit. That keeps me and so many other alumnae coming back again and again.”
Educating Afghan Women
Sadiqa Basiri Saleem FP’09 | Founder | Oruj Learning Center
This past March, Sadiqa Basiri Saleem FP’09 took a break from her senior-year course work to be honored by the Vital Voices Global Partnership alongside Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other international women leaders in Washington, D.C. A month later, she received the prestigious $10,000 Samuel Huntington Public Service Award sponsored by National Grid. Then, just three weeks before graduation, Newsweek published a feature article about her. All these accolades were in recognition of her extraordinary efforts to educate women in her homeland of Afghanistan.
Before the Taliban forced her Afghan-run university in Pakistan to close, Basiri Saleem planned to become a gynecologist. After the fall of the Taliban in 2002, she returned to Afghanistan and, by pooling her savings with those of a few other women, founded a school for girls in the remote village of Godah. With help from family, friends, and donors, that effort—known as the Oruj Learning Center—expanded to six schools educating more than 2,700 girls and four literacy centers serving 200 women throughout the Wardak province.
Basiri Saleem came to MHC in 2005 through the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, a program that connects highly motivated Afghan women with American colleges and universities. “Though I already had established girls’ schools, my scope was limited,” she said. “Here is where my true leadership skills developed.”
Now, degree in hand, Basiri Saleem, who majored in international relations, is heading home with plans to expand a program for gifted students and establish two new schools for returnees and internally displaced persons. She notes—with regret—that women’s education is now a controversial issue in Afghanistan. “But this does not stop me from moving forward,” she said. “I remain committed to my goal, since I see the interest of my people in it. And in addition to establishing primary schools, I hope to follow in the footsteps of [MHC founder] Mary Lyon by founding the first Afghan Women’s Leadership Institute to train college-age women in management, leadership, advocacy, and lobbying skills.”
Mount Holyoke College • Vista
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