Monday, October 1, 2018

Say it Forward


Sharon d'Agostino of Say It Forward is all about making change happen, by passing the mic. Here is her story.


Could you start by telling us a bit about your childhood and growing years, work and education?
That’s a big question! I was blessed to have grown up in a loving family in a small town in the state of New Jersey, in the United States.  My parents worked hard to ensure that my brother and I had a much better childhood than either of them had had, and they believed in the importance of education.  I cannot say enough positive things about the love that my parents shared with my brother and with me, or about how much I loved having a younger brother.
Family was very important in my formative years.  Our Gram, and most of our aunts, uncles and cousins lived relatively nearby and Sundays were often spent visiting them.
Like anyone who is fortunate enough to go to college, that experience opened my world, transformed my views, and presented opportunities I would have never imagined.  My first job after completing my undergraduate degree was teaching in a school for girls.  I loved it.  Several years later, I completed an MBA and then spent many years working in the private sector.  The people with whom I worked were terrific, and I learned so much with and from them.

What inspired the birth of SayItForward.org? Could you take us through the journey?
In communities close to home or across the globe, I have been moved by the individual and collective challenges that women and girls face in recognizing and claiming their personal talents and strengths.  I know that families, communities, and countries are stronger when women and girls are equal partners in decision-making and governing. While many people believe that the empowerment of women and girls is an issue in other places, in places far from their own home or neighborhood, I believe that gender inequality is a global issue that, to varying degrees, affects us all.  While there are extreme variations in the levels of inequality women & girls face in families and communities globally, can any of us name a long list of places where true equality exists?
Over the years, I often found encouragement and inspiration listening to stories told by or about my Mom, aunts, grandmothers, cousins and friends.  Listening to stories of other women’s experiences taught me, first and foremost, that I was not alone in some of my experiences or fears. 
Three years ago, talking with a dear friend, I realized that I could do more to support the empowerment of women and girls.  The idea came in a flash - create a web-based place where any and every woman and girl could share her unique story (or stories) of overcoming whatever once hindered her from pursuing her dreams.  I reached out to a few other friends, women and men, who quickly helped launch SayItForward.org.  I am so very grateful to each of them and celebrate them on the website.  And, of course, I am deeply grateful to those who had the courage to share their stories on the site.

What are some of your key milestones / anecdotes in your journey so far?
It seems that my personal journey to empowerment has been an ongoing series of opportunities and decisions made over the course of my life, steps and missteps that either advanced my sense of empowerment or temporarily stalled it.  The most frequent missteps were decisions I made to make others happy instead of making the decision that I actually thought was best.  I learned some painful lessons from those decisions, and still do! 

What have some of your challenges been, in the journey so far? How have you / are you addressing them?
In launching SayItForward.org there have not been challenges, really, but many opportunities.  As of the end of August, 2018, women and girls from 40 countries have posted their stories at SayItForward.org – most in English but also in 6 other languages.  We want to increase awareness of the site, reaching many more women and girls, encouraging them to read stories and hopefully decide to share one of their own.  We welcome stories from everywhere, in every language, understanding that the most authentic version of our story is told in the language of our heart.
We reach women and girls through collaborations with individuals and organizations, and through our social media platforms we share stories that have been posted.  Readers can find us on Twitter as @SayItForwardNow … on Facebook as SayItForwardNow… and on Instagram as @SayItForwardNow.
We recognize that some stories are intensely personal and so women and girls can choose to share their stories anonymously if they wish.  We wanted to create a safe, judgment-free space, so no one can comment on another person’s story – no ratings, no criticisms, no evaluation. 

What keeps you going?
What keeps me going is the core belief that within each of us, regardless of age or gender, we are stronger than we imagine.  We can inspire each other to overcome fear, adversity, self-limiting beliefs or any situations that keep us from living to our full potential.  I believe in the power of storytelling to support and encourage each other on our respective paths to empowerment.  THIS is what keeps me going. 
I have never met a woman or girl whose story did not inspire me.  Not ever.  When we are very young, our parents, relatives, and family friends tell us stories about our earliest days, and those stories shape our perceptions of ourselves.  I am excited to give girls and women the opportunity to craft and tell their own stories about who they are and whom they want to be. 
I am so inspired by the women and girls who have posted their stories on SayItForward.org, and also by comments we receive from women who have visited the site.  Here are a few examples…
… "Thank you for creating this safe place for all of us to tell our story and know, we are not alone."
… “Your website is wonderful, what a great way to instill a glimmer of hope for those feelings so lonely and trapped."
… “Thank you. I've been carrying this story around with me since I was a teenager, and it was such a relief to tell it. I never had anyone who I thought would care"

What are your aspirations for SayItForward.org? Do you have particular goals in the next few years?
Through the power of storytelling, SayItForward.org celebrates the strength, determination and triumphs of women and girls on their path to empowerment.  My first goal is to keep this celebration going, to encourage every girl and every woman to recognize and claim her power to achieve her biggest, boldest dreams. That’s a BIG, heartfelt goal!
My second goal is another big goal - to encourage women and girls from EVERY country to share one or more of their stories.  I think that for every human being—girl, woman, boy, man—there’s a part of us that feels very much alone, even when we are surrounded by family and friends. We are not sure that anyone else is having the experience we are having, or facing the struggles we face. I believe there is great power in storytelling, in having others understand that someone else has gone through this experience, and this is the story of how she triumphed.  Storytelling can advance their own sense of empowerment and support the empowerment of others.
I also hope the stories posted on SayItForward.org will inspire engagement with organizations that support the empowerment of women and girls in communities everywhere.
How can we, as citizens, engage with SayItForward.org?  
I invite you to visit the website and read or listen to the diverse voices and experiences of the remarkable women and girls (and even a few men) who have shared their stories.  Then, I hope you will consider sharing one of YOUR stories that highlights an aspect of your path to empowerment.  EVERY one of you has an inspiring story to share – of that I am absolutely certain.     
I also invite you to consider our vision… We envision a world where every woman and every girl recognizes and claims her rights and her power to achieve her biggest, boldest dreams.  
We stand with women and girls, and with the many not-for-profit organizations that work on their behalf, and that is an amazing place to stand.  We invite everyone reading this interview to stand with us.