Máirín Murray – Technology’s ethics evangelist.

SheroTales

I don’t have one hat that will fit Máirín Murray. She is a constant source of creativity and refreshing changes for the Irish society. She is an educator, digital leader, activist, Tedx speaker, and an ex-BBC producer.

I met Máirín while doing the Twitter challenge held by Ciara Kelly – #100daysofwalking. Where there is a movement for the good (and in Ireland), you are most likely to bump into her. She currently inspires us with her attempts over the summer at 5am waking up and staying off digital until 6pm!

When a digital creator and innovator advocates and leads by example to go ‘off digital’ at least a few hours every day, you get a sense of the conscience behind technology. Not surprisingly, Máirín’s background includes philosophy as well as technology. Harnessing technology for making the world a better place has always been her mantra.

She was one of the founding members of ‘Refugees Welcome’ Northern Ireland which was part of a Europe-wide project to help citizens connect and support refugees and asylum seekers.  She’s the co-founder of Tech for Good Dublin. She recently launched TechFoundHer aimed at celebrating female tech leaders. This is while she manages her digital content studio – Digital Doddle.

Máirín became an advocate for ‘Tech for Good’ on her career path which includes working as Senior Producer for BBC’s digital youth service – Blast to her work today.  She started out as a young teenager volunteering at Belfast’s community video unit and doing some radio packages for BBC NI’s Bottom Line. With graduation in philosophy from Trinity College Dublin, she completed a Masters at Manchester University researching art and conflict – which she said was a bit of a detour.    Coming from County Down, she has always been interested in the nature of the societal division, how debate can become polarised and the flip side of how dialogue can support respect for difference.

In 2000 she completed her masters in multimedia systems which was perfect as it combined her passion for storytelling with her science side – at school her favourite subject was Physics. Her career took off, working at the BBC first in Belfast and then London developing digital platforms and campaigns that supported inclusion and learning.

Finally, she took the plunge to start her own production company that is today’s Digital Doddle – a tech for good agency specialising in designing and implementing ‘purpose-led’ projects. As an ‘ethics evangelist’, she probably is the biggest advocate in Ireland, of channeling technology as an enabler for social impact and positive change. Today, more than ever, that is the focus we need to bring in every corner of the world. Technology is growing by leaps and bounds and there is no going back for us. So, paths of technology paved with the end motive of a better impact for society is crucial for generations to follow.

In July 2019, she gave the Tedx talk with her co-founder Ellen Ward on ‘Community + Technology = Positive Social Change’. She, along with Ellen started the venture ‘ Tech for Good Dublin’ which is a group that believes in the power of technology to positively impact people, communities, and the planet. As a group, they have launched and participated in a multitude of events that focus on creativity, sustainability, and society. Tech for Good Dublin has also been an active and constant member of The Good Summit – an event held by Trinity College, Ireland to bring together the people who do things differently.

In February 2020, Máirín launched TechFoundHer with a mission to support other women entrepreneurs and women in tech. TechFoundHer is a community by women for women building solidarity between women leaders in tech locally and globally.

Speaking on her constant efforts in evolving the Dublin tech community, Mairin says ‘I want to play a part in nurturing a creative community that’s supportive of different ideas and celebrates and builds on each other’s successes – together, there is a lot more we can achieve!’

She was featured among the 50 people ‘to watch’ by The Irish Times..but with her ‘positivity as a purpose and technology as a tool for it’ agenda for life, I would feature her in a ‘to follow’ list!

Herstory – Pushpa Preeya – Dream enabler for the Disabled.

PushpaPreeya Scribe

Stories of how women fought against their odds and worked on themselves have inspired many like me and my friends. Pushpa’s story is slightly different in that – for more than a decade, she has been invested in the upliftment of people around her.

All it took was one conversation on a bus when she learned that the visually impaired people often struggle to write exams and therefore find themselves unemployed or underemployed. Having faced financial hardships herself, she wanted ‘better’ for others. That conversation led her to enroll as a ‘scribe’ (one who writes exams on behalf of someone else) that very day.

“I can write only 2 exams a day – and that doesn’t amount to much. I took the step nevertheless as it might help the situation of at least those two,” she says recalling her initial days of scribing in 2007. So, from then, while working a 9-5 job that barely kept herself going, she volunteered for evening colleges and weekend exams. 

From entrance exams, bank tests and college exams – she has by now written 700 exams for the visually impaired, people suffering from cerebral palsy and people with down syndrome. During COVID times, she has written 10 exams already when I had this conversation with her (which has been a while now!).

When I asked her how she was able to commit to all of this she said that she was only ‘paying forward’. Pushpa’s father was bedridden for almost a decade before his demise in 2018 and her mother’s meagre income could not afford continuous schooling for her or her brother. She and her brother worked part time and did summer jobs to manage their daily expenses. They started working odd jobs at the age of fifteen and yet a simple ailment or hospitalisation in the family would often end up dropping out of school for not paying the fees.

She recalls an incident where she was refused to write her final exam and their acquaintance, Mr. Vasu, who suffered from polio, voluntarily paid her fees. That one gesture stayed with her all these years and encouraged her to relentlessly work for others.

Her dedication was acknowledged by the President of India when she was chosen for the ‘Nari Shakthi Puraskar’ award in 2018.

She has not stepped back in contributing whilst facing her own losses. She lost her brother in February 2020. She was very much attached to her brother and his loss affected her deeply. However, she found solace continuing her commitment to this cause of upliftment of society around her.

What is it like? I ask her – to be in the middle of such an emotional turmoil and still undertake what could be a defining moment for someone else?

“In India, the visually impaired have requested the ability to write an exam but when they go on a scribe hunt it is not so easy. Their reach, volunteers’ availability and the logistics all have their own complications. But it is a gratifying feeling that we are the reason for someone’s graduation or someone’s career. That one hour of listening to and writing for them often results in a life-saving moment for them.”

“I remember this visually impaired guy who was a ‘beggar’ and was refused to be seated inside the college. I wrote the exam for him sitting in the corridor of that college. To understand that from such difficulties he wanted to rise enough to do college education and to imagine that one day perhaps because of my one hour, he would have landed a job or a livelihood – that was an elevating moment personally.”

So, is it just scribing? No. She is in a constant loop of activities that help the people around her. If she is not scribing, she is coordinating for blood donations or lending a shoulder for aspiring amputee runners. During COVID lockdown, when any normal person was finding grocery shopping a bit difficult, she was busy smoothening the process for the visually impaired. She is also looking at establishing community-based services such as libraries and caring for the elderly.

She is opposed to the concept of NGOs. Instead, she wants to empower those who struggle and enable them to thrive in society. While scribing helps them in completing an exam and qualifying for a job, it is still not enough for their sustenance. Her next project (which she has already started working on) is to create employment for 100s of disabled people.

What started as a ‘one woman’s effort’ is now wonderfully blossoming into an enterprise. Her journey of being the hands and eyes of people who struggle with their difficulties has now transformed into being the voice for the underprivileged in society.

Her logic is that ‘everyone is capable of something and when we apply that to the benefit of others – it opens up a world of positivity and possibilities.’ ‘This is only the beginning of my dream and I cannot take it further without the help of good-hearted people out there’ she says about her dream venture.

I was awed by Pushpa’s energy and persistence in making the world around her a better place – one person at a time. Her enthusiasm for this sort of selfless service was infectious. It was genuinely a very humbling moment for me to realise that Pushpa’s dream was to enable the lesser privileged to dream and to empower them to live those dreams. Her beautiful mind, compassionate heart and hard-working hands build a haven for the disabled.

Sangeetha Janachandran – Metamorphosing Movie Marketing in Mollywood

Stories Social

Writing about Sangeetha Janachandran – is like telling the story of the storyteller. A PhD scholar in Social Media and Communications, whose thesis on the ‘Evolution of communication in the age of social media-a case study of Kerala’, was one of the initial researches in Bangalore University on social media – she has been invested in storytelling and social media from the age of Orkut and Blogging.

Being the topper in Calicut university in BA Functional English and in Bangalore university for MS Communication -her laurels in literature and studies could in itself account for a story. But I’m more fascinated in the journey of this ‘butterfly’ (her blogworld name from 2008) – who would hug and talk for endless hours, who would blog so melodiously about hand-picked songs and sing for you whenever you ask, who would have adorable pet names for each one in the group like luttapi, chakkara, muthu and call them all with equal passion! Her warmth and compassion for every single person in her journey cannot be contained in the words here – if you have been a part of her journey, you would just know.

I’m fascinated with the metamorphosis of this carefree butterfly into the ‘penning butterfly’ of Malayalam Movie Marketing. Movie Marketing across India is a male-dominated industry with a few exceptions. Mollywood alone has very few females like Seetha Lakshmi, Manju Gopinath, Athira Diljith and Sangeetha Janachandran (Stories Social) as the marketing and media planners of movies.

Publicity and promotions of movies in Kerala has evolved much from the simple poster designing and televised interviews to a vast expanse of activities. Sangeetha takes the untrodden route of the complete gamut of online + traditional movie marketing here. While the rest primarily focus on media co-ordinations. Stories Social does entire movie marketing and communications- it encompasses PR, Social Media, Offline Activations, Alternate Platform TieUps, service provider tie ups, Digital and OTT. The efforts behind such a coordination is more than what I can list here and to take the onus of that single-handedly and come out successful is admirable. Stories Social was launched in May, 2020 amidst all the chaos of Coronavirus! In one of her interviews recently, the host describes her as a ‘pheonix’ rather than a butterfly – and I should say I’m tempted to steal those words.

Sangeetha took a very conscious and bold choice as she stepped into handling celebrity accounts, Kochi Music Foundation and W.C.C. All of it had endless online, verbal abuse and she took it all in as she managed these accounts. Malayalam movie buffs should ideally take pride in educated women like her who carve spaces for the future females and explore the unexplored roles behind the screen – but as you can see that doesn’t happen here. Having a female voice in promoting movies is more critical than we can imagine because movies often mould the minds of the young and how you project them, makes a lot of difference to the society.

Opening up on her journey through these less travelled roads  – Sangeetha said that she has been working as a communications professional handling PR and corporate communications since 2006 soon after her MS in Communications. The academic in her couldn’t help commenting to make a note that it is not MA (the art of communication) but the science of communication she took up 😊. She was picked as one of the 10 staff in India of Vox Public Relations(subsidiary of Text 100 Public relations) and started her stint of PR in the software industry with IT giants like IBM, BMW and American Express Bank.

2008 was a major turn in her life with a brief but hard struggle with tuberculosis and a sudden arranged marriage which took her to Dubai. While she was on a break from work for her son’s birth and initial few months, she continued to freelance and study just to stay connected. In Dubai, she worked for the Kalyan Jewellers family and other brands Like Aster group through an agency and got her first film – Odiyan. In 2013, she reapplied for a PhD in Bangalore University and moved to Bangalore to complete the course.  This bit, albeit sounding like a cake walk – was the walk on fire that would strengthen her. Her lone days prepared her for starting afresh and alone with her child in Cochin.

2018 – a decade later, she found another turn. The public hatred that her soul sister and actress Parvathy Thiruvothu and W.C. C received impacted her deep enough to volunteer for them as their social media manager. What ensued was unbelievable verbal abuse from the public. While I could sum the event in 10 words – it is much harder to explain what one emotionally undergoes. All the negativity and abuse for something we did not do or for a cause we dared to stand up for. It is extremely easy for many to brush WCC off as an unwanted ‘feminist’ fashion. It is tough to convince that people who fight for the cause of justice for females in the movie industry today, very well knowingly take the heat for making the place better for future generations.

Sangeetha’s immensely grateful to her parents and sister for the freedom they gave in making these choices and the trust they had in her all along. It wasn’t easy and they feared for her health, but they gave the wings to her dreams by being the pillar she needed at all times.

2018 also gave Sangeetha the film ‘Uyare’ which was her first independent project. She calls Uyare ‘her bravest and most precious first in her journey’ as she found a foothold after deciding to start on her own and years of abandonment that came along with that hard decision. From there, it was a steady stream of beautiful projects like Kochi Music Foundation, Virus, Android Kunjappan version 5.25, Anugraheethan Antony, Aaha, One Movie, Minnal Murali, Varthamanam etc. As she weaves out beautiful stories for each one of her projects giving them the much-deserved zenith of success in people’s heart and box offices, she says that she picks projects that tell a good story!

“I thrive in stories. I always have and you would know. My email signature is ‘we are the stories we tell ourselves’ – and I believe in that”. We all do I thought as she said her signature line. We all love stories. But, to be able to fall and pick up ourselves with a new story and to weave loads of positive ones out there for everyone else while getting a steady stream of negativity is not an easy story in itself 😊 While Sangeetha and her ‘Stories Social’ take wings in the Malayalam movie industry, here is hope that Kerala will have many proud, progressive, feminist stories for the future. 

Work From Home

work from home

I’m sure many of you may be working from home and although it may appear to reduce your travel time and hassle, it comes with its own setbacks. While a one-off ‘work from home’ may sound fun, an extended period may affect our schedules. Here are few tips – among the many that’s floating the web already.

1.      Start your day as normal: In some cases, it might be the half an hour to dress up and make it to office and for some it might be more than an hour to take care of family, cooking or driving/travelling. Whatever your routine, continue the same and replace the drive/travel time with maybe some exercise, reading or meditation. Freshen up and start at your desk feeling fresh.

2.      Design/Decor your workplace: I know its temporary, but each day is important. So, create the ambience you have at your desk back in office. Ensure the right posture for your seating arrangements, have enough water by your side, ensure the light and noise doesn’t disrupt work. For those similar to my case where the kitchen is nearby, ensure that your work-space aroma is not that of the food from the kitchen!

3.      Set alarms for break times: When we all work from home, we tend to take breaks at odd times – this however should not affect the person who must respond to multiple people aligning with their timings. Ensure that you step away from the screen during tea and lunch breaks, take time to prepare a coffee or lunch or have a brisk walk. Have stretch breaks every hour. Remember to hydrate

4.      Manage family time: It is very hard with children and pets around to set the expectation that you will be near and yet unavailable. While it is hard, children (and pets for that matter) are resilient and get more easily adapted to a new routine than they agree, or you can imagine. If they are old enough, set them up on their course work through the apps out there and give them enough intervals with least dependency on you. Key is to get them to understand that the routine is such that you are available only after the regular work hours. If your child is too young to manage, you can share the hours with your partner in managing the child.

5.      Eat healthy: It is very easy to hog on snacks as you try and manage your kid’s interruptions with treats. It is not only important for your health due to work from home but also to build your immunity to fight against any sort of flu. Eat only during the breaks/time you allow yourself. Avoid processed/sweet food. Cook a proper meal. Try and include some of the following in your food/snack daily – fresh fruit/fresh vegetables, pulses/legumes, almonds, sesame seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek, coconut, rice flakes, ghee, pepper, ginger, jaggery.

6.      Communication: It is very important to continue that informal chitchat you have with your colleagues even while working remotely. There are many channels out there – from Microsoft teams to Gchat to watsapp groups. Check in with your friends, have video calls and voice calls – but keep the chatter and laughter going!

7.      End your day as normal: It is important to step up if there is an emergency or a last-minute task. It is also important that you log off as normal, go for a walk, freshen up before getting back to your family. Do not miss out on the sunshine on your skin (without getting anywhere near the crowd) 😊

Sreesha Ravindran – From Obstacles to Opportunities and Onward

Sreesha Ravindran - From Obstacles to Opportunities and Onward

Before I introduce Sreesha, I have to introduce Palakkad during a period we (our gen :D) grew up there. Back then, the place in itself was poetic with its large stretches of paddy fields, hills in the distance and a fair share of rivers. While we ‘Palakkadans’ take pride in our land, ‘lady-like’ had its own definition there (much more hardwired into the society than even our neighbouring towns like Trissur or Kochi) If you do not live up to it, you were scorned upon, repeatedly chided on the topic and talked about and talked to until you do.

When I saw that the FIRST INDIAN WOMAN TO BE VOTED FOR ARCTIC POLAR EXPEDITION 2020 – Sreesha Ravindran was from Palakkad – I knew that it had to be a handful for her. I knew that while you may get the heart of a trekker looking at the mountains from a distance – Palakkad doesn’t offer much of a help. From attitudes on upbringing to the terrain – it is hard to get in the practice the activity requires. In my curiosity, I reached out to her to understand her journey. Not surprisingly, the path she carved for herself is as awesome as any of these wild and beautiful treks she took.

In Europe (or anywhere outside South of India I guess) it is very common to find trekkers with unimaginable goals and accomplishments and to me, Sreesha stood out because she found her way onwards and upwards from a society that pulled her down with harsh criticisms, from obesity that set in soon after pregnancy, from a concrete jungle with little space for uphill treks and from a demanding routine of a full time job + family.

And as if she did not have enough on her hands already 😊 she loves Bharatanatyam and follows that too with an equal love. It is interesting though that she found a way to incorporate her dance practice as a strengthening exercise for her treks.

In senior high school, when she visited Kulu Manali as part of a school trip – she realised that the Mountains are her calling. But more than the activity of trekking which needs a lot of endurance, it was the societal pressure, time and practice grounds that were daunting in the beginning.

From her school days, until marriage – her dad took her every year to either the Himalayas or the Western Ghats. After marriage and delivery, she had to take a break of 3.5 years – partly succumbing to the societal pressure of ‘being there for the family’ and being a woman. But she is grateful to her family and friends to have come out of the shell, realizing that being for oneself and one’s family is not mutually exclusive.

The below picture gives a snapshot of her adventures that I’ve managed to put together one bit a time.

Mountains Climbed

Living in Bangalore, as a full time Tax Manager and a mother of a seven-year-old boy is a trek in itself – let alone finding the time and strength for passions and pursuits. To be able to juggle in that atmosphere is an art that most women admire.

I’m sure that from a society that kept asking her “WHY do you do that” she may find a society that wonders “HOW do you do that” 😊 My personal wonder at this young girl is how she bends her obstacles to pave her path and how she blends the demanding routine into her working day.

She has convinced (not an easy task) her husband to be her ‘partner’ without whose help she would not be able to leave behind a demanding 7-year-old and daily chores of the household to walk up a hill. To allow the little one as much time as she can and to make him feel a part of her journey, she takes him on all her practices – yoga, dance, swimming.

Bangalore city doesn’t offer much uphill opportunities and so she runs up and down the stairs of her apartment and office with a 9kg bag on her back. To be able to tackle the breathing at high altitudes, she practices Yoga and pranayama in particular. To gain muscle strength and continue her passion for dance, she builds in 6 hours of dance practice over the weekend. About two months before her trek, she swims for an hour and half every day to get her strength and cardio training in.

She is grateful for the kind of support she is getting from Ernst & Young where she works as a Tax Manager as well. They realised her passion and provided her a global platform to showcase her pursuits and seek votes from supportive employees.

True passion and great achievements often call for a commitment on an hourly, daily basis. To be able to put in those hours on an everyday basis, to strike at things despite the scorns and scares – is an achievement in itself. Hailing from Palakkad and having an ambition of this measure, I probably can assume that Sreesha doesn’t have many role models to look up to. But I certainly have one in her.

There are some of us who have dreams in the distant and who wait for the day to put down what is in the hand at the moment to pick it up later. We feel the grind is the pressing need and the dream is a luxury we cannot afford. For us, people like Sreesha sets an example. For me hailing from Kerala and adopting Bangalore as my foster city – Sreesha is a pride I would like to see win this and many other milestones in her future. 

Mountains climbed

The Lady with the Headscarf in Irish Business

Furkan Karayel, Inclusive Leader Advisor at Diversein

Originally published here: https://www.diversein.com/post/her-story-the-lady-with-the-headscarf-in-irish-business

Diversity Inclusion – Furkan Karayel – one would wonder which symbolises the other here in Dublin. From the ‘lady with the scarf’ who had questions on inclusion at a conference to the ‘Judge’ who announced that she would be biased towards ideas that stood for inclusion of the ‘diverse’ population – it is Furkan’s indomitable spirit that one can see.

Until now, in this series I have been inspired by women and then reach out to them for interviews and in the process a camaraderie is formed. With Furkan, her infectious smile and ever readiness to help- it was friendship first. While I’m proud of that – I do know that with every person she comes across she has this instant connect.

To introduce Furkan – she is a ‘tech woman’ – the first of the surprises that her community had. But breaking the stereotype was just the beginning. Furkan reminisces of the interview she had in high school and when she was asked the question of what she wanted to become when she grew-up. While that is one of the most typical question one comes across growing up – ‘software engineer’ wasn’t considered a typical answer from a girl in her neighbourhood. She was laughed at!

Growing up with six siblings in Giresun, Turkey – neither did Furkan have a female role model (in technology) nor much company. She was alone in her love and aspirations in technology and was even laughed at by her society in wanting to step into it. From her college in Istanbul where she learnt software engineering to the C-Suite in Europe – she’s yet to find a lady with a headscarf.

‘It baffled me’, she said ‘when my teacher whom I believed in told me to – come back to reality – when I told her about my aspirations in technology’. However, one step at a time it was and her first baby step into becoming Ireland’s Tech Trailblazer was to say “IT is my dream and I dare to dream”.

Although she excelled in her space of tech, winning multiple awards, Furkan realised that the bias that existed during her own journey and the others she saw around her, should be done away with.

So why this fight? Why is it so important to see more women in tech? How does it matter to her? ‘Today’s world is driven by technology and if you do not have passengers with different perspectives, you may not be able to navigate it for the benefit of all. Yes, I’d like to see and have more women as colleagues, counterparts and competitors. Yes, I’d want women in head scarfs at the top game, in the c-suite acting as role models for those everywhere to perceive such roles as ‘closer reality’.

But more importantly, if a section of the society doesn’t understand the mainstream language, the society in its turn tends to not understand the section. And it is from this need to see more women and head scarfs that the idea of any type of diversity in inclusion stemmed.

“In a strange sense it is the ‘survival of the fittest’ game. If anyone and everyone gets to be in the game and thrive efficiently irrespective of their origin or history or any factor that do not directly contribute to the nature of the job– the likes of them will have more hopes and chances. ‘If I stop working despite my passion for technology, it is a loss for the field, the society and my own community.’ In order to be able to move forward as a larger community, it is essential that we foster true passion and potential and do that taking all the extra steps we may need.” Furkan stresses.

So what earned Furkan the ‘trailblazer’ fame? Here I’m not referring to one award. Counting the nominations and awards for herself and Diverse In there are a list of them.

I’m referring to the track that she has set in this country and made her name synonymous with the thought of ‘diversity in inclusion’.

Was it overnight? If you imagined years or months – here comes the surprise – It was indeed overnight. Of course the track she built brick by brick over these couple of years but the turn she took into setting up ‘Diversity in Inclusion’ was overnight.

In June 2018, Furkan sat the entire night thinking about how she should work on it and built her website. From 11 pm in the night to 8 am the next morning – she built the idea, found a domain name, created the website, created the logo and set up her social media accounts.

Today – two years later, that website and domain name has conducted over 9 events, published 120+ articles, has 20 ambassadors from 5 countries.

Furkan herself is part of the advisory board with UK based “Women in STEM”, she is the Dublin chapter lead for Sprinters (female founders organization globally). She is the Advisory Board Member of InspiringSTEM network.
‘Another very rewarding role personally is the career guidance I get to give to high school students in Turkey whenever I go home’, she says. ‘Young girls have all sorts of questions and dreams and there is a sense of responsibility, pride and gratitude to be able to tell them – Dream big and dare to dream so’.

We both smile knowingly as she says this. We have all been there – that stage of apprehension, that stage of being lost or feeling alone in a crowd because you dressed different, you prayed different or you behaved different. We have all been there wondering if you should fit in or stand out. If you would be accepted if you fitted in but loose your essence or if you would be left alone if you stood out.

It is few who take the ropes and fight against odds to build the ship and take in one and all in the journey to the future. In that, Furkan Karayel, is a true trail blazer.