I am very sensitive to the fact that millions of women on every continent suffer through things like domestic violence, genital mutilation, and arranged marriage. In 2020, we should be discussing how women and girls can be healthy, educated, and following their dreams and not hear of concepts like bride selling and tribal persecution. Communities, society and politicians should tirelessly help address the root causes of inequality and spread awareness. I believe that we are on the right path for female empowerment and equality already, albeit only in first world countries. Females in third world countries need us desperately and the focus on empowerment and equality should be on them
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tsvetta Kaleynska.
Tsvetta Kaleynska is a SaaS consultant, TV commentator, and author on the topics of Artificial Intelligence and technology and their impact on international development and safety. She is the founder of RILA GLOBAL CONSULTING, a boutique consultancy in New York City. Kaleynska is fluent in five languages.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Thank you for the great opportunity! This is such a big question, I don’t even know where to start. I was born in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria and raised during the post-communist era after 1989 and early democracy. These were challenging times in Bulgaria. I think the circumstances caused me to grow up relatively quickly and learn a lot about the world. During these major transformations, the Peace Corps started a large volunteer operation in my hometown. With the help of many volunteers, I was able to learn English and participate in their female empowerment camps, an experience that helped put me on a lucky track in life. After I graduated high school in 2008, I moved to the United States with a scholarship and have lived in New York City ever since.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Girls Leading Our World Association (GLOW) aims to unleash the full potential in adolescent females between the ages 14–18 and to develop them as future leaders. GLOW, originally a Peace Corps initiative, currently has a footprint in multiple countries with thousands of alumni. I became involved with the Bulgarian chapter in 2002, initially as a participant, and have been a Goodwill ambassador ever since. The change and impact this leadership academy and many of its participants have had on my life and journey has been unparalleled.
GLOW is a week-long camp that takes place in Bulgaria during the summer. Over 70 campers come from all parts of the country and from various backgrounds. Most of the girls attending face financial hardships so the camp is an opportunity for them to explore new concepts, meet new people, and travel outside of their hometown or village. The camp is scholarship-based so all attendees are pretty motivated and eager to expand their knowledge. Among the topics covered during the camp are sexual and mental health, presentation skills, development of civil society, identity finding, and values. The camp is conducted entirely in English and ultimately, after a week-long experience, these girls leave with more knowledge, confidence, and desire to be the drivers of change in their communities and to help others.
The leadership academy also helps females to make informed decisions and become active citizens in their societies. Some of the girls come from large cities; however, many come from remote areas and from various ethnic backgrounds. For them, things like marriage, education, and family planning come with archaic and stereotypical expectations. GLOW helps them break through those stereotypes and help them view possibilities for themselves in the world in a more expansive context. The camp has a huge network of mentors and partnering organizations so after the week-long academy is over, we continue engaging with them through mentorship, internship placements, and others.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
As a female and someone who witnessed a lot of economic disparity at an early age, I always felt compelled to find a way to help others. I was lucky to be introduced to the Peace Corps, learn English, and participate in GLOW. I think if my life path had never crossed with the Peace Corps in my hometown I probably would never have learned English well enough to get a scholarship and move abroad. I would never have become who I am. The American volunteers inspired me with their endless positivity and hope that the best was yet to come, that I could achieve my dreams despite starting out in a tiny town in Bulgaria and coming from an economically humble background. Once I participated in GLOW and learned more about the challenges other girls like myself face all over the world, it was like a calling I had to follow — to help girls all over Bulgaria and beyond to lead healthy, happy, and informed lives. Informed of all the possibilities they have and helping them make meaningful and significant choices to enhance the lives of those around them, as well as themselves.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I cannot agree more. For many years I was always thinking about how much more I have to work on my soft skills, knowledge, and to get more experience before embarking on my path of entrepreneurship. I spent what seemed like endless years on student visas and H1B employer visas. I felt like a little mouse navigating the immigration maze, finding one dead end after another. When I finally made my way to an exit from the maze, I found ahead of me a world full of opportunities in the United States that led me on this entrepreneurial quest. I wanted to earn the right to my stay here by doing it the “right” way, not the “easy” way, and I worked incredibly hard to get there. At one point, I had lost almost all hope until I received the best advice from my mentor, Therese Steen, who told me, “The harder you work, the luckier you get”. And she was right! I managed to not only earn my green card the right way but I also opened my own consultancy within a year after that. There was no single “aha” moment per se — it was a series of “aha” moments that really showed me what one might be capable of when they put their mind and soul into it.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I honestly think that many do not know how to approach entrepreneurship because of their fear of failure. And it is a normal feeling to have, especially given the times we live in. The best advice and steps anyone can take are to come up with a plan and work tirelessly to turn it into reality. If that plan doesn’t work out, try another, and yet another. As Ayn Rand said “The Question Isn’t Who Is Going to Let Me, It’s Who Is Going to Stop Me”. Find one or two mentors who can help guide you in the steps needed to start a new organization from scratch. There are multiple resources online and lessons from many different people who have done it — invest time in diving deeper into existing resources. Write a business plan. Share the plan with multiple people to gather their feedback. There are free resources available at the city and state level too on how to start an organization, step-by-step guides, etc. Just make a plan and go for it!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I have had so many incredible experiences throughout my journey. One that stands out was my getting a callout for the GLOW camp by former First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Embarrassingly, there is more than one funny mistake I can share. 🙂 The best one though might be the time I set up a fundraising page with a goal of a few thousand…a few thousand in the wrong currency though. Of course, we hit our campaign goal in no time as the exchange rate was 1 to 1000. The lesson learned is to pay attention to detail, but don’t worry, experience is a wonderful teacher.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I am so lucky to be surrounded by remarkable mentors, cheerleaders, and a great support system. Each person has held a different role in my life, especially after I moved to the United States. Living away from home, coming with nothing, and residing in one of the biggest cities in the world — I was constantly questioning my decision to move abroad. I am thankful for all of the marvelous people I ran into on my journey and, needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without them. I had many mentors along the way who taught me how to stay strong, kind and focused. I recommend that every young person pick at least one mentor to help them with guidance and advice.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
The Bulgarian chapter of GLOW has over 1200 alumni from various backgrounds and parts of the country. We have worked with women suffering from eating disorders, domestic violence, rape, mental abuse, severe bullying, and others. We have onsite psychologists and professionals who work with those coming from affected backgrounds. GLOW has helped quite a few adolescents overcome multiple obstacles and I am proud we can serve the Bulgarian community. One of the most remarkable girls that GLOW helped was from a small village in Bulgaria. She had lost her dad at a young age and her mother was barely able to make ends meet. She suffered from bulimia at age 14 and thought life had no point. Our onsite psychologist worked with her daily at the GLOW camp, after which we were able provide on-going support in her village. She recovered in less than a year and is now a happy mom residing in the capital of Bulgaria and holds an executive position at a startup. She is highly involved in her community and passing on the good to others. We are extremely proud to create happy stories like the aforementioned and to make the world a better place!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Human empowerment is a topic affecting every single individual in the world! I am very sensitive to the fact that millions of women on every continent suffer through things like domestic violence, genital mutilation, and arranged marriage. In 2020, we should be discussing how women and girls can be healthy, educated, and following their dreams and not hear of concepts like bride selling and tribal persecution. Communities, society and politicians should tirelessly help address the root causes of inequality and spread awareness. I believe that we are on the right path for female empowerment and equality already, albeit only in first world countries. Females in third world countries need us desperately and the focus on empowerment and equality should be on them. More organizations like Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) should be established in impoverished countries to address these issues.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
I wish I learned the below 5 things early in life, as they would have helped me navigate through the corporate world faster:
- You will never be ready.
- Don’t listen to the noise around you — focus on your goals with laser vision.
- Always challenge the status quo.
- Believe in yourself and know that your thoughts manifest in reality.
- Be kind, honest and ethical.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
The future of the world is in our hands and each one of us has to make an impact on it!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with Payal Kadakia, Wang Laichun, Sara Blakely. All
incredibly inspirational self-made entrepreneurs, and superhumans in my opinion. 🙂
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow and connect with me @Tsvetta on any of the social media platforms.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you for the great opportunity!