Julia Bialek

During a Thursday panel in Watson Hall, four of Yale’s World Fellows came together to discuss their work as female change-makers in a variety of different fields, ranging from politics to advocacy.

The panel — which included Ukrainian politician Olena Sotnyk, Filipina health policy expert Beverly Lorraine Ho, Turkish journalist Onur Burçak Belli and Austalian sustainability advocate Rebecca Sullivan — was co-hosted by the Women’s Leadership Initiative, the World Fellows Program and the Yale International Relations Association. WLI President Avery Arena ’21 moderated the discussion, which focused on the panelists’ challenges and triumphs as well as their advice for aspiring young female leaders.

“There’s always an opportunity, even for young people, to make change,” Ho said. “Having a mentor and a group of people to rely on and work with, there is no limit to what you can achieve.”

Every year, the Maurice R. Greenberg World Fellows Program selects 16 World Fellows to spend a semester together at Yale, during which they “grow intellectually, share knowledge, strengthen skills and expand networks,” according to the program’s website. Arena, who is a liaison for the World Fellows Program, was excited to plan an event centered around some of these women’s experiences as leaders.

Arena, who is specifically assigned to liaise Sotnyk to the Yale community, explained that they had collaborated to curate the panel so that attendees could hear their respective stories.

“I don’t think you can ever have too many role models, and I know from my own experience there is nothing more motivating than having an image in my head of the level of professionalism, impact and interest that I want to achieve in my own future,” Arena wrote in an email to the News. “These four are certainly worth aspiring towards.”

Each of the panelists described her individual experiences of making change within her field. All of the women come from distinct backgrounds, but together stressed the importance of finding female mentors.

“I have been around so many women in my field to look up to,” Belli said. “I have been lucky. A lot of women coming together from different backgrounds and fighting. That has been my inspiration.”

Belli elaborated on how her personal experiences with conflict have impacted her work. Specifically, she focused on how reporting from war zones and interacting with people directly affected by conflict has instilled in her the belief that telling human stories has the power to change the world.

In the same vein, Sotnyck spoke about her experience working to eliminate forms of corruption in Ukraine, specifically regarding the quality of hospitals. According to Sotnyck, under the USSR, families were unable to visit loved ones in emergency rooms in the Ukraine — an issue she blamed on the government’s efforts to hide poor hospital conditions. She reflected on her personal experience of being unable to visit her partner and the emotional burden it caused.

“In that moment, I knew what it meant not just to understand, but to feel,” Sotnyck said. “Within three months, we mobilized [groups of] people who were also affected. We changed a law that existed for over 70 years.”

After the law passed, family members were able to visit one another in the Ukraine.

Both students and members of the community attended the event. For many, this panel was a chance to engage with the World Fellows and use their knowledge and experience as a resource.

Norma Pezzini, a Hamden resident who said she often attends World Fellows events, reflected on how the intimate discussion allowed her to better engage with women leadership on a global scale. Kalla Sy ’20 expressed a similar sentiment, saying that she left the event with a feeling of hope for the future.

“I came across the event on Facebook and thought it amazing to hear from these people who have a lot of diverse experiences and are leaders in their field and learn about what it means to be a woman in leadership,” Sy said. “I’m pretty inspired.”

The World Fellows Program was established in 2002 and now has a network of over 300 World Fellows from 90 countries.

Julia Bialek | julia.bialek@yale.edu

Noel Rockwell | noel.rockwell@yale.edu

Julia Bialek currently serves as a public editor for the Yale Daily News. Previously, she covered the student policy & affairs beat as a reporter on the university desk. Originally from Chappaqua, New York, Julia is a junior in Saybrook College studying political science and history.