October 29, 2021
Comparison is the thief of joy: The nonprofit and philanthropic industry is very saturated and it might feel like there are so many other nonprofits who are making more progress and are doing much more innovative projects than yours. It is important to realize that everyone is working towards the same goal: helping others and striving to make a difference.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Poonam Rahman.
Poonam Rahman is the 21-year-old Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Virtue Mental and Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M. She is on the mission to make mental health care accessible in historically marginalized communities and eradicate gender discrimination within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics. Poonam’s areas of interest and expertise include combating gender inequality, promoting mental health accessibility and providing resources and opportunities in marginalized communities.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! 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 so much for the opportunity to share my story and insights! I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago with two older siblings. During my elementary and middle school years, I have undergone bullying from my peers due to my racial background and “odd” name, which strongly motivated me to create Virtue Mental. In addition, my mother used to pack homemade ethnic food for lunch, while all the other kids had pb&j sandwiches; this resulted in my peers constantly bullying and belittling me during the years to come. As time passed, the hurtful words and discriminatory attacks took a massive toll on my self-esteem and mental health as a young child. Through my experiences of being a victim of bullying during my early schooling years, I felt compelled to create an organization and platform which focuses on fulfilling the mental health needs of historically marginalized communities such as the South Asian community.
Furthermore, early in my childhood, I realized that I had a love for philanthropic service as I was involved in my third grade student council where one of my core responsibilities as a student council executive was to raise donations for Smile Train and UNICEF. My passion and keenness for serving the global community also stemmed from my experiences at my third grade student council by observing the impact one person can make on the world at large.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“Think Like a Monk” by Jay Shetty made a significant impact on me as I have learned to remove negativity and toxicity in my life and to let go of destructive friendships. After launching Virtue Mental and Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M., I have lost a lot of friends who were afraid of my potential and growth. Through reading “Think Like a Month,” I have realized that those friendships were not good for me in the first place, and one needs to heal from the past to continue moving forward. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in personal development, mental health and conquering one’s fears.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I define “Making A Difference” by impacting the life of one person. During my journey towards creating Virtue Mental, I have felt very defeated and discouraged at times because I felt as if I wasn’t impacting hundreds and thousands of lives, but I came to the realization that even if I impacted the life of one person through Virtue Mental’s or Shattering Bias’ resources, I still made a difference. Oftentimes, we assume that “making a difference” means helping hundreds or even thousands of people, but helping one individual in a mundane manner can change their world.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Of course! Virtue Mental is an international nonprofit that aims to provide free mental health resources to historically marginalized communities, specifically Latinx, South Asian, LGBTQIA+, AAPI communities, and women. The types of resources we provide include virtual support groups, workshops, and psychoeducation sessions facilitated by certified mental health professionals and are without cost. Virtue Mental’s clients and attendees can locate our resources through our collaborating partners and referrals from our mental health professionals. Within Virtue Mental, we also have a virtual internship program with 200+ interns who complete various tasks in relation to social media content creation, blog writing, outreach, and more. The program’s purpose is for high school and college students to develop complex and soft skills needed to succeed in the workplace, such as project management, data analytics, communication, empathy, and more. Virtue Mental is centered around making mental health care more accessible and ensuring that high school and college students grow academically and professionally.
The other nonprofit I have founded is called Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M. (which is currently undergoing a rebranding), which is also an international nonprofit organization that aims to empower young women in historically marginalized communities by providing academic and professional support resources, including virtual internship opportunities, mentorship opportunities, and more. We also advocate for diversity within the field of S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics), DEI, and eradicating gender discrimination and implicit gender bias in male-dominated workplaces. “Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M.” is also the name of the book published in early 2022, which focuses on ways to eradicate gender discrimination within the field of S.T.E.A.M. and features women in these fields sharing their experiences with this issue. Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M. aims to eliminate gender discrimination in male-dominated workplaces and emphasize the importance of female-centered mentorship.