I see my journey to Miss Universe as an opportunity for leadership

I see my journey to Miss Universe as an opportunity for leadership

Current Miss Universe Australia 2020 Maria Thattil on using her platform as a force for change

Like many women, I have fond memories watching the Miss Universe competition as a little girl. Interestingly, it was never an arena I previously saw myself venturing into. However, I remember the moment I felt a pull to apply.

It was seeing the diversity in ambition, advocacy, background and careers within the Australian 2019 finalists. What’s more, Miss Universe Australia 2019 was lawyer Priya Serrao – an Australian of Indian descent just like myself. It made me realise that Miss Universe Australia was a space that I too could belong in.

When I was 12, I entered a competition to design the front cover of the school planner, and was so excited to win. The design depicted one of the students conquering the universe because that’s what an education at my high school enabled. As a woman I believe the same thing: that education, opportunity and freedom will empower any person to conquer their universe.

For the past few years, I have worked two jobs – one as a corporate human resources manager whilst simultaneously building my own digital platform, to champion inclusion, equality and empowerment. I started public speaking, writing and coaching and now host my own online empowerment series Mind With Me. 

For me and for many other participants, Miss Universe is more than “just a beauty contest”. It is a launching pad for incredible opportunities with tremendous responsibility.

I entered because I perceived it to be an opportunity for leadership. Attaining your goals and challenging yourself doesn’t happen via one set route. Sometimes you attain your goal through doing a degree, other times it’s through meeting someone or a combination of circumstances. Sometimes, our journey looks different to not only what others expect, but what we also expect for ourselves.

I felt drawn to the Miss Universe platform and recognised that this was my path to not only challenge myself but to amplify my personal mission to empower others through my series and speaking engagements.

My time as a national finalist was spent entirely in lockdown. I swapped a professional photographer for my mum, a workspace for my kitchen and a ‘coach’ for my brother. Showing up for the program whilst navigating such a tumultuous period wasn’t easy, but I drew on innate resources to get through and stayed rooted in my “why.” My “why” is purpose and service.

My Mind with Me series discusses an array of topics on subjects like mental health, confidence, sexual harassment, racism, pandemic productivity and bullying. This then evolved to include interviews with influential and insightful public figures.

Over the last six months, the series has been viewed more than 253,000 times by people from all over the world. It has become a space that people regularly come to find their voice in topics they were once afraid to speak on or listen to, to make friends and to overcome limiting beliefs after being a part of this community. I am driven to work for the creation of spaces that foster progress, connection and mindful living and I am inspired to be as impactful as I can in this role.

Becoming Miss Universe has now given me access to financial resources I didn’t previously have to invest in turning this drive into a business reality. It connected me with Australian businesses from all over the country who I can learn from and have a mutually beneficial relationship of value with. It challenged me with the responsibility of representing my country and the values we collectively hold whilst advocating for progress in areas there is opportunity for growth in.

I entered Miss Universe to use my experiences of both privilege and challenge to communicate with courage and conviction, and influence for impact. It’s given me a mic to speak about things I wholeheartedly believe in: representation, inclusivity, empowerment, overcoming limiting beliefs, embracing your social identity and learning how to show up as a leader in your own life.

Our reigning Miss Universe Zozibini Tunzi who hails from South Africa has said that stepping into that role has not only opened up doors and changed her life, it has also inspired many people who look up to her. As someone of Indian heritage who has grown up experiencing racism, I will be rising to the responsibility to advocate for anti-racism and equality.

I hope to not only open doors, but create space – for the community of dreamers  that I represent globally who want to challenge the world as we know it to make new things possible. To break ground. To change the game. So whilst I didn’t grow up with plans to be here, it is certainly is an opportunity I am grateful to show up for.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox