Barely out of her teenage years, she’s already worked with the UN and now wants to challenge perceptions of what makes a strong leader. To her, being a CEO is about challenging the status quo and paving a path for other young, female leaders to follow.
“I decided to establish The Dona Faith Alliance on the basis that it would endorse a bottom to top approach and have radical, inclusive leadership that empowers individuals,” Dona told Women’s Agenda recently.
Dona believes strongly that actions speak louder than words and to showcase this point, she’s committing to action.
This month, The Dona Faith Alliance will be inaugurating their first youth think tank. Its purpose is to empower youth through education and provide access to resources on human rights issues and social entrepreneurship.
Below, Sheneli tells Women’s Agenda about The Dona Faith Alliance, working with the UN and what it’s like to be a young CEO.
How did you come to be involved as a task force member of the United Nations? What does this role involve?
At the age of 17, I was invited to the UN Headquarters to celebrate youth involvement and my involvement with UN expanded from that moment. My role as a Task Force Member of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality began through my passion and determination to uphold human rights.
The role entailed the significant responsibility of applying the objectives of the UN and UN Women on a local and regional level. This meant that I came to appreciate the importance of women and youth in achieving the UN sustainable development goals.
Why did you decide to start the Dona Faith Alliance and what’s the idea behind the organisation?
At age 17, I found that my life drastically changed. I had to balance my HSC and humanitarian commitments at the time, and soon after, I had to balance my law/global studies dual degree with my humanitarian commitments and travel. Over the last few years I have been travelling internationally, representing youth and women at international platforms and discussions (including at the United National and the World Bank discussions).
One thing I’ve learnt so far in my career is that localisation is the essence of effective societal change for the empowerment and enforcement of human rights.
I decided to establish The Dona Faith Alliance on the basis that it would endorse a bottom to top approach and have a radical inclusive leadership approach that empowers individuals. I decided that the organisation would have an initial focus on women and youth.
I wanted to organisation to be built on the foundations of respect, transparency, love, faith, peace and unity.
Our mission is to not only promote human rights, but to enforce human rights, with youth leading in the area of decision-making and social entrepreneurship.
How does the Dona Faith Alliance go about connecting youth and youth leaders with human rights issues?
I am a strong believer that youth are the epitome of optimism and positive change. It is vital that youth are given the right to directly impact decision-making and speak out against human rights violations.
Whilst The Dona Faith Alliance has only been operating for a year, we have been recognised for our focus on youth and for providing youth with credible foundations to voice their concerns over human rights. Next month, over the 15 and 16th November, we will be inaugurating the organisation alongside our first youth think tank.
One thing we are known for is that ‘actions speak louder than words’. That’s why the youth think tank will become my commitment in action. Our events will be attended by my dear colleague, Mr Victor Ochen, who is a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and Global Advisor to the United Nations for peace, justice and security.
The purpose of our youth think thank is to empower young people through education and access to resources on human rights issues, social entrepreneurship and innovation, economic development, business strategy and leadership skills. This will equip them to be able to address local societal issues through a more informed approach.
The youth think tank will also connect our Australian youth with corporate investors and members of international decision-making. Unfortunately, nowadays some corporations see investment in youth and youth derived solutions as a risk and loss. We aim to attract investors to invest in the innovations of youth.
Can you take us through what your role as CEO involves on a day-to-day basis?
It is difficult to pinpoint where to start from but being a young leader of a human rights organisation, I know that in many instances my capability to successfully fulfil my role has been a topic of interest for some. It is rather discouraging to note that these perceptions are because of my young age.
To me, being a CEO is about overcoming negative preconceptions and challenging the status quo, so that the process becomes easier for future young leaders.
Empowering those around me is a very important part of the role. All of my staff are committed on a voluntary capacity, including my representatives and board. The biggest part of my role is to empower every member of the organisation and provide them with a platform to voice their concerns.
The rest of my days include ensuring that the organisation is operating with the core values at the heart of any decision or initiatives that we undertake; developing strategic and effective partnerships; responding to endless emails, attending countless meetings, and ensuring my team are kept on strong and firm grounds. I have been fortunate to have a group of amazing individuals that I call my team.
One thing I know for a fact is that being a leader comes with great responsibility, particularly when many look up to you. The hopes of others for a brighter future is what drives me to exceed expectations and overcome the many barriers I face as a young woman in a decision-making role.
Who’s a woman you admire right now?
Without a doubt I can say that my mother is a woman I admire right now and have done my entire life. Although it might sound cliché, it is the pure truth.
My mother was always the epicentre of strength, warmth and love for me. She has always taught me to embrace womanhood and she’s always been a dedicated to her goals. In life, her goal was to raise my siblings and I with dignity and humility. She taught us to use the negative preconceptions and struggles we sometimes face as a means to strengthen oneself and empower others.
I also look up to HRH Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a private function in Denmark in 2016. As I promised her, to this day I still update HRH Crown Princess of all the developments in my career, and she has always paid her attention.
I’ve always respected her independence, humility, grace and poise. The way she spoke with others, her ability to adapt and her ability to conduct herself as a powerful and independent woman leading in women’s rights and decision-making.
One woman gave birth to me, nurtured me and raised me. The other woman instilled strength and encouragement for me to pursue my independence and ambitions.