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Lina Rugova HSMP Interview


Lina Rugova Mentor NAWBO's High School Mentorship


SUMMARY KEYWORDS work, girls, sit, young girls, mentorship program, exciting, impact, mentor, skill, conference, high school, business, young ladies, future, program, talk, feedback, scary, excited, important

Zahra:

Thank you so much for meeting with me, Lina. I am so happy to be talking with you today. I know that we work together on the high school mentorship program, and I wanted to sit down and talk to you a little bit about that. What drew you to the high school mentorship program? I know that you do a lot of work, just trying to make impact where it's needed. Tell me, why is it so important that a group exists to support young girls who are interested or young ladies who are interested in going down that entrepreneurial path?

Lina:

Yes, definitely. I've been mentoring for a long time. I do belong to a couple of committees, boards and other organizations where I volunteer my time as an advisor to the small business community and entrepreneurs. So, to me, it's very specific, very simple. All youth is our future. If we're not there to start guiding them early on, which is now, we're going to miss the boat. And who knows what may happen in 20 years, by the time they’re actually grown and doing something different for the world?

Zahra:

Yeah, I agree completely. I think sometimes we use interchangeably the ideas of information and education and mentorship. We’re giving these kids tons of data and facts and information and education, but then who's there to help guide them to make some of these choices that they're going to live with for the rest of their life? So I love that, I love the mentorship aspect of what we do, which is another reason that I wanted to sit down with you, because you are boots on the ground, you are a mentor. Tell me, what is that experience like for you? How does it look from inside the relationship that you build with these young ladies and how that kind of develops through the year?

Lina:

You know, it's a little bit different because I have a similar experience, I came to [the] U.S. at the very young age of 16. So back in my country, I did graduate from high school because our system was a little bit different than here, and then when I came here, my mom dropped me into high school to pick up on my English language. I didn't like the system, so I dropped out of high school. Technically, I'm considered a high school dropout. But I did go ahead and finish my bachelor's degree, my master's degree.I knew that I wanted to do something with business, or start a business, early on, but I just didn't know how, what, where. It's like not like I wanted to be an entrepreneur, specifically, I just knew that I don't want to be working for someone else. So, this is where I'm like, ‘Well, if I want to be a Boss, I got to have my own business.’

Zahra:

Yeah, talk to me about what inspired you to go that deep with these girls and what is it that they need to know.That's incredible. So, what are the kinds of conversations that you have with the young ladies that go through this program? And what do you think of all the things that you do, you know, conferences and mentorship, the day-to-day stuff? What do you think has the most impact on them?


Lina:

I think the most impact has to be my experience working with small businesses for so many years. When they give me an idea, I can instantly tell them, you know, maybe you should refine it because XY and Z wouldn't work, just basically taking the pink glasses off and showing them what the real world is.

Zahra:

Yeah, I think that's really crucial. Sometimes in the world, there's the people who will tell you, 'Yes, everything's great, It's a great idea' just to make you feel better. And then there's others that will smash everything to pieces just because they're too afraid to do it. But to have somebody that can supportively, really give you feedback, not criticism, but feedback, that's helpful. That, they can overcome. And I think that teaches these girls from such an early age how to problem solve, which is all entrepreneurship.

Lina:

Yes, having constructive criticism is very important, especially when you're going into business and not knowing what you're getting into.

Zahra:

Yeah, learning how to take that feedback so that you can grow. I think that's great. So, what is your favorite part of this process? As a mentor? What really in it for you? What do you get out of it, personally?

Lina:

You know, I think it's exciting to hear somebody's idea and what it is that come up with. My background is innovation. So, I think that's what's exciting - constantly want to hear what other people think about it, or where are they going and what do they see? What do they think the future will look like? Where's your passion in all of this? Trying to make sure that they understand what it is that they're building, how it's impacting others.

Zahra:

What do you think the biggest impact for the girls is, as far as when they leave here? What's that skill set that they have, that they didn't have coming into it, that you can see noticeably?

Lina:

It's problem solving, it's organization because they have to write that business plan, they have to follow the directions. It's having structure and having research skills and a lot of other things that come with us just communicating. Usually when I come in, we sit in circles. I want to make sure they're comfortable. We talk about other things just so that it's a conversational piece and not something very scary that they have to look forward to. So, there's a lot of skills that come with it.

Zahra:

How do the girls interact with each other when you guys are having those sessions and you're sitting around in circles, do they get right in there?

Lina:

The first time was really scary to them. They don't know what would happen, and we don't know each other, so we do an icebreaker, and I ask something very different I want to know about them. I want them to know about each other, I want them to get into it. I want them to feel like this is something great to be part of. So I think it's this very shy beginning and then they just get excited and explode. They just chat, our hour goes so quick that we don't even see that it just passed.

Zahra:

That's fantastic. My last question for you is, what do you think about the conferences and how crucial they are to the program?

Lina:

I think it's exciting, because remember, they are prepping them for the pitch competition. And that is a scary thing for anyone, especially people not really into public speaking. So, I think this is something great! Also, these girls are used to internally, school meetings, which will be probably in an auditorium, all sitting next to each other, lights off. There's just no interaction like in a conference room where you come in and you're sitting in a table next to each other. There's adults, and there's young women, and there's a speaker and when I had a conversation with few of them after that first conference that we had, they were all excited. Some of them were scared, too. So this was really motivational to them because they didn't know what to expect, and suddenly they came out with all that knowledge, empowered to just continue to do that.

Zahra:

You know, I just love seeing it as that. There's no doubt about it, this is a tough program, this is not at all a fluff. I mean, these girls work hard to earn that scholarship. But what I love about it is that every year, they step up. We set the bar high, and they step up to meet it. And I think that where they start, it's just like you said, the first conference, they start off kind of looking at their laps or looking down or not really sure who to make eye contact with, and by the end, they're shopping together and trading social media and learning that kind of networking skillset all the way till you see them months later. And they're presenting to a roomful of female CEOs what their product is, and what their idea is, their business, after having gone through that whole process, and it's just amazing to see that growth in such a short amount of time.

Lina:

Exactly. Not a lot of time to get all of that done, but they are working towards a scholarship, towards the future. So I think it's also exciting that we can see the difference of everything and how it's moving and how it's impacting our community every year NAWBO does this.


Zahra:

Yeah, I absolutely love it. And I love that you're a part of this mentorship, because I think that your professional experience working as a business strategist, just being able to relay that skill set to these young girls, that'll serve them for life, whether they open up their own business later, whether they don't whether they just go work running a department somewhere, that's just such a great skill set. I just wanted to thank you, for everything that you do for the program. I think it's so important to point that out, because what you're doing is not just affecting one person, it's their family. We see it all the time, you know - my little sister is now through the program, because a big sister went through and so it's affecting these families for generations. And it breeds that ripple effect, where really, there is power in what's going on and you're a big part of that. So thank you.

Lina:

Yeah, absolutely. I'm super excited, I can't wait to see what my girls will come up with. And, I try to also tell them, you know, if you don't win, it doesn't mean that it wasn't good enough. It either needs refining, or maybe this is something to look forward to, as far as once you graduate, you don't have to go to college, maybe you'll start a business. If you do go to college, look forward and keep working on it, or get hired by a small business. I think my biggest thing is always research, research, research. You know, Google is our best friend, or Microsoft, use it to your advantage to find who is doing what and how you can make it better.

Zahra:

Absolutely. Great advice.



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