Verlaine-Diane Soobroydoo is a self-described humanist, pro-active dreamer and intersectional feminist. As Founder of the impact initiative for young women’s empowerment through innovation worldwide – Zahara’s Dream Inc. – Verlaine devotes her time and efforts to bolster young women’s access to opportunities and to the necessary tools to thrive.
“I work with two key institutions for women’s empowerment, the African Union and the United Nations. Both institutions devote their efforts to support women’s leadership in Africa, particularly looking at ‘How do we make sure that we scale up women’s participation in governance and peace and security, while also making sure that their voices have a real impact.’ Our work is to make sure that women’s participation is meaningful and that their voices are really heard.”
But Verlaine did not stop there. She’s also Founder of Zahara’s Dream Inc., with a mission to advance the empowerment of young women worldwide through innovation and new technologies. Through the group’s four pillars of action: expanding opportunities, role modeling, building confidence, and providing “Power Jacket” work attire for aspiring young professionals, Verlaine and her team bring opportunities to a new generation of aspiring young women in all corners of the world.
Interestingly enough, despite her resume, she was not always destined to work for international organizations. After an educational journey that led her to New York, a recruiter offered her an appealing job with a tech company. The job came with important benefits that would make any young person tempted to immediately say “yes.” However, Verlaine had some soul-searching to do and chose to follow her purpose to serve others through more direct engagements.. She has not looked back ever since.
Valuing personal development and happiness has been a constant in her life. “I think this is really the key of life and this pursuit brings me to John Lennon, who, when asked by one of his teachers ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ he simply answered, ‘I just want to be happy.’ Surprised, his teacher answered ‘no, that’s not an answer. You have to say, I want to be a lawyer, I’m going to be a doctor.’ He persisted: ‘No, I just want to be happy.’ And I believe this is the misunderstanding of human beings that we have to attach ourselves to something external to be happy. We strive to attach ourselves to a position, to a title, to materialistic things around us. But in reality, all of these elements do not really matter – in the larger meaning of life. What matters is happiness and how you live your life. It’s all within ourselves. Leading a purposeful life really starts with yourself and with being happy.”
Verlaine , whose roots are in Africa calls New York home where she lives and works. She credits her parents (and growing up with five brothers!) as giving her a sense of self-assertion and belief in herself. Their love and support she says infused her with a sense of possibilities. Still, that didn’t mean that her leadership role as a young woman on the international stage came naturally or easily.
She shared moments of insecurity and self-doubt – just like anyone else. “I remember my first days in meetings. I would often hesitate to take a seat at the table. I would remain standing, or still. Taking a seat at the table seemed to be a big statement – particularly when you are not invited to do so. So, I stood for a long time. I also sat on the floor if there were no more seats, like many young women before me pretending ‘Oh, there’s no chair. Don’t worry, I’ll sit on the side and I’m fine sitting here.”
It took a long journey of self-discovery and soul-searching to remember who I was and to tap into my confidence. I came to understand that confidence is like a muscle – you have to build it up. Just like an athlete you have to train every day and build up within yourself. I had to do this. Train myself. Train my confidence muscle and set clear objectives. And I would tell myself, “You will speak in three meetings today.”
Part of Zahara’s Dream, the “Power Jacket” comes from Verlaine’s own experience with needing to
“I had no idea how to
During the early stages of her career, she met a young woman, Zahara from Mali, who was interning in her office. As a present of return, Verlaine offered the very suit that had inspired her. Zahara ended up going back to her home country and would wear that outfit that Verlaine gifted to her in meetings – this sisterhood and solidarity would ultimately inspire Verlaine’s empowerment movement and the establishment of Zahara’s Dream Inc.
When asked what five lessons she would tell herself five years in the past, here’s the advice Verlaine offered to her past self and each of us presently:
- “You’re not defined by what people say about you or what they say to you. Words can cut through you. Words can hurt. But I have come to understand that I am the creator of my own reality and that today, the life that I’m living is my own reality. Everything, from unicorns to a pink sky I wish to incorporate. I remain hopeful and positive at heart. I really believe that you create your own reality, you get to shape the world around you. You do it through your choices, through your habits, through your actions, through the words that you speak through the people that you surround yourself with. If you have someone who’s always talking negatively in your ear, you start believing the language of what I call “destruction.” Then you reach a low point. That is when you have to isolate yourself somewhere, get away from these negative influences and literally pull out the weeds. And I had to do that. And the current world context around the
pandemicallowed me the space to do that to literally pull out everything that did not serve a higher purpose. And sometimes it hurts because some things are truly deep. But this space and time now has allowed me to really work on that and to become more myself, powerfully.
- “Live in the moment. It’s very difficult to ground yourself in the moment, because you’re everywhere — you’re concurrently in the past , in the present and in the future. It’s very important to plan to understand where you want to go to have a clear roadmap and say, ‘okay, that’s where I want to be.’ So, you understand the choices you need to make step-by-step to get there. It reminds me of a management class at Harvard Business School, which taught that in order to be able to have a clear process, you need to define clear deliverables. You cannot just say ‘I want to lose weight,’ you need to literally step one, step two, step three, step four, so then you can plan.
- “Be you powerfully. I was a happy child. And as you grow, particularly as a young woman, the world tries to shape you into someone you may not be. I became what I would describe as “halfway me.” At some point in life, society tries to shape you and mold you to tell you, you shouldn’t do this or do that. So, I started retreating, shrinking myself to fit in. I thought, I should do this or not do that to be liked. But I became unfulfilled: I was really sad. And I remember being confronted by someone who said something that shook the core of who I was — trying to change me in a way that did not make me a better human being. It hurt because it gets to the core of who you are. And then at some point I remembered who I was and I said, ‘No, I can’t do that, I need to be me. I only have one life, and tomorrow is not promised, I may die. And because of that I became radical in living my life being myself powerfully.
- “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time (Maya Angelou). If someone shows you love and compassion and that they’re present consistently, believe that. When someone shows you a lack of integrity, when they show you meanness in their actions, or even destruction — you have to also believe it and you can’t enter cycles with those people. You have to stay away from them.
- “Do the right thing. It’s not easy doing the right thing, but I believe that doing the right thing brings the right thing in your life.. I think doing the right thing keeps you well, healthy, happy and gives you this protection in life that nothing else can give you.”