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Nichole Young-Lin is an MBA student at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in the US and the founder of Saving Mothers, an international medical non-profit organisation that provides maternal and women’s health services and training in Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Liberia. Through public health initiatives, it aims to give women and their healthcare providers the tools they need to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity.
Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Ms Young-Lin moved to the US when she was six years old and spent the majority of her childhood in Silicon Valley. She is currently studying for an MD at the University of California San Francisco as well as pursuing her MBA at Duke and running Saving Mothers.
In her spare time, Ms Young-Lin enjoys reading and travelling – from gorilla trekking in the Democratic Republic of Congo to bungee jumping at Victoria Falls.
1. What is an average day like?
Hectic! I am an MBA student, a medical student, a medical researcher, and the president of my own non-profit. This means that there is work to be done in some timezone at every hour. But, I relish wearing many hats – from working to secure donated medical supplies to learning about how to extend our reach through creative marketing. The diversity of my work keeps it interesting.
2. How do you deal with the pressure?
I was recently at a talk by Dr Nancy Ascher, the chair of the department of surgery at UCSF. She said that in her household, the only emergency is when you are bleeding to death. And, I believe that wholeheartedly. One thing that I have learned is to thrive in chaos. Sometimes, it is when you are faced with enormous pressure that you gain the most clarity because you have to prioritise what needs to be done, break those tasks down and figure out how to accomplish them. To do this, you have to maintain perspective. Fortunately, medicine is a constant reminder to me that most “emergencies” are not life-threatening and by keeping this in mind, I am able to problem-solve calmly.
3. Who inspires you?
One of my business heroines is Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the current Chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco and the future executive director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I admire her ability to bridge both the medical and business world and use her diverse background to improve lives around the world.
But what continues to humble and inspire me the most are the women that I serve: the woman who tells me that she’d rather leak urine from a genital fistula than not bear any more children; the nurse who cried tears of joy when we gave her the medical supplies we had promised; and the patient who had nothing but gave us a fresh chicken as a thank you gift. Despite our divergent experience, we are all bonded by the fact that we are women and face the same health issues.
4. What would you do if you were dean for the day?
If I were dean, I would highlight women leaders in business. As Sheryl Sandberg and many others have pointed out – we have made strides but are still living in a world with huge gender inequality. Therefore, there cannot be enough emphasis on women in business and women in positions of power period.
I recently heard that young black men can envision being president but can’t envision being chief executive of a major corporation and that’s purely because they actually have an example. So think about how important it is for women to see examples of what they want to be in the workplace. It’s absolutely critical.
5. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
Dare to dream. Growing up in a traditional Asian household, many things were expected and required, especially as a female. But, I am fortunate that I was told by my teachers to think for myself and to have the courage to carve a path of my own. This has empowered me to believe that one person can make a difference and that I have the potential to make my life meaningful.
6. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
I learnt the importance of having a mother by growing up without one. As a young child, I had believed that all mothers were inherently nurturing. My illusion was shattered at the age of five when my mother left my father and me for a new life. While this is not comparable to losing one’s mother in childbirth, this lesson is what drew me to maternal and women’s health issues and, in turn, propelled me to start Saving Mothers. I was naturally drawn to the idea of working to prevent other children from growing up without their mothers. Statistically, when a mother dies, the odds of her children (under 12 years of age) dying increases by 55 per cent. Furthermore, 99 per cent of maternal deaths are preventable, so, unlike other health challenges, we have the solution. It’s a matter of increasing access to basic maternal and women’s healthcare.
7. What do you hope women in business will achieve?
Historically, women have been sort of shunted into certain career paths (eg teachers, nurses, etc), which is completely honourable. But what I would wish for them is that they would have zero restrictions on what they believe is possible. For me, feminism is all about women being able to do exactly what they want to do – whether it’s being a stay-at-home mom or a chief executive of a corporation. Right now, I feel like we are still fighting over this very simple concept that women should be able to choose to do whatever they want to do with their life.
8. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
Male-dominated environments often use the excuse “she’s not a culture fit” to keep women out of their organisations. As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, I think that the most important thing to do is define ethics and standard guidelines so that the best candidate for the job wins out.
9. What is your favourite business book?
Like many women, my favourite business book is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. It’s not only full of great tactical advice, but Sheryl comes across as being so human and relatable. Many times, female leaders are portrayed in the media as either too aggressive or a saint. Her book shows that she is not infallible and it’s OK to be neither of those.
10. What are your future plans?
I want to make Saving Mothers a major non-profit organisation in women’s health and to expand to more countries. Saving Mothers is founded by professionals in medicine so we are poised at making a huge impact in women’s health. I want to touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of women if not millions.