Gouri Mirpuri is the founder of Connected for Good, a nonprofit connecting people and organizations to Asia to advance social good. She is also the co-founder of Impact HUB Singapore, the first co-work communal space for social entrepreneurs in Asia. Her twin passions for social entrepreneurship and environmental issues started when she developed The Learning Farm a decade ago. Gouri is from Singapore and now resides in Washington, DC with her diplomat husband. She has lived in eleven countries and has two adult children. Gouri is pictured here wearing The Chelsey.
I love that you have used your experiences in the diplomatic community to coach local social entrepreneurs in Washington, DC on networking. What are some of your top networking tips?
Be a good listener. The best way to start a conversation is not by putting yourself in the center, but by placing the other person there. It’s not that difficult to ask a question of someone, and it doesn’t have to be the most ingenious question in the world. I’ve noticed this more with people who are younger and less confident, they just answer the questions and they don’t ever ask anything back. It’s easy: when someone asks you a question make sure you ask the same question back of them. If you walk away from an encounter thinking the other person knows everything about you, while you know nothing about him/her, it has not been a balanced encounter
If you’re networking you’re trying to find interesting new synergies and partnerships, then asking about others is key. Don’t spend your time in the box of what you already know, venture out by asking something and learning something new.
We often pretend that we mustn't show that nails are chipped or hair grey, we must show no vulnerability physically or emotionally, even if it’s a day where you can’t cope. Life is never perfect. Have the confidence to show that vulnerability. Yesterday I walked into an event and I couldn’t wear my shoes because of a minor toe operation, so I was wearing sandals in the middle of winter. By talking about it openly the ice was broken (no pun intended) and I showed a certain vulnerability. It makes you more memorable and relatable. As you get older you’re not so worried about showing that your life is not perfect. This gives the other person the ability to let down their guard a bit and say, “Hey, me too!”
Networking events can be tricky because sometimes you get so deep into conversation that you don’t know how to politely move to another conversation. You’ve previously shared some great tips with me here, could you please share them with the Maven Women world?
There’s a wonderful way American’s put it: “I don’t want to monopolize your time. I’m sure there are many other people you want to meet.”
Don’t give your business card too early in a conversation. Save it as it’s a good way to end and move on.
The other thing I use often is the “half glass rule”. If your glass is almost empty it’s the perfect reason to say, “It looks like I’m out and I do need a refill.” If you have a full plate and a full glass, you are kind of stuck.
What advice would you give to women who are juggling a fast-paced career and being a mother?
It really depends on so much, there are no easy answers. I’ve been a career woman, and I’ve given it up without a moment’s hesitation when I felt my kids needed me more.
You have to be introspective and intuitive and make your own decisions without guilt, knowing that your career can always be scaled down, pushed back, adjusted, or sidestepped, but a childhood will never come back.
Whatever you decide, have no regrets. Throw yourself into the chosen role, and do the best darn job you can.
And how about women who are navigating building their lives in new countries and “trailing spouses” in particular?
One of my favorite pieces of advice to women who move all over the world like I have is to treat your new assignment more like a game of checkers than a game of chess. Don’t over focus on the strategy. Just move in and start playing. If you spend too much time thinking, you’ll never get on the game board. You also have to forget what you were, but just focus on what you are at this particular point in time … and on what you can be today. Take the chance and jump in.
Too many women think, “But I’m a doctor, so how can I teach art to kids at the local community centre?” Forget what you came with. Whatever the city or circumstances gives you, do it! You’re in the game now, you’re moving spaces, and you can look back and see all the progress you have made. I don’t tell people I have two masters degrees because it doesn’t make a difference. There are a zillion other things you can do to make you a more complete human being. That’s how I ended up setting up the Learning Farm. I have a Masters in Linguistics, later in Art History. What did I know about organic farming? I jumped in. It’s now become a part of my journey, my narrative, and it has enriched me. You just have to create more facets to yourself, so you shine.
You have spent much of your life working in the social entrepreneurship space around the globe. What role do you see clothing playing in advancing social change?
In the 1970s and 1980s China flooded the market with cheap everything. That’s when we lost the value of stuff.
Retail therapy is a word I only learnt here. Buying things helps you feel better, but does it? I see American TV channels focused on acquiring things, storing things, and then getting rid of things. Just don’t buy it in the first place. The American market is so huge that people greatly underprice stuff, just to get their foot in. The same object would be relatively more expensive in Europe or even Asia where it comes from. Here, you can also buy without thinking because you can return stuff, which isn’t as easy in other countries.
Women need to play their role in helping other women who work in the clothing industry. They have to stop buying cheap rubbish because it’s keeping women and girls in slavery in the rest of the world. This means to buy less and buy better. Great for the environment too, and the wallet. Plus you will always look well turned out.
At your home you have some beautiful blocks from Jaipur. The liner for the dresses in our inaugural collection were made in Jaipur using block printing. Could you please share a bit about block printing and why it’s meaningful to you.
Indian women are very entrepreneurial and they find all kinds of ways to get into the massive clothing businesses. Block printing is also an industry that is practiced all over India. I remember my aunt who made block-printed saris in a workshop she created on the empty rooftop. As a little girl I loved sneaking up to that wonderful space and seeing the natural colors, smelling the products, and having so much fun block-printing on those glorious six-yard saris.