We are so excited to welcome Rachel Sakurai to our World Youth International Board! We are grateful to have her join our leadership and contribute to the development and impact of our organisation.
While Rachel has only just joined us in an official capacity, she has been involved with World Youth International for over two decades.
“When I was 16, I lost an incredibly special friend in my life through a very tragic accident that really made me question who I was and what legacy I wanted to leave. The school I went to, St Aidans Anglican Girls School, was incredibly supportive during my time in need and it was a geography class on developing countries that gave me the motivation to champion change within the global community. So as a 17 year old, I was lucky enough to be part of World Youth International’s first Overseas Abroad Program in Nepal where I lived with local families for 4 months. It was an incredible opportunity to experience the different sides to Nepal and see firsthand the incredible role World Youth International had in transforming communities by empowering children through education. I returned to Australia with a real inspiration to do more to “give back”, with my first step applying to sponsor a Nepali child through World Youth International’s child scholarship program,” shared Rachel.
With over 30 years’ experience bringing volunteers and development projects to some of the world’s poorest communities, World Youth International are excited to continue educating, empowering and inspiring positive change in Nepal, Kenya, and beyond. Rachel closely aligns with this vision, and is just as passionate about further developing our impact within these communities, with a focus on empowering more women and girls by improving access to quality healthcare and education.
Recently we interviewed Rachel to learn more about her background, how she built her career as a leader within the corporate sector, and what her aspirations are moving forwards.
Tell us about your background: I was born in Perth, grew up in country costal Victoria, spent my high school years in Queensland and have lived in Japan, India, Sydney and Melbourne. Having said that I’m a proud Queenslander and Brisbane is my home. I am the Mother of two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Yumi, and the proud partner of Glen Fields. Family is everything to me and having Sarah, Yumi and Glen in my life to experience the highs and lows is very special. I have had a diverse career in executive leadership roles, taught English abroad, participated in Advisory Boards, and mentored elite sportswomen.
What are you most passionate about? I love to travel and experience different cultures. I have been fortunate enough to explore 38 countries but would love to get to 50 before I am 50! Nepal is the one destination that really feels like a second home to me; there is something magical about Nepal that keeps drawing me back, and the Nepali people are the friendliest people I have come across with smiles that brighten the darkest of days. My appointment to World Youth International’s Board of Directors is definitely not just a career highlight but a personal highlight. I am looking forward to making a positive contribution with a real sense of purpose.
What is one of the most challenging aspects in your life? Wearing so many hats can be a real juggle particularly when my daughters are involved in many extra curriculum activities that require pick ups and drop off all over the place – there is no sense of routine as every day and every week is different.
What inspires you to ‘give back’? My YiaYia (Grandmother) migrated to Australia from Egypt (she was Greek) in the 50’s with her husband and eldest daughter. She saw Australia as a lucky country and although had financial struggles and hardship always gave back to people in her community. My drive to 'give back' really came from the strong relationship I had with my YiaYia; her door was always open, people would drop in uninvited for dinner, she often had unwell relatives living at her place and she spent her spare time knitting beanies for disadvantaged children during winter, and heading up local clubs to drive volunteer participation. Her community spirit was also very much embedded in my Dad – he is the most generous person I know and despite having his own challenges everyone saw him as someone they could trust and ask for help. I have grown up in a family that was very passionate about enabling humility and opportunity to those less fortunate than us. As kids, my Dad took us to the toy shop every Christmas and rather than picking presents for ourselves, he gave us money to buy presents for disadvantaged children and I remember how proud I felt doing this from a very young age of 6.
Giving back makes you feel good! Whether you’re making financial contributions or dedicating your time, it’s a personal decision but there is a lot of self-satisfaction that comes from it. For me, I have seen the benefits of investing into disadvantaged communities. I have experienced the positive transformation that my involvement has had on individuals and communities. There is no greater reward in life than making a difference and I find it so inspiring when people around me make a conscious effort to dedicate their personal time to give back.
What are you hoping to achieve by being on the World Youth International Board? The list is pretty long and very exciting but my first objective is to drive greater awareness amongst the corporate community on the ability we have to support projects and the role we can play to promote economic empowerment of women.
The existing leadership of World Youth International have done a remarkable job creating opportunities for children to access quality education and provide tools, confidence and pathways to grow into empowered adults. I want to broaden the current reach and celebrate the success stories to generate a stronger participation pool of volunteers and a broader, loyal commitment to long term regular financial support.
How can volunteering enhance an individual’s development? Volunteering provides individuals with a greater perspective for cultural differences, socio economical differences and fosters core leadership competencies such as trust and empathy. Volunteering offers unlimited opportunities to cultivate new skills that can enhance a career. It gives you visibility and helps you relate to diverse groups of people. Behind many great leaders is a history of volunteering as you naturally develop qualities of leadership by bringing a true understanding of openness. Openness will enable you to use your imagination. The number of times I have seen hardship that got me thinking “imagine if...” It encourages you to be a visionary, helping you turn challenges into opportunities.
What is your most memorable moment being involved with World Youth International? I have been involved in programs in Nepal predominantly orientated around the World Youth International School and more recently participated in Computershare’s Trek Nepal program where we raised funds as a team towards the development of a Student Boarding Home. I was fortunate enough to be part of the inaugural Jamie Young Cup. The atmosphere, passion and team spirit of the students still gives me goose bumps.
The most memorable moment was when World Youth International's General Manager Terry Hoey and I reunited in Nepal after first meeting there in 1999. Two decades had passed before we visited the School together again. The feeling we both shared as we entered the village of Gokarna and saw the school in the distance was very overwhelming and brought up so many emotions and memories. It was a very special moment for both of us. When we visited the School together in 1999 we spent quality time with a small group of 24 students. Visiting again in 2019 we were greeted by smiling faces of more than 550 students.
What achievements are you most proud of? There are three World Youth International achievements that I am personally very proud of being part of:
- Witnessing the inception of the Jamie Young Cup
- Celebrating the formation of the Computershare/World Youth International partnership
- Being picked up at the Airport in Nepal by my first sponsor child, Sukra in 2019 after first meeting him as a 6 year old in 1999. Seeing him in the flesh as a loving husband, and responsible, confident and educated adult is a proud feeling that I can’t explain. Knowing his schooling experience provided him opportunities that he is using to inspire future generations to live life passionately and contribute to the wellbeing of his community is a testament to the culture World Youth International instils across their projects. It really demonstrates the power behind the vision and mission on a much broader scale.
Seeing my two daughters grow into beautiful, loving and kind natured girls is very humbling. Knowing poverty is twice as dominant amongst women, I’m hopeful their fortunate upbringing will be used to strengthen gender equality somehow when they are finish school.
From your perspective how important is access to education in Nepal? What are the major barriers to access? Education is important in every country across every community. It is no secret that education brings the power to change lives. Education promotes the understanding of social justice, identity, empowerment and is key to eradicating poverty. In many developing countries, Nepal included, girls are often denied the opportunity to go to school. A child who has a mother that can read is 50% more likely to have a child survive past the age of 5 – alarming but true! The main barrier is accessibility and affordability but also cultural traditions. Families still have trouble understanding how an educated daughter will improve the lives of their family and the surrounding community.
One of my favourite quotes is painted on the School building in Gokarna: The aim of education is to teach us how to think rather than what to think.