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Ayesha Rekhi: Your story matters

I was recently asked to speak to a group of women diplomats on the topic of “what’s your superpower”. My answer was immediate – my story. 20 years into my career as a diplomat, I know that our stories – of hardship and success – are a powerful tool to build human connection. They allow us to lead with purpose and inspire our work. It is our voice, our unique story that is our superpower.
My story begins with the journey of my parents, immigrants who left India because of religious intolerance and for the freedom to marry in Canada. While I think many people can relate to my experience as a working mother with school-age children juggling a busy job with family life, sometimes my gender or ethnicity are not quite what they expect when they meet a Canadian ambassador. It helps if I explain my parents’ story: they, like many immigrants and refugees (including Czechs) found a home in Canada, worked hard, and invested in their community and in their child’s education. During the pandemic, my story is similar to many others including working through a crisis over countless Zoom calls while my children were homeschooling in the next room. During these difficult times, this shared story has created a valuable human connection and mutual understanding.
Embrace your superpower because your story matters.
Foto: Velvyslanectví Kanady v České republice
Ayesha Rekhi, velvyslankyně Kanady
It is important to be able to tell my story, but purposefully seeking out others’ stories is equally powerful. As a young Canadian diplomat in India, in a meeting with a village council I noticed that the only other woman in the room was serving tea. Afterwards, I went to the kitchen to speak to the women working there. They offered fresh perspectives and ideas on how to build peace, security and prosperity for their community which I ultimately fed into my analysis and advice. The lesson was clear. Being curious, listening to their stories had both inspired me and helped me do my job better.
While I am still often one of the few people who look like me with a name like mine doing this job, this is slowly changing. In my field of foreign policy, there is a growing understanding that diplomats with diverse backgrounds and experiences are an important asset.
Being able to tap into different networks, information and perspectives makes diversity not only the pathway to better representing our societies but also to better policy and innovation.
Knowing my story, articulating my values and reflecting on “why I do what I do” has helped me to identify my strengths and my blind-spots as a leader. It has made me a more authentic, empathetic and resilient leader, allowing me to define my role as ambassador instead of letting it be defined by others. Embrace your superpower because your story matters. Own it and use it to create space for new ideas and to connect with diverse people with different backgrounds. Now more than ever, the common ground we find in sharing and listening will help us lead with empathy, build resilience and find innovative, durable solutions to the world’s problems.
Ayesha Patricia Rekhi is Canada’s Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Before her appointment as ambassador in 2019, she served in diplomatic positions in Hong Kong, New Delhi, Hanoi and Bangkok. She earned her BA (honours) in Political Science from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, as well as a Masters (Science) in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and a Masters (Public Administration) from Harvard University. This article was also published in Czech.
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