IWD 2021: Meet Kara Chesal
March 8, 2021
It’s International Women’s Day and we’re celebrating women who #choosetochallenge every day!
We asked our team to nominate an inspiring female team member who is committed to challenging the gender status quo in their everyday lives.
With too many nominations to cover, we’ve selected just a few of our outstanding team to give you a flavour of the passionate, driven women we are lucky enough to work with every day.
Kara Chesal - Head of Education and Gender at Catalpa
Kara’s career has centred around technology in education with a particular focus on inequitable access to education and the gender gap in digital skills.
Before joining Catalpa, she was a Director at the New York City Department of Education for eight years. She served as a Senior Director on the Computer Science Education team where she led work with teacher training providers, universities, industry, and the community to achieve the ambitious goal of scaling computer science education to all 1.1 million New York City students by training 5,000 teachers.
In 2018, Kara relocated to Timor-Leste with the purpose of understanding how she could contribute to supporting education institutions and learning outcomes in the Asia Pacific region.
As Head of Education and Gender, Kara now leads education programs for Catalpa with a predominantly-female team across (at least) 6 Pacific Islands. Despite the dispersed nature of the team, Kara’s is known for her open and empathetic leadership style, and for placing focus on individualised professional and personal development for her team.
Kara holds a master’s degree in Economics and Education from Columbia University and a dual bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Economics and Science, Technology, & Society Studies.
In her own words…
What does the IWD theme #choosetochallenge mean to you?
I feel a bit embarrassed by the nomination from my peers at Catalpa because my work is nothing without them. But in the spirit of the IWD theme, I think one way we can “choose to challenge” is by working together in solidarity and raising each other up to recognise, question, and deconstruct the systemic oppression women and girls face around the world. We can support each other in acts of resistance. For white women like me, we can use our proximity to power to influence and advocate for change for all women. This is what #choosetochallenge means to me.
Do you have a personal philosophy that drives you?
I heard a Maori academic, Dr. Joanna Kidman, speak at the Oceania Comparative and International Education Society Conference where she quoted a poem by Yeats;
"Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light; I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
This idea of “tread softly” is my personal philosophy and I credit Dr. Kidman for bringing the idea and words to my attention at the conference. To me, “tread softly” means to listen more than speak, to not impose my viewpoint, and to be self-aware.
What is your hope for women in the Asia Pacific?
I believe strongly in the importance of the Blue Pacific narrative and hope my friends, colleagues, and all women from Asia-Pacific are given agency over their lives, especially those from groups that continue to be marginalised, like our LGBTQI+ sisters. I hope women will continue to be recognised for their unique talents and given space and respect in their homes, communities, and institutions.
Selfishly, because this is my area of work, I hope there are more women and girls inspired, supported, and encouraged to pursue learning and careers in STEM and Computer Science.
What change would you like to see that could bring greater equality for women in the Asia Pacific?
While I can’t speak on behalf of women in the region, I think one change that would have an impact on equality is for more women to act in solidarity with marginalised women everywhere. If we are all unified under the goal of achieving greater equity, we can achieve so much more, together. I also hope women from Asia-Pacific are the ones who are given the opportunity to voice their challenges and then receive the funding, space and support to bring solutions centred on equality to the fore.
What the team said…
“In addition to constantly challenging herself, Kara is a supporter and promoter of other women in her work. She is always encouraging me and other women in her team to challenge ourselves and grow in our roles. She is generous with her knowledge and skills, operates openly and transparently, and is willing to push boundaries.”