Menka Soni explains how she wears so many hats with such elan…
When one reads about Menka Soni, one struggles to read her bio in one breath. To begin with, she’s a wife, daughter, and mother of two based in Washington. Apart from a full-time corporate job at T-Mobile, she is a real estate broker who runs an active non-profit called AmPowering, and leads North America Fashion Week as CEO. She is also the mayor-appointed art commissioner in the City of Redmond and an executive board member and secretary of the One Redmond Foundation, Redmond’s Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development arm. That’s not all. She’s an Inclusion Task Force member appointed by the Renton mayor and an advisory board member of South King County for Homeless and Housing. And this is not all of what she does. We haven’t talked about her awards, her staunch support for diversity and inclusion, and her relentless service to the community during the pandemic.
Her track record in public service and career is immense. How does she get it done? We ask her about her work, values, and productivity secrets.
Tell us about yourself. What was it like growing up?
I was the fifth daughter in a typical old-school family in a small town, Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, India, and finished my schooling in Lucknow. I was born with a still-born baby brother, who the family was eagerly waiting for after four girls. As expected, I was not welcome in the world. As a newborn, I struggled to get even the first breastfeeding of my mom, who was in mourning for my still-born brother. My brother, Lucky Deepak, was born two years later, and I was the only one among my sisters admitted into an English medium co-education school.
These experiences built a robust resilience within me. I battled traditions, completed my education, and later became my family’s only working professional female. I created an illustrious career that opened doors for my cousins and nieces to follow. My mother’s supported me to pursue higher education as slowly I was able to bring the mindset change in the family to showcase the importance of a girl’s education.
How do you get so many things done? What are your productivity secrets?
Everyone keeps asking me this question and I give them the metaphor of a piano: You don’t play all the keys together. Keep a balance, follow a rhythm and play the right note for perfect music.
One major secret is I am highly spiritual and believe in the power of mind, soul, spirit, and meditation, which has made me mentally strong, so I’m not constantly stressed out just thinking about the workload. Just worrying about work makes it unpleasant, and I want to enjoy the bliss of everything I do. I have a passion for doing, and life has taught me that I should follow my heart if I believe in something. No one else will come forward to fulfill your dreams. Above all, I am not afraid of trying things as I firmly believe that I get the assured return of learning something new with every attempt. I have faced failures, and they helped me open more opportunities.
However, it is also essential to pay attention to our health. It is imperative to follow your passion, yet in the desire to be successful, I urge my fellow women to focus on personal health. I learned this lesson the hard way, having suffered a heart attack. Please pay heed to your body, mind, and soul.
Can you talk a bit of pageantry? How did you get into it?
In 2011, I launched my first designer apparel brand, Ravishing Inc., an initiative to aid women artisans and talented rural embroiderers and entrepreneurs in keeping traditional Lucknowi Chikankari alive. From my first brick and mortar store in downtown Redmond, Seattle, to launching my non-profit AmPowering (formerly known as Ravishing Women) in 2013, I have done it all. I hosted Ravishing Women’s first pageant of Ms. India WA to inspire and motivate women to showcase their talent. Nine years of pageant organizing later, I am a state, national and international pageant director and founder of several pageant systems, including Mr. & Ms. Global Asia, Miss Teen Global Asia, Mrs. India Canada, Miss Teen India Canada, Miss and Mrs. India Washington & Oregon USA.
A pageant is never just a showcase of physical and facial beauty. It is about empowerment. It is a journey to discover our talent, worth, capabilities, potential, and what we want. It makes you push beyond your boundaries. Because of the way we have structured our pageant system, participants discover 360 degrees of beauty – brain, heart, talent, personality, intellect, relationships, entrepreneurship, team building, and most importantly, community servant leadership. We emphasize and expect all our queens to give back and be involved in our charitable initiatives when they get a crown. Our pageant has no height, weight, color, and other restrictions. We have an inclusive pageant system for all. Today, when I look back, many girls and women who participated have evolved from this platform. So many of them won other national and worldwide pageants and are still growing. Through our teen and young kids’ pageant, we are very focused on teaching our younger generation to learn the importance of empathy and giving back. While we focus on today, we are also building a better tomorrow!
Tell us about your work with diversity and inclusion (DEI) for the City of Renton mayor. What are your biggest concerns in this department?
We talk about diversity and inclusion, but we, at times, fail to break the bias that exists today around us. Don’t just invite people to the dance party, but we have to ask them to the dance floor. They are not spectators but part of our communities and activities. Unfortunately, even today, for many people, DEI is a task or a project and they want to prioritize that based on the need. For me, it’s a principle and the core value that should be part of whatever we do.
Tell us about AmPowering. What’s it about, and how long have you worked on it? What inspires you in the area of women’s empowerment?
In 2009 I had to leave my job at Starbucks Corporate in the US as my work visa expired. I was forced to sit at home, and I realized the pain of many such women who have talent, education, and capabilities but do not have the resources to use their skills. I was always an overachiever till that time, so suddenly, I felt I had lost my identity and just became a homemaker and mom of my newborn daughter. That’s when I started my nonprofit journey of empowering women. That is why I say to everyone – that challenging situations come into our lives to push us beyond our capabilities. I look at failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
The meaning of AmPowering itself says that we need to first realize the power within us and say out loud that I AM Power! This realization will help us not only to empower ourselves but to empower others.
Today, I manage several programs related to women’s empowerment in every phase of life, even in rural areas of India. We are working on building a foundation to educate young girls, provide skill training to women and help skilled women get back to jobs under our RehireNow program. I have worked on this for over a decade now, and there is a lot yet to be done.
What are you working on currently? What are you most looking forward to?
We have a sister nonprofit in India, and we are helping communities through various programs in India, Canada, and the US. Our community kitchens to feed the homeless, construction workers, street vendors, and low-income community kids via Maa Ki Rasoi program are doing well in India. Together in India and the US, we feed over 2,500 people every week. These programs and RehireNow are just a few examples of various initiatives we are currently working on under AmPowering. There’s more to be done, and this is only the beginning. I am unstoppable!
For more such inspiring pioneers on SEEMA.com, check out In the Hotel Business, Winner Takes All