Harvard sophomore Nadia Farjood found her passion for social justice and women’s empowerment at an early age. At 17, she established an organization for women’s issues, and developed a fundraising walk for a global community of underprivileged young women and girls. In 2009, she won the Women’s eNews leadership award for her work fundraising for girls in Iran and Afghanistan. Teen Voices’ Ashley Morris caught up with Nadia to find out more about her inspiring work with girls.

Teen Voices: You wrote the piece “I Am Female” for the 2010 Women’s Conference; in it, you write about entering college as a young woman. What have you learned about yourself as a college freshwoman?

Farjood: Since coming to college, I have become a lot more aware and critical of the environment I’m in. I think being a freshwoman, being very involved in a feminist community on campus, I’m a lot more aware of injustices perpetuated against women, but also a lot more hopeful in terms of ways this oppression can be amended. Since being [at Harvard], I’ve been a lot more acutely aware of my gender, and the opportunities I’m either given or deprived.

Teen Voices: What thoughts ran through your mind when you won the Women’s eNews 21 Leaders of the 21st Century Award?

Farjood: I could not have been more shocked! I was incredibly fortunate. I was greatly honored and I still am today to be a part of the Women’s eNews community, and to have been recognized by them. Seeing people there who had really made powerful impacts for women was astounding, and really was a great motivational booster for me.

Teen Voices: Thoughts on post-college steps?

Farjood: I’ve thought about law, particularly human rights law, but I think my leadership skills mostly pertain to organizing and advocacy work. I do a lot of service, and the way I conceive it is using your leadership skills to inspire and insight others to make change in their communities. A lot of times we conceive of leadership as one person exerting authority or influence over other people, but [I define it as] lifting people up and forming a powerful movement where people are united. My vision for leadership is one in which people are all on the same plane working toward a common goal. I think in my life, I can inspire and support women in achieving their goals.

Teen Voices: When you were in high school, you were involved in a lot of projects that impacted young women and girls. What prompted you to become so engaged in social change at an early age?

Farjood: I think part of it was the way I was raised, [with] almost an obligation to contribute to service in my community. It was kind of a mindset. I was also very frustrated with what I was seeing as a high school girl. I saw a lot of my friends go through eating disorders, a few were engaged in abusive relationships. I saw oppressive male behavior, and I saw several of my friends really affected by injustices toward their gender, and I was acutely aware of that. I think sometimes being a part of being a leader or being a public servant is having some anger, having a little bit of frustration with the way things are so you can act to dismantle structures that act as barriers to women achieving what they want .

Teen Voices: In high school, you supported the organization Omid-e-Mehr. Can you give our readers some background on the organization?

Farjood: The Omid-e-Mehr is a foundation in Tehran, Iran, that supports and shelters Iranian and Afghan women aged 15 to 25. It’s just a remarkable organization that tries to support women in variety of disciplines, so a lot of the women that end up going there were either sold into prostitution at a young age, lived in abject poverty, were abandoned by their families, or had been victim to drug abuse. The shelter has a social justice mission to provide these women with the social-emotional support, and also vocational skills, such as art, or a lot of job avenues that have skill groups there to support them on it, and it’s kind of a process of therapy and also of intellectual growth and support.

Teen Voices: Tell us about the process of organizing the 5K walk for Omid-e-Mehr.

Farjood: I started out thinking it wasn’t going to be difficult, but being the coordinator of anything is pretty difficult. In this role, I was kind of the leader. I worked really hard to get a media campaign going. I talked on a radio show in Los Angeles to generate some enthusiasm and awareness about the walk, and also the issues we were trying to address in supporting the girls in the Omid Foundation. I also went to a lot of cultural and women’s groups in San Diego and informed them about the walk, and we held some discussions about gender equity and also the struggles women face in underprivileged communities abroad in terms of resources and support. So I think the coordination of it was very different. It was incredibly rewarding, I had a fantastic team of friends and family members working with me to organize it.

Teen Voices: Can you tell us about a woman who inspired you when you were growing up?

Farjood: My mom is someone I consider a trailblazer in terms of how she raised me. [She] was always pushing me to be the very best person I could be. My mom always thought about who am I going to be, what kind of a person am I going to be, how am I going to contribute to this world. The way she raised me was to think of myself not as just an individual going through my life, but also as someone integrated into the global community.

Teen Voices: What advice would you give to teen girls who are budding leaders?

Farjood: Apply your education, use your privilege. Create a blog to discuss issues that you are interested in in your daily life. Go out and service a community you think needs to be served and develop strong community partnerships with them, create an organization at your school to act as a forum for your peers to discuss issues that are prevalent in your daily life. Action is incredibly important for young women ““ now more than ever. Recruit people and create a walk in your own community for a cause that you’re passionate about. I think young girls often think because of their age or other extenuating circumstances that their contributions are not worthy or that they’re too young to do X, Y, or Z. But I don’t think that’s the case; they should really throw themselves into their passions and their pursuits. At the end of the day, all you have is your passion, and no one can take that away from you.