A World of Mentors
Riya Mahale’s life completely changed nine years ago, when her family moved to Maryland from her native India. Almost instantly, she was flooded with opportunities she would never have had in India. At her high school, for example, she served in leadership roles at such organizations as the Future Business Leaders of America, Key Club, and the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation. She also tutored elementary school students, and recently accepted a $1,000 scholarship recognizing her commitment to volunteerism.
She says she is deeply grateful for everything her new home has given her. But there is still a proud Indian inside of her who has not forgotten her roots.
“I have, at times, struggled with sadness, and even guilt, about not being able to make a difference in my homeland,” says Riya, one of 32 high school students in the World Trade Center Institute’s current cohort of Albrecht high school fellows.
But she recently came to realize she can have the best of both worlds. She can help people in India and other countries without leaving the United States, as long as she taps into her skills and interests related to business. In other words, she can be a “global citizen” – people-first and impact-driven, reaching far beyond her own backyard.
“Some may say I am too young to make a difference,” says Riya, a junior at Dulaney High School. “But look at Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, and then tell me how I'm dreaming too big.”
She had this epiphany at a car wash, of all places. At the Brooks-Huff Tire and Auto Centers parking lot in Timonium on a warm Saturday morning, last September, she and 50 of her classmates showed up with rags, hoses, and buckets of soapy water to wash cars. In just three hours they raised an impressive $600, all with an operating budget of $20. But the biggest win was how the money was going to be used. All of it went to Zambia, to help children get the education they need.
That fundraiser, which she led and coordinated, solidified for her that she can do good for others – and that she can do so from afar, just like many of the people in the WTCI network who lead and work for businesses that have a positive impact on other countries.
The issue she wants to focus on is children, mainly those in the developing world. She wants to help ensure they have the food, water, shelter, education, and everything else they need to live a full and healthy life, just like she does in Maryland.
Her grandmother, who she calls Nani, is her inspiration. She was a teacher for many decades. And when she wasn't in the classroom, she would go to the homes of her low-income students to offer additional schooling. She would even bring them food. It wasn't something she charged for, or an obligation to her, but simply the right thing to do.
While her Nani is her teacher from afar – they talk via Facetime once a week – Riya also appreciates her local mentors, including those she has learned from as an Albrecht fellow.
In the first session of her fellowship program, for example, she learned about global diplomacy from DC Metro Diplomat in Residence Darion Atkins and Towson University Faculty Director Dr. Alison McCartney. And during the second session, she learned about public speaking from Vocal Impact Productions Founder Dr. Laura Sicola. Riya put those skills to use a month later, when she made a speech to 300 global business leaders at our annual Maryland International Business Leadership Awards.
“As an Albrecht fellow, I am taking learning to the next level,” says Riya. “I come one step closer, every day, to achieving my dream of working for a global organization that serves those who are in need.”