Nadya Okamoto: A Woman Changing the World
Nadya Okamoto, who grew up in Portland, OR, is 21-years-old Harvard student on a leave of absence. She is the Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD (period.org), an organization she founded at the age of 16. PERIOD is now the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health, and one of the fastest growing ones here in the United States. Since 2014 they have addressed over 500,000 periods and registered over 300 campus chapters. In 2017, Nadya ran for office in Cambridge, MA. While she did not win, her campaign team made historic waves in mobilizing young people on the ground and at polls. Nadya recently published her debut book, Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement with publisher Simon & Schuster, which made the Kirkus Reviews list for Best Young Adult Nonfiction of 2018. Most recently, Nadya has become the Chief Brand Officer of JUV Consulting, a Generation Z marketing agency based in NYC. Nadya was recently named to InStyle Magazine’s “The Badass 50: Meet the Women Who Are Changing the World” list, along with Michelle Obama, Ariana Grande, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am 21 years old and a rising junior at Harvard studying social studies. I grew up in New York and Portland, Oregon.
You’re the founder of the largest youth-run NGO. What is PERIOD: specifically, why did you create it, and what impact has it had combating period poverty and stigma?
PERIOD strives to end period poverty and period stigma through service, education, and advocacy.
I founded PERIOD when I was 16-years-old, as a junior in high school, after my family experienced living without a home of our own for several months. During this time, on my commute to school on the public bus, I had many conversations with homeless women in much worse living situations than I was in. I was inspired to learn more about menstrual inequity and period poverty after collecting an anthology of stories of their using toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags, cardboard, and more, to take care of something so natural.
It’s 2019, and yet, 35 US states still have a sales tax on period products because they are considered luxury items (unlike Rogaine and Viagra), period-related pain is a leading cause of absenteeism amongst girls in school, and periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries. Over half of our global population menstruates for an average of 40 years of their life on a monthly basis, and has been doing so since the beginning of humankind. It’s about time we take action.
Since 2014 we have collected, donated, and distributed enough menstrual hygiene products to serve over 500,000 periods! We have also developed a network of more than 300 chapters.
In addition to PERIOD, you work as Chief Brand Officer at JUV Consulting. Can you discuss JUV Consulting: what the company is, what its message is, and what your own role within it is?
I am the Chief Brand Officer at JUV Consulting which is a gen Z marketing agency that works with companies to better understand and engage generation z. Generation Z is the largest segment of the population in the history of the world at 26% of the global population and 46% of the total media audience. When you look at the data around Generation Z, we are driven changemakers fed up with the world around us. We are ready to take action no matter what. JUV has worked with brands like Adidas, Unicef, and Viacom and has been featured in Allure, The New York Times, and Forbes.
You’ve ran for office! What was it like? Why did you decide to do it, what did you learn from the experience, and do you think it has encouraged more women to pursue elected positions?
Running for office was an incredible experience. While I didn’t win, my campaign team made historic waves in mobilizing young people on the ground and at polls, and that was my ultimate goal. I wanted to get young people, especially students, more involved and invested in local politics. I also ran on a campaign platforms that I was genuinely so passionate about, centered around housing affordability.
You’re also a public speaker. Can you discuss how public speaking has been therapeutic for you?
The first time I talked about my family’s experience with housing instability was on stage. Public speaking was also the first time I talked about abuse and made the assertion that addressing menstrual equity was key to global development and gender equality.
What sparked the decision to take a gap year to focus on your projects and what has this decision taught you about self-care, balance, and pursuing goals?
I decided to take a leave of absence so that I could focus on PERIOD and on my book launch. This did allow me to work on myself more as well and make sure that I was taking the time to listen to my body.
Could you talk about the documentary that is currently in the making about your life?
The documentary is called Period Girl. It is being made by Jalena. She is 23 years old and one of the founders of Breaktide Productions, a production company owned and operated by women of color.
With your busy schedule, how do you take time for yourself and preserve your mental health?
It is all about balance. I have learned what I need and what kinds of self care are important and effective for me in my life. You have to make sure you are making time to give your body what it needs. This can be as simple as getting enough sleep and making sure you eat good food. For me, a big part of my self care routine is working out. I feel better when I am making sure I find time to exercise on a regular basis.
What advice do you have for young female entrepreneurs who want to make a difference?
You really have to go for it. If there is something you want to do, do it! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t have the resources. Find your people, find a mentor, and ask questions!