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A voice for female empowerment
“When you arrive we will have a lovely fruit salad waiting for you.” These were the words that marked the end of my first conversation with Nicole Joseph-Chin, social entrepreneur and founder of Ms Brafit.
Joseph-Chin’s word was as good as the pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe fruit salad that she greeted me with. More than that, this simple gesture is a great example of the kind of woman and leader that is hosting the Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk, taking place tomorrow, International Women’s Day.
“In October 2014, I had an opportunity as a leader to be part of the Vital Voices global organisation by way of being granted a fellowship for one year,” Joseph-Chin related. “Vital Voices is a global movement initiated in 1997, by the former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright and the then First Lady, Hillary Clinton.
The programme began in January this year and one of the focuses is how to bring women together on a global scale. One of the activities is being able to have a global walk that will see 53 countries walking together on March 8.
“This walk takes place on International Women’s Day and we will all be sharing a moment in time and that synergy is phenomenal,” she said. “If nothing else has happened globally of that magnitude where so many counties do the same thing on the same day, this is incredibly powerful.”
This is the first year that T&T has been authorised to have the walk, based on Joseph-Chin being one of the fellows and having been granted the license for the walk. Trinidad will be joining women from St Lucia, Guyana, the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Pacific counties.
The key message of this walk is to establish the use of mentorship as a tool to create outcomes that are positive for the future generations, where women and girls who are potential leaders will be able to have a space as potential leaders.
“It’s an honour to be the flag bearer for Vital Voices,” she said. “The important thing is to look at how many women we can share with and reach out to so that we can all be better.”
Joseph-Chin is warm, caring and nurturing. She genuinely cares about women and their development as individuals as well as a community. Her social enterprise Ms Brafit is a great example of this. The office, the staff, the entire ambience creates a safe, welcoming space where a woman can feel comfortably vulnerable. Just as an example, I went to do an interview and ended up having a bra fitting and talking about some of my own issues as a woman with bra comfort.
“I worked in the banking sector for 15 years in various departments and I enjoyed that aspect of my growth and development but there has always been the sense of being a teacher in my DNA,” she said. “So after struggling with my own issues of bra comfort, I started Miss Brafit to empower women via their first layer of clothing.”
Joseph-Chin started Miss Brafit in 2002 from her home. Her training included medical training and internship and mentorship. She engaged in post surgical training, orthopedics, lymphedema training, as well as critical training in terms of understanding needs and issues that women have from the physiological, psychological and clinical aspects of their breasts. “When a woman comes for a bra fitting, you need to really understand why she is there,” she said.
“What a woman who is a survivor and is in treatment needs as compared to a woman who is going through menopause needs as compared to a young girl now developing is totally different.”
In 2004 Joseph-Chin opened up Ms Brafit in terms of public visibility and the first two or three newspaper articles were published.
“In 2006, I decided to take the plunge and leave my secure corporate environment because to me, this is my community,” she said. “To me, there is nothing more empowering than one woman being encouraged by another.”
In 2007, Joseph-Chin relocated to her present office space on the South Western corner of the Queen’s Park Savannah. In 2010 after a few years of building her social enterprise she was recognised as a female leader and social entrepreneur in T&T and the Caribbean that was making a vast difference in terms of women’s wellness and health.
“I was selected by the US State Department to spend a little under month in the US as part of an international visitor leadership programme,” Joseph-Chin said. “I was the only Caribbean woman selected. I had an opportunity to understand entrepreneurship and understand how decision making happens at a top level, as well as how advocacy for entrepreneurial opportunities were created form a governmental position.”
Joseph-Chin used this experience to begin helping women even more. She began inviting many female entrepreneurs to share her space and collaborate. Ms Brafit went on to host Valentine Day Events and seminars. From 2010 to 2012, Joseph-Chin ran an event called Cupcakes and Cleavage that empowered women by sharing a positive message, allowed women to collaborate and have a space and also allowed women to be able to see the potential for growth in a community.
In 2011 Joseph-Chin was also invited to be part of Pathways to Prosperity, another leadership event for female entrepreneurs.
“Immediately after we got a call after the from the US State Department in Washington that we now had to form a women’s entrepreneurial network of the Caribbean that was going to be the continuation of that meeting with Honourbale Secretary Clinton. In 2013 at a women’s forum in Washington, I was elected as the executive director of the Women's Entrepreneurial Network Caribbean (WENC) and lead representative for the T&T Chapter.”
Joseph-Chin credits her parents for her upbringing, without which, she would not be the leader she is today.
“I have had a beautiful stream of relationships with mentors and leaders, people who have influenced my life in so many ways. My parents though have impacted me the most. My parents gave me an amazing upbringing,” Joseph-Chin said. “They gave me a great exposure to global culture and they taught me how to love and embrace people, no matter who!”
She also credits her alma mater, St. George’s where her coaching began as she returned there to teach after graduating.
Aside from these tangible professional landmarks, Joseph-Chin emphasises the gifts that she has received on a personal level.
“I teach because I learn and learn everyday from my clients, from women,” she said. “ They trust me to take care of them, they empower me while I empower them, we are vulnerable together, so it’s a lovely exchange. People are not going see us fall if we are vulnerable in the right crowd; they are going to make sure we are ok standing together.”
Joseph-Chin continues to expand knowledge amongst her peers, presenting seminars on breast health and breast advocacy locally, regionally and internationally and also lecturing on social entrepreneurship at educational institutions.
These experiences are what position Joseph-Chin so perfectly to lead the Vital Voices walk this weekend.
“We want to invite the wider public to join us in the walk, we want to encourage the financial institutions to have their leaders walk with us or be part of next year’s event,” she said. “We want all the leaders to understand this is not one leader versus the other, we are all vulnerable and we are all sharing a space. We want the corporate banking and energy sectors to become a part of our team and network that understands that women are not only admin professionals on admin professional day or a mother on mother’s day, a woman is a leader every day. We are casting the net out so we can develop mentorship as a lifestyle. We look forward to the power of collaboration with other women’s groups as well.”
The Walk starts at 4 pm at South Western Corner Queen’s Park Savannah in the vicinity between Ms Brafit’s office at Cipriani and the US embassy. Joseph-Chin can be contacted at [email protected] or 868-755-1496 for more information on this event.
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