Exeleon Magazine

Interview with Global Human Activist – Tiffani Brooke Fest

Tiffani Brooke_Exeleon Magazine

Leadership is about service, not position. From Moses to Martin Luther King Jr., history is full of examples of people who led not because they had power but because they had a cause and an idea worth fighting for. They knew that the best way to lead is to serve. When you do this, the most complex of problems become easy, the most demanding challenges become minor, and obstacles drive away. People follow your lead voluntarily because they want to be part of what you’re doing, not because you tell them.

Tiffani Brooke Fest, an Actress, Global Activist, Advocate, and Humanitarian is one such leader who is fighting for the cause. She believes that growth and happiness can only be achieved when shared with others. In the following interview, she eloquently combines business and spirituality and shares with us the ultimate way of transforming our shortcomings into advantages.

What according to you makes for a transformational leader? How do you integrate the same thought into your own leadership?

Well, that’s a tough question for multiple reasons. I have a hard time with the word leader in general, as the implication is someone with power over others.  I think true leadership is born out of a commitment to serve others. When it’s born out of a desire to gain power or control over others then leadership can be quite manipulative and even destructive. 

What has the journey been like for Tiffani Brooke over the years? 

I would say my journey has mostly been a spiritual one.  As an actress and an artist, my job has always been to connect to our shared humanity, to hold up a mirror up to society, expose our deepest vulnerabilities, and on a deeper level, be a catalyst for social change. 

About 10 years ago I also discovered Nichiren Buddhism, a philosophy for creating happiness for self and others.  A core belief is happiness cannot exist independently. True and lasting happiness can only be shared with others. The more I chanted, the more I wanted to become a more global citizen, and to advocate for social justice, uniting with others around the world.

Looking back, what would you have done different when starting out?

I don’t believe in lamenting the past because every cause you have made, even those you deem mistakes, have brought you to where you are today. “From this day forward” is a better way to live your life.  Every effect you will see in the future is made up of the causes you make today.  So just keep advancing as you are now! The only thing I would change if I could, would be to have had the courage to start my global activism sooner. But my life had its own divine timing, and I am thankful for it!

What has been your biggest driver as a leader? How do you plan on empowering the lives of people?

I wouldn’t call myself a leader actually. I coined a term for myself 5 years ago, on my first ever global volunteer trip to Nepal, deeming myself a “Global Human Activist”. This inspires me and motivates me to keep going.  It’s active, like a verb.  It implies a far-reaching goal, and expansion on a global level. And that’s what I want to do, continue to expand my capacity to give in the world. The last 5 years those efforts have been concentrated in India, where I began supporting women and children in poverty.

When I was introduced to the NGO New Light, I felt as though I had come home to myself. The organization, run by the incomparable Urmi Basu, elevates the lives of women and children living in the largest read light districts in India, effectively minimizing the cycle of 2nd generation prostitution.  As a feminist and a survivor of sexual abuse myself, I felt a unique call to support their incredible work.  Urmi Basu has become not just a mentor, but a dear friend, and a sister.  My dream is to continue to advocate on behalf of women and girls around the world. 

What would be your advice for aspiring and emerging women leaders?

I think the greatest thing my Buddhist practice has taught me, is that your dharma (or life’s purpose), is directly correlated to the source of your greatest suffering.  Read that again. When you can turn the ultimate “poison” in your life into “medicine” for the good of oneself and others, or as we say in Buddhism, “turn karma into mission,” then you are fulfilling your life’s dharma and all the universe conspires to help you achieve that end.

For me, the source of my greatest suffering was the physical & sexual abuse I endured as a child, which crippled my self-esteem, my ability to love, and my ability to thrive in the world. With the help of my spiritual practice, I have been able to turn that exact suffering into a mission to help other women experiencing the same. And nothing has given me more joy in my life than advocating for an end to sexual violence against women & girls. 

So my advice to all women would be this: go inward, find that thing you’ve most likely been trying to escape. Commune with the source of your greatest suffering and turn that into your superpower to transform the world.  It’s profound but trust me when I say, this is where your gift lies.

Talk to us about your humanitarian efforts and what it means to you to give back.

 I think I may have just did that in the last question! As much as being an actress and an artist fills me with joy and purpose, nothing has been more fulfilling than connecting that same passion to a greater mission to transform the lives of women around the world.

What are some of the pre-conceived notions or stereotypes that you have faced being a women leader? (optional)

I think the hardest part about being a woman, leader or not, is the patriarchy upon which our world is built.  Women still make less money than men for the same work, often fighting intense prejudice to even be hired for the job in the first place, and women still face huge amounts of oppression and violence at the hands of men around the globe.

During COVID lockdowns for example, both the Human Rights Watch and UN Women, issued warnings about the sharp increase in VAW (violence against women) globally. Turkey in particular made headlines for the increase in femicides, and yet their president effectively pulled out of the Istanbul Convention, the world’s first binding treaty to prevent violence against women. One in three women have been or will be a victim of sexual violence in their lifetime, and I am a testament to that. So there is still so much work to be done.

Talk to us about the contributions of New Light Kolkata and its vision.

As I mentioned before, my life truly changed when I was introduced to the non profit New Light. Urmi Basu, the founder, has been a true champion for women and girls, and in 2019 was awarded the highest civilian award in India for her work in the red light districts. I urge everyone to go to their website, donate to their cause, follow their work on IG, and consider volunteering one day. (Once travel to India is safe again). They are constantly in need of volunteers to collaborate with the kids, teach them a skill or trade, provide arts education, or simply be there to provide love and mentorship.  The experience will undoubtedly change your life. 

Contact – www.newlightindia.org and IG: NewLIghtKolkata

What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning?

I think the biggest roadblock for me has been time and limited resources. I’m not an activist full time, and I am juggling my life and career and financial obligations back home in the states, in order to get back to India and contribute in any substantial way.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that just bringing awareness to a cause IS a contribution.  Some of my most miraculous moments have come out of simply sharing the cause with others.  People unite around you and contribute to your goal if you share your intent openly and authentically.  Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Let your community support you. You might be surprised where that leads you. 

What does the future look like for you in the coming years? What is your long-term vision?

Right now my main goal is to be able to return to India safely. Covid has been wreaking havoc on this country and the people that I love, and right now all we can do is offer our support from the sidelines.  Consider donating to New Light so they can keep their doors open to the women and children in Kolkata they continue to serve.  Share their work & their social media with others. And of course, continue to give to India’s covid relief efforts where you can.

Finally, what do you think is the most important trait for a leader and why?

Like I said in the beginning, the important thing is not to seek leadership. True leaders never seek to lead, they seek to serve.  And in a way that aligns with their unique dharma in the world.  From their earnest offerings, unseen hands emerge, supporters who champion their vision, and who walk beside them every step of the way. Urmi Basu started New Light 20 years ago with only $200 and a dream. Twenty years later they operate 5 schools and shelters and provide education to children from infancy through university. I started my global activism just 5 years ago, with one solo trip to Nepal.  All you have to do is take that first step.  Jump, and the net will appear.

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Visit Tiffani Brooke Fest’s LinkedIn.

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