For Alexandra Smarandescu, a young leader taking a lead in politics, the free exchange of diverse ideas is a hallmark of a politically robust and progressive community. She believes that only through dialogue can people share, examine, challenge, and refine their opinions. As a participant in the Women to Women Leadership Program (W2W) through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, Alexandra expanded her network of like-minded peers and mentors, and also developed an action plan for bringing social change to her home country.
In her law studies and as chairwoman of Flemish Youth Council, Alexandra has learned to embrace both accomplishments and challenges as factors that shape life’s path. “It’s okay to dream big, but also you have to be ready to defeat challenges,” she says. This young leader’s ambition and desire to make a difference in the world drive her to take risks.
When Alexandra submitted her application for the Women2Women International Leadership Program (W2W) through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium, she doubted she’d be accepted into the program. “I remember seeing the application online, and I thought ‘well, that’s a long shot,’” Alexandra remembers. “It looked cool. So I’m like, I’m just gonna give it a shot. Who knows?” Alexandra was accepted and joined other young women leaders at the 10-day conference in Boston dedicated to women’s rights and leadership. She found the experience profoundly relevant to her career and future. “Life takes you to really unexpected places – and it’s usually way better than in your own imagination.”
Alexandra appreciated the deep dive into the topic of women’s rights provided by the W2W program, and in particular, it’s collaborative approach. “We talked about women’s rights and leadership. We had debates. We had workshops,” she recalls. “For example, we went to Harvard to work on our negotiation skills. It was very fancy, and the people were all top-notch who came to talk to us.”
W2W participants depend on this community of peers and mentors to create action plans for social change. They also motivate each other to face the challenges of implementing them once back in their home countries. “The fact that it’s going to be difficult – that’s obvious. But you have to be prepared for that,” Alexandra explains. “That’s something I took away, because I’ve always been kind of like a problem-fixer. And that’s a really important one, because there always will be challenges, and you have to be ready for that.”
“Everything is just a matter of perspective.”
An important reason Alexandra found deep engagement with her W2W community so inspiring was its diversity. “People were really top-notch, but that was not the most important thing to me,” she explains. “The most important thing was the sense of a community that I had while I was there.”
Alexandra found that with participants hailing from 25 countries, the W2W community was both diverse and united in purpose. She herself brought the cultural heritage of two countries as a Belgian with Romanian roots. “It was very international with a lot of different opinions and people and perspectives. We were all from very different countries and we had very different backgrounds, but we were all there with the same purpose and passion for making a change.”
As a young leader, Alexandra faces her future with curiosity and optimism. She has already defined guiding principles in her life, ones that match the mission of the W2W program. One is that embracing diversity cultivates empathy and an open mind. “If you try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, or you try to understand where someone else is coming from, it’s a lot easier to find a solution and find common ground to do things.”
Alexandra has also discovered the importance of having one’s ideas challenged, as they were in her W2W experience. “I don’t want to convince people to see things my way. That’s not my goal. What I want is for people to form their own opinion, and to raise their own voices and talk about whatever they find important. I don’t want people to agree with me, necessarily. Heck, it’s even more important if they don’t,” she says with a smile.“Everything is just a matter of perspective.”