Poonam Rahman is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of two international 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations designed to provide free resources to historically marginalized communities. The first international nonprofit she founded, Virtue Mental, aims to provide free mental health resources to historically marginalized communities, while her second nonprofit, Shattering Bias In S.T.E.A.M., aims to provide free academic and professional resources to young girls who are considering pursuing a career in S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics), but do not have the adequate resources to do so due to their socioeconomic status and other related factors. She has also written a book (publishing in early 2022) also named “Shattering Bias In S.T.E.A.M.” which focuses on bridging gender gaps within the field of S.T.E.A.M. and creating a more inclusive work environment for all womxn. She has also led a workshop at the Girl Up Leadership Conference alongside keynote speakers Meghan Markle, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, and more.
Where did the idea for Virtue Mental come from?
Growing up as a Bangladeshi-American, mental health was always stigmatized and was seen as a taboo topic of discussion. In many parts of Bangladesh, you are seen as less than a human being if you have a mental illness or if you seek professional help. During quarantine, I had a lot of time to think and contemplate my experiences as a South Asian American and I came to the realization that there aren’t many resources and platforms out there that focus on fulfilling the mental health needs of marginalized communities such as my own. This realization was the motivating factor for me to create Virtue Mental; I had the passion and desire to create an inclusive and nonjudgmental platform where individuals of all walks of life can discuss mental health topics while also catering to their mental health needs.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day usually consists of work, studying, attending class, working on my research projects, working on my first book, and doing administrative work for Virtue Mental and my second NGO, Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M.. I am able to make my day productive by time blocking my day into Google Calendar and making a list of priorities for the day ahead. Within my Google Calendar, I like to include my commute time, eating breakfast, spending time with my family, etcetera so I can ensure that I am taking full advantage of the day. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to be productive every minute of the day and it is easy to fall in the “hustle culture” mindset, but I like to take some time out of each day to do something for myself even for five minutes which allows me to be more productive as I am re-centering my attention.
How do you bring ideas to life?
There isn’t a set formula I follow in order to bring my ideas to life as they usually pop up throughout the day spontaneously. However, during the weekends, I like to set some time out of my schedule to brainstorm ideas for my nonprofits and some personal ideas/goals I would like to achieve!
What’s one trend that excites you?
There is a TikTok trend going around called having a “no bones day” which means taking the day off to rest and take care of yourself. This is a trend that excites me because as an individual, one of my personal ideals that I try to emphasize to the people around me is self-care and it’s importance. In this day and age, people usually look up to people who are constantly grinding and have too many things on their plate, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Rest is productive and modern day research shows that it is effective So go take your lunch break, vacation day, PT), and have a “no-bones day”!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I love building connections with female founders who are doing similar things as me. I like to block out time every month to connect with entrepreneurs and to build meaningful connections with them. This motivates me to work harder in my entrepreneurial journey to empower more women around the world.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell her that things will get better, even if the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t visible at the moment. When I was younger, I remember constantly getting bullied and berated due to my nationality and other related matters, but fast forward to ten years later, I am on the forefront of a mental health organization striving to ensure mental health accessibility in historically marginalized communities.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Rest is productive; once should dedicate some time to self-maintenance each day.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Don’t just network with people, also build meaningful connections with them. Usually when we think about networking, we view it as being transactional. Throughout my entrepreneurial journey, I have learned to build meaningful and long-lasting connections with people, instead of only speaking to them once. The people I have networked with in the past are now my closest friends and mentors.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Finding a niche for my organization. There are many mental health nonprofits out there that are doing similar work as us, but creating a distinguishable mission statement is the one strategy that has helped with the growth and development of Virtue Mental.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Raising funds and grant writing was a bit of a challenge for me, but with the help of my amazing mentors I was able to master this skill and financially support Virtue Mental and Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M..
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
It would be super cool to see something similar to Uber and Lyft, but for women. In this day and age, women (like myself) are afraid to use an Uber/Lyft due to safety reasons but I think a great way to relieve any stress is to have female drivers for females.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Buying a new iPad. Well, it was over $100 but it is a great investment as I’ve recently started using Good Notes and notability to take my notes for school instead of using pen and paper.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Calendly, Notion, and Google Calendar! Calendly helps me book one on one calls with my team members and collaborating partners, Notion helps me stay organized throughout the day as I write down my to do list on there, and I schedule out my day and time block using Google Calendar!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Think Like a Monk” by Jay Shetty made a significant impact on me as I have learned to remove negativity and toxicity in my life and to let go of destructive friendships. After launching Virtue Mental and Shattering Bias in S.T.E.A.M., I have lost a lot of friends who were afraid of my potential and growth. Through reading “Think Like a Month,” I have realized that those friendships were not good for me in the first place, and one needs to heal from the past to continue moving forward. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in personal development, mental health and conquering one’s fears.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is, “The struggle you are in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow.” Entrepreneurship is undoubtedly a very bumpy field and you will endure many trials and tribulations, but you have to understand that this pain is temporary, and everything will work out at the end of the day.
- Build meaningful and non-transactional relationships with people.
- Things will get better even when you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.
- Self-care is key in preventing burnout.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.