Mentor Shelly Ulaj

shelly_ulaj_525x350Bill and Melinda Gates recently released their annual Gates Foundation letter enlisting millions to participate in their cause—breaking the cycle of poverty. They predict that lives in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. Something as simple as raising awareness, volunteering your time, or giving a little money can make an impact.

Ladies Who Launch Non-Profits is an ongoing series celebrating women who are engaged with the world around them and have committed themselves to the selfless act of starting a non-profit. Their positive impact is often immeasurable and most definitely commendable. They inspire us to think big and do better in the world.

With these wonderful women leading the charge, Bill and Melinda’s lofty goals seem attainable.

What’s the name of your non-profit and what’s its mission?

Women Empowered is an organization that connects, educates and supports women of all ages and backgrounds, and inspires them to give back to their communities through mentorship, networking and volunteerism.

What made you decide to start a non-profit?

It’s quite a story and a long one but ultimately, I started the group to connect and befriend other women in LA. I grew up in a traditional Albanian home in NY. As the first generation here and having been raised in a strict Albanian home, I found myself struggling to find my voice as a woman. Women in that culture are often seen but not heard and the outgoing, assertive, and open minded person I was I felt like my soul was being diminished. I married at the young age of 17 which ended in divorce. My divorce was the beginning of my life so to speak. It was my chance to finally live my life according to me and no one else. However, during this time I felt alone, disconnected, and lacked the support that I needed to grow. So, I decided to start a women’s social support group called Women Empowered. It wasn’t a nonprofit at the time nor did I have any intention for it to become one. As the group started to grow, I felt like there was something there, I just didn’t know quite what it was. I decided to find out and two years later formed it into a nonprofit. Since 2010, we’ve grown into 400+ members in LA and provide networking opportunities, workshops, mentorship, and volunteer opportunities for our members.

What’s been the most rewarding moment since launching?

Watching women connect with each other and support one another. I started the group to do the same for myself and so seeing that happen for others brings me so much joy. So I suppose it’s many moments and not just one.

What are your goals over the next year?

Our goal is to launch a NYC chapter. Since New York is my hometown, it only made sense, and there seems to be a need for it according to the women I have interacted with in NYC.

If you could request resources or help, what would it be?

We’re constantly looking for more women to get involved. Since our focus is on NYC, we are currently looking for board members to run the show out there.

What advice do you have for someone who would like to start his or her own charity?

Be optimistic and extremely passionate for your cause. You will run into a lot of people and they all may not necessarily be aligned with your vision. Stay focused and always remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s easy to burn out and lose hope. You’ll be wearing a lot of different hats so be flexible and open to change.

What unexpected obstacles have you encountered?  How did you overcome it?

I’ve been lucky that we haven’t run into any major obstacles. I guess the only one that comes to mind is finding someone to work with and then soon realizing they are not a good fit. I’ve learned to manage my expectations. It comes with time and experience. As an idealist (or at least 80% of the time), I tend to have an overly optimistic approach to life and so learning how to manage those expectations has helped me overcome any obstacle.

What is your website? 

If you are interested in participating in their non-profit as a donor, patron, corporate sponsor, or volunteer, we encourage you to reach out to the non-profit. They’d be thrilled to hear from you.

I love this infographic on Why Giving Makes You Feel So Good. It’s reason enough to get involved.

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