When Angela Zhou first saw a beautiful pair of pajama pants at a sleepover as a middle schooler, she had no idea that it would launch one of the greatest vocational missions of her life. When she found out that they were made by victims and survivors of human trafficking (as part of a project to give them financial independence and opportunities) — she knew she had to get involved and help other young people educate themselves about the issue. Her work with the International Princess Program (all while pursuing a prestigious triple bachelor in the selective World Bachelor in Business Program), has allowed her to elevate her activism and organizing work to a global level. Her commitment to activating a generation of young people to fight against global injustice in thoughtful, collaborative ways sets an example for us all.
College: World Bachelor in Business Program (University of Southern California, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Bocconi University Milan)
Majors: World Bachelor in Business
Expected Graduation: December 2017
How did you first connect with the International Princesses Program and discover your passion for addressing issues related to human trafficking and women? What about the issue drove you to take action?
I was at a sleepover with my friend in middle school when I noticed her wearing a beautiful pair of pajamas. When she showed me the website where she had gotten them from, I realized that the pajamas were being sold by a nonprofit that helps rehabilitate trafficking victims by helping them earn money for their handwoven pajama pants. At the time, I didn’t know what trafficking was and it was only through research that I began to feel compelled to help out in any way I could. What struck me the most was that even victims who escape or are rescued choose to return to trafficking due to their inability to earn income for themselves or their children in any other way. I eventually reached out to International Princess Project and offered to volunteer. Over the years of my involvement with the organization, I took on larger leadership roles in raising awareness and fundraising.
Why is it so important to dedicate your time to activating and educating other young people on this global issue and ones like it? How has the Teen Ambassadors program you founded contributed to that cause?
It’s so important that young people are educated about global issues because social issues are often times not taught in elementary or secondary education. I was shocked to learn about human trafficking when I was only thirteen years old because I felt I should have known about something that happens at so large a scale earlier on in my life. Moreover, in the U.S., current social issues are not a required part of the education system. I found that unfortunate, given my belief in young people’s ability to mobilize and enact change, and that was ultimately why I started the Teen Ambassadors program to give youth an opportunity to get involved. From my experience working with the Partnering Princesses Teen Ambassadors program, I’ve seen the power youth have in broadcasting awareness for important issues through social media and creative forms of expression.
You’ve traveled a great deal while working to address issues faced by survivors and victims of human trafficking. Is there a stand-out moment from your experiences that really reflects the power of the work your organizations were doing?
Though International Princess Project originally intended to rehabilitate sex trafficking victims into vocational roles, our organization was eventually able to raise enough funds to help the partnered women in India send their children to school. This was such an impactful milestone to experience because many female trafficking victims do not have access to birth control and conceive children that are forced to face the same fate as their mothers. Being able to help build educational pathways for their children both provided the women time to work and the opportunity to end the cycle of trafficking that often perpetuates several generations.
How do you think young activists and leaders can approach their work in an intersectional, globally-minded way?
I believe young people can work productively in the social sector by building partnerships with other organizations around the world with similar missions and researching about the global issue they are interested in alleviating on a local scale. It is important to be educated about current issues occurring around the world because this builds credibility for your work.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your work? How do you motivate yourself to overcome them?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a volunteer is inspiring consistency amongst the people I work with. It is easy to contribute once to an organization or cause you are passionate about and forget about the issue later down the road. But real change happens through tireless commitment and daily actions. I am motivated to overcome this challenge for myself and others by looking upon global leaders and activists who spend their lifetimes working for others without the guarantee of progress.
Who inspires you most in your work as an activist and leader?
For the past five years, my biggest inspiration has been Malala Yousafzai. By unapologetically living her life and pursuing her education, she has inspired me to reject social boundaries that confine women into outdated roles and devalue the significance young people have on catalyzing social change. I was so inspired by Malala, that I wrote about how her work impacted the way I approach social activism in my college application essays. I never imagined that four years later, I’d be sitting in the front row listening to her share her story at the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers Conference in New York.
As one of the few students in the highly selective World Bachelor in Business Program, what are your thoughts on how young people can better prepare themselves to engage with such complex issues on a global level?
I believe young people can best understand global issues by engaging with people of different cultures and backgrounds. Being in the World Bachelor in Business program educated me about my culture and others’ far more than any class could have, and that is because I spent every day of my past four years with students from around the world. Most of all, the experience of working, living, and studying with people from across the Americas, Asia, and EMEA made me more open-minded towards new ideas and retrospective of my own shortcomings.
What are your strategies and coping mechanisms for setting and accomplishing your lofty humanitarian, educational and professional goals?
I wouldn’t say I came into International Princess Project with a specific goal to eradicate human trafficking, but rather I wanted to contribute my share of time and effort as an individual. However, I learned that when multiple people who are willing to devote their resources come together, a great amount of progress can be achieved. My work with the Partnering Princesses Teen Ambassadors initiative taught me that the best way to accomplish short-term goals (i.e. fundraising xxx amount over the next 3 months) or long-term goals (i.e. building a small school in the next 2 years) is to work together in specific teams and with other nonprofits or organizations that have greater resources than your own.
What kind of advice can you offer young people looking to get involved with humanitarian projects around the world?
My advice for those looking to get involved is to do what I did, which is taking the initiative and reaching out to organizations whose values you identify with. There are many nonprofits around the world with similar mission statements and all of them are interested in getting as much help as they can. Getting started in this way and building your knowledge of social issues through conferences and online studies can even inspire you to start something on your own. Finally, there are many foundations and global conferences that will fund your travels or accomodate you, should you be interested in working abroad.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
Curious, Energetic, Purposeful, Deliberate, Idealistic.