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Gnat & Corky!

I am always in awe of people who pave their own way, write their own stories.  Why?  Because the climb is steep and there are a lot of places where you can lose your grip, fall.  And fall, you surely do.  So it’s all about what it takes to get back up.

That is exactly what this storytelling duo, Courtney Kotloski and Natalie Sorrentino, otherwise known as Gnat & Corky have done. They teamed up to write and illustrate their own children’s books, on their own terms.  The catch?  Each of their characters is based off of a real life child.  The goal?  To tell universal stories through these little beings.  For me, Courtney and Natalie are heroes because they use their talents to highlight someone else’s heroism.  So check out my two new #wcw and let yourself be inspired by these two beautiful ladies.

Gnat and Corky

You could have written about anything, so why base your characters on real children?
Children have a perspective that we sometimes forget still exists in all of us. Although these stories are about kids, there is something that everyone, at any age, can find and hold onto. This series is for dreamers- and children, of all people, seem to be able to bring a light back to anyone that has dimmed. The stories transcend age. The hope is that everyone can see himself or herself in the paint and hear themselves in the words.

Addison and Aasher Woods

What was one of the biggest challenges along the way and how did you deal with it?
Rejection- it’s always there. It’s a fear we all have, especially when you’re putting your heart and soul on the line. But, when you believe in something, you have to silence the negative thoughts, take a “no” graciously, and keep moving forward. Some of the greatest artists and writers we have ever known have had a seemingly insurmountable amount of “no’s”. Looking at his or her life story and the inspiration they bring, is tremendously insightful and can bring hope to anyone who is trying to fulfill a dream.

You had a specific vision about how you wanted to bring these stories to life. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone about to embark on a similar path?
Keep your soul. Don’t sell out. Work hard. Be humble and always be kind. (and drink the wine)

Chicken or egg?
Love- love always comes first.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Corky: Cure disease
Gnat: Time travel

Who has had the biggest influence in your life?
Corky: From a writing perspective- Shel Silverstein. I used to memorize his stories and poems and share them for show and tell. He was just a fearless, quirky, irreverent, funny, and unique man. I love all of his stuff. For the rest of it- I am honestly influenced by everything around me, because I’m probably the most sensitive person on Earth.
Gnat: It’s SO hard to pick one!  From a creative perspective, I will say, Jim Henson.  As a child, I would disappear into his world… the quirk, sweetness, sadness and at times, a little spooky.

Gnat and Corky Rendering

What are you most proud of?
Corky: My children- I still can’t believe I made them and with the love of my life!
Gnat: Ditto on above…My beautiful babies with the love of my life & soul-mate.

If you didn’t have to worry about making money, what would you do with your time?
Corky:  This.
Gnat: Continue painting & add some travel with the fam in there!

What’s one thing you’d do differently if you were to start this process over again?
It’s funny- there have been some bumps and some oopsies, but we ended up right where we need to be and we are still learning and growing. It’s a constant process of re-evaluating, strategy, leaps, and new horizons. We wouldn’t change a thing and we are so hopeful that world loves this series and these kids as much as we do!

What special qualities did you look for in the children you have chosen to write about?
Every child has something special to share. We wish we could write a story about every single kid who submits. Sometimes it’s just a really funny answer or an insight that needs to be explored deeper. Sometimes we go after a particular story because of the social impact and relevance. The responses to our questions are so funny and profound that we have created a book, “The Book of Answers” that will be published in the middle of the Gnat & Corky Series. This will be a sweet little book that shares the answers from the children that have submitted on our website (

Book Photo

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Doing Good in Rwanda

 I met Ayla Schlosser a couple of years ago at a conference at the UN.  Ayla had already started her ground-breaking organization called Resonate, which helps women gain strength and confidence through storytelling.  From the very start, Ayla’s passion has shown through.  She is a social entrepreneur through and through and I admire her greatly.  I hope to one day, be able to visit Rwanda and see Ayla in action.  

Changing things up a bit, I’ve asked Ayla to speak about Resonate herself.  I hope reading about what Resonate stands for and the positive impact Ayla’s work has had on women inspires you as much as it has inspired me.  With Love, Dilshad

What is Resonate?

Resonate uses storytelling to empower women and girls to build self-confidence and unlock leadership potential. We believe that, in addition to external skills, women also need the internal resources to be agents of change in their lives and their communities. The confidence gap exists globally – and in Rwanda and throughout East Africa that gap translates to missed opportunities for social and economic advancement. We partner with organizations teaching skills and education, and integrate our leadership training into their programs. Through this combination women not only get access to the skills and tools they need, they also develop the confidence and leadership to put those skills to use.


What inspired you to start Resonate?  Tell us about your personal journey which brought you here.

I grew up in a household with a strong feminist mother, a supportive father, and with the understanding that I could do anything I put my mind to. I got good grades, I played sports, I stood up for my friends, and I loudly voiced my opinions. I considered myself strong and in control. Yet I was unable to recognize or admit to myself or others that I was in an abusive relationship during college until almost 7 years after it ended. I was able to extricate myself from that relationship, but it changed my perception of strength and the origin of confidence. Despite my comfortable upbringing and feminist values, as a 20-year-old I didn’t have the ability to stand up for myself.

It wasn’t until I discovered the Storytelling for Leadership framework while working as a community organizer that I was able to fully understand the difference between standing up for an idea, and having the confidence to stand up for myself, and I knew that I couldn’t keep that important revelation to myself. We know that it is smart economics to invest in women, and that they have the potential to be drivers for social and economic development. Yet providing access to skills is not enough; in addition to hard skills and education women also need the internal resources required to take action. I want to contribute to a world in which every woman is confident and empowered to reach her full potential, and to create the changes that she wants to see in her own life, her family, and her community.

Why Rwanda?  Had you ever been before or did you arrive for the first time with the purpose to stay on?

After learning about the Storytelling for Leadership model in the US, I was intrigued by the power of the tool, and eager to use it to unlock the biggest pool of latent leadership potential: women in the developing world. When I discovered that no other organizations were using this model for women’s empowerment I knew I had to try it. I decided to pilot the program in Rwanda because of it’s unique situation regarding women’s leadership. 64% of Rwanda’s lower parliament is female – yet on a local level women are underrepresented in leadership roles. Resonate’s programs are designed to move participants from opportunity to action, and this is an incredible environment to demonstrate what is possible when top-down policies are coupled with grassroots efforts to close gender gaps.

Tell me about your initial steps to create Resonate.

Shortly after moving to Rwanda to pilot Resonate I met my co-founder, Solange Impanoyimana. Our backgrounds were incredibly different, but we had both independently arrived at the same passion: supporting women to reach their full potential. Solange was instrumental in helping me adapt US community organizing tools to the Rwandan context, and together we built out a program that suits the needs of our end-users.

What advice can you offer someone who is looking to make a positive change in this world?

At Resonate, one of our five core values is:

Believe in yourself: We engage in our work with confidence, knowing that each of us brings unique skills to the table. We see strength in authenticity and lead with the best, most honest version of ourselves.

Each of us has a unique capacity to make change, but the first step to doing so is recognizing our strengths and believing that we can. It sounds simple, but it’s supremely important, and it’s the same spirit we are trying to cultivate with the women we work with in our programs. If we allow the magnitude of the problems in our world to stop us before we even get started, we will never find solutions. There is no perfect time, and no perfect way…the most important thing is to just get started.

Or as we might say at Resonate…be like the hummingbird.

Did you know Resonate was going to be your end goal or was it an evolution through trial and error?

When I started Resonate really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I had a crazy idea a way to use a proven methodology in a new context, and really didn’t know whether or not it would work. When I first moved to Rwanda I planned to go for six months for a pilot program…now it has been 3.5 years and we have conducted leadership training with more than 2,500 participants across East Africa!

Tell us about some of the positive impact Resonate has had…the fruits of your labor, so to speak…inspirational stories.

To me, the best part of my work is hearing the stories of the women we work with. As an example, we worked with a community in a coffee-growing region in Rwanda that had never had a female council member. Six months after our training two of our program graduates, Francine and Caritas, ran for and were elected to village council. Another past participant, Egidie, gained the confidence to start a shoe business and provide for her family, while Josette used her story to persuade a hospital to let her adopt a baby girl. Diane broke a long period of unemployment by using her story to win a prestigious job at UNHCR, and Aline now speaks so confidently about herself that she was offered a job at UAP Insurance. As these examples show, Resonate’s alumnae start businesses, join the workforce or improve their pay, join or start savings groups, put their children back in school, and invest in land purchases– to name just a few of the positive outcomes of our programs. Our success is in our ability to support the positive changes that our participants make in their own lives and communities.

Hear participants talking about their experience with the program here.


Describe a Resonate workshop for us.

Our core Storytelling for Leadership workshop usually takes place over 2 to 3 days. During that time, participants learn how to reframe how they think of themselves, and communicate in a way that reframes them in the eyes of others, and opens doors for new opportunities. In an overview format, participants:

      • Redefine leadership. We see leadership as a way of being: proactive in the face of a challenge
      • Identify Values. By examining how those values  influenced choices in their lives, participants  see themselves as agents of change in the trajectories of their lives.
      • Personal Story. Participants take one of those moments and use it to tell a personal story of a time when they have overcome challenge – after our redefinition of leadership this allows them to see and talk about themselves as leaders.
      • Inspire Action. Finally, participants learn to use that story as a way to get support or inspire action in an academic setting, community, or professional environment.

What are your next steps on your journey?  What goals do you have for yourself?

We have big goals for Resonate in 2017. After three years of operations we are still a startup, but it’s time for us to start getting serious about our long-term planning. We are embarking on a 3-year strategic planning process, and through our participation in the GSBI Accelerator build the systems and infrastructure necessary to scale our programs throughout East Africa and support more women leading change.

I hope you enjoyed this read!

Keep exploring and learn more about Resonate through their website and Twitter! #BeInspired xx

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My letter for you…

Ghandi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I believe these words could not be truer today.

Like a great many Americans I have been dealing with tears and a palpable fear. Fear that the very institutions and pillars, which are there to protect our basic human rights, are in danger. Unfortunately, I have not been proven wrong.

Grappling with this, I have come to realize that this will the toughest challenge yet. But where do we fall in this? What can we do? The greatest challenges define us.

What I have LOVED is seeing the outpouring of support and solidarity. People’s kindnesses in the face of hate. The simple hellos to and from strangers, seeing a gentleman carry a chair for an elderly lady, people checking in with those in their lives asking how they are holding up and letting them know that they are not alone.

Well I am here to tell you, you are not alone. I may or may not know you, but I know your pain and I know your fear and I will stand right beside you.

We each have a voice. We each have a choice. What we do with it is ours.

I will continue to write on my blog to raise awareness about incredible people so that we can learn about the greatness and goodness in human beings. So that we can learn from them and in their example know how powerful we can each be.

I will be factually informed and spread knowledge to the best of my ability.

I will stand up to bigotry and prejudices of all forms with love, kindness, awareness, knowledge and positive action. 

I will support organizations, which are in place to give voice to those who have none.

We will all come out on the other side of this. It’s what we do on the road there, which will define our humanity.

With Love, Dilshad

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My sister, Naheed Vadsaria

This is my third attempt at writing this post.  Not for any other reason than that this post is about my sister and I am so proud of her that I have found it difficult to write anything I felt was up to par.  So here is my latest attempt…trying keeping it sweet and simple.

My sister, Naheed Vadsaria, has just had her first book published!  I know there are many more adventures down the road for her but let me tell you a little bit about how she started.

I still remember Naheed going away for the Peace Corps.  I remember people trying to talk her out of it as I sat there thinking…what do they know?  I am so glad she didn’t listen to the nay-sayers because that first step led Naheed to doing some incredible things, all the while giving back to the world.  She’s got the biggest heart, though she may not give herself credit for how big it really is.

Naheed has taught English and computers to children in villages in Pakistan, she’s worked in The  Gambia researching land and labor issues and has been a social scientist in Afghanistan with the Department of Army’s Human Terrain Systems and the French Brigade Task Force Lafayette.

This book is a compilation of her essays, her vignettes from her time as a social scientist.  It focuses on Tajik women in the Kapisa Province in Afghanistan.

Remember Tina Fey in Whisky Tango Foxtrot?  The part where she follows a woman into a hut to find out that it was the women who were actually destroying the well so that they would have to walk for miles to get water because this was the only time they could socialize…that’s along the lines of what Naheed did, but not as a journalist and in a much more complicated, non-movie type of way.  The end goal was to have an open dialogue with villagers to learn what their needs and concerns were.

That meant learning their language, gaining trust, being sensitive to their culture…not impose her views or opinions…but be open to their world, their needs, their values and respect that.  She acted as a bridge between them and the organizations she represented…and here is a snippet of her work in this book.

So yes, Naheed is the smart, awesome, amazing, brave, kick-ass woman I am proud to call my sister.

Here is the link to where you can download her e-book Tajik Hope for free:



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The Beginnings…

Hi!  Welcome!  I’m so happy you’re reading this.

I wanted to have a place where I could share my thoughts about issues, events and experiences which are important to me, in a bit more detail than I have been on Twitter.

Specifically, I don’t know what exactly this will lead me to talk about, but I like the thought of stepping into the unknown.

So I will take it one brush stroke at a time, starting with today, being                             International Women’s Day 2016.

Quite some time ago, I was inspired to dedicate a series of tweets to women who are making a change in this world.  I’ve been thinking about those tweets and those women for a while, which led me to want to do it again, here.

Starting today and for the next few days, I will write about women who I have read about or met  whose actions I have found inspirational.  The                                       changemakers.  The heroes.

I hope you will enjoy and I hope you will come back because I am really excited to share this with you.


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