Young Women Empowered

Our Board of Directors

Thank you to the following individuals for serving on our Board of Directors:

Suzanne Hayward: Co-President

suzanne bio photo

Suzanne Hayward is an award-winning producer and experienced team leader who specializes in crafting compelling storytelling that creates conversation and makes an impact.  For more than a decade, Hayward served as a producer for “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” working in varying roles of increasing responsibility for the most successful show in the history of daytime television. Her shows often lead the national conversation and generated widespread cultural buzz in publications including Time, People, and The New York Times. They were discussed on shows such as Good Morning America and The View.

Hayward’s producing is wide and diverse, ranging from shows featuring known comedians and celebrities (such as Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Jerry Seinfield and Chris Rock, just to name a few) to shows that tackle relevant issues such as domestic violence, gender identity and healthcare. She also helped develop and produce Oprah’s unforgettable   “Christmas Kindness” journey to South Africa in 2002, in which Oprah and staff traveled to South Africa for four weeks to bring food, school supplies, clothing and gifts to 50,000 schoolchildren and orphans devastated by the AIDS epidemic.

Hayward has also shown expertise partnering with government officials, private corporations, and the public to maximize the impact of her programs, be it by raising donations or creating awareness of the issue at hand. Most recently, Hayward has continued to employ storytelling to impact social change through her work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, serving as both a freelance producer for the organization, and supervising producer for the Gates Knowledge Project: Leading for Effective Teaching.

Hayward focuses her philanthropic efforts on empowering and inspiring youth. She served as a panelist for the Girl Scouts of America Forum “Reality Check” live web event, designed to foster healthy images of preteen and teen girls in the media and also as the Committee Chair for Camp Heartland’s first Chicago fundraiser. She also developed and deployed a media relations campaign for the launch of the Cops N’ Kids Reading Center in Racine, Wisconsin – an Oprah “Use Your Life” Award recipient.

Karen Wong-Duncan: Co-President

Karen Wong-Duncan has been an activist in women’s issues since her undergraduate days, volunteering as a Women’s Peer Counselor in her dorm, working as a court advocate on domestic violence cases, and marching in Washington D.C. for women’s rights.

In her professional life, she loves being at the intersection of persuasive communications and business strategy. She also loves gadgets. These three interests converge naturally in her role as the Director of Consumer Marketing & Brand at Microsoft. Prior to Microsoft, she worked at a linguistics software start-up in Taiwan, where she came to appreciate the role of marketing in selling technology. Her perspectives on business strategy are grounded by her experience in management consulting; four years at Monitor Group (now part of Deloitte Consulting), in the US and Asia, across a variety of industries, from candy manufacturing to pharmaceuticals to financial services. When she took a break from real life to earn her MBA, she explored business plan competitions and the topic of women and negotiations at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

For fun, Karen has recently embraced CrossFit and plays on an Ultimate Frisbee team with her husband, with their two daughters cheering on the sidelines.

Peggy Taylor 

Peggy brings over 30 years of experience as a social entrepreneur in both the non-proft and profit sectors and has a track record of starting several cutting-edge programs. She is the co-founder of PYE Global and Power of Hope, two youth empowerment organizations that build intergenerational and multi-cultural learning programs for teens and adults. Peggy is a writer, musician, and creative development specialist with a Masters of Education in Creative Arts and Learning from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. In the past 15 years she has applied her expertise to the field of youth development and has trained several thousand youth workers, teachers, and teaching artists in methods for incorporating creativity into program facilitation and design. She was on the faculty of Bainbridge Graduate Institute where she taught a class on Creativity and Right Livelihood to MBA students. She is an award-winning magazine editor and is the co-author of Chop Wood, Carry Water: A Guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life, which has sold over 250,000 copies worldwide. Peggy is passionate about the need for women and girls to step into leadership in this crucial time of history. Contact:

Shelmina Babai Abji

Shelmina is an Empowerment speaker,  former IBM Vice President, board member of United Nations Girl Up and an angel investor/advisor.

Shelmina has extensive global leadership experience in strategy, sales, business development and building collaborative partner ecosystems.

Shelmina grew up in a very modest family in Tanzania, and left home at 15 to pursue higher education. She was the first person in her family to obtain a college degree. In addition to obtaining a degree in Mathematics from Pune, India and a degree in Computer Science from University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, she had had extensive leadership training at IBM, UCLA and Harvard university. While raising two amazing children as a single mom, she became one of the highest ranking women of color at IBM.  She is now focused on sharing the lessons she learned to help accelerate the success of girls and women around the world. She lives in Washington DC and Bellevue, WA.

Candace Chin

Candace Chin, MBA in Sustainable Business, is a contracting consultant working with small businesses providing coaching, training and education to reduce their waste.  Candace supports a diverse urban community including small businesses and restaurants, non-profit organizations, schools, assisted living and eldercare facilities, to develop and implement innovative solutions to today’s environmental challenges.  Her work has been dedicated to making a positive difference for her clients, community, and environment by advancing resource conservation and waste reduction solutions.  Candace’s extensive interpersonal skills has allowed her to relate to people from all walks of life.  With this invaluable skill she is able to create partnerships with her clients to solve their conservation challenges while supporting their need to make their businesses sustainable.  She is able to help them to accomplish both their needs as a business or service while promoting a sustainable future.

Throughout her working career Candace has had a multiplicity of occupations. These include: managing a tutoring program for community college students;  union journeyman carpenter; Chinese Language Teacher; and Bridge Maintenance General Supervisor for the City of Seattle.  Later while living in Beijing she worked for the United States Embassy-Public Affairs Section arranging lectures by US Citizens for Chinese Universities and Colleges.

Leslie Cotter

Leslie Cotter is a professional coach and facilitator who is also a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and psychotherapist. Through her career as a psychiatrist, Leslie has worked with a wide range of individuals and groups from the seriously mentally ill to people dealing with life’s challenges. She has held associate professorships at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada and McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. In 2005 Leslie retrained as a Professional Coach and attended the executive and life coaching training program with Breakthrough Enterprises in San Rafael, California. It was then she turned her attention to Professional Coaching.

Leslie’s in-depth experience as a medical practitioner now informs her focus on bringing the best out in her clients. She also uses a coaching approach in her continued work as a doctor with patients and clients as well as with clinical and medical staff. She combines her psychiatric skills with a positive coaching approach which has been described as “empathetic and down to earth underpinned by a refreshing can do attitude.”

As a group facilitator Leslie works with a wide range of groups ranging from the staff of large corporations wanting to build stronger teams, to classrooms of children wanting to create satisfying friendships. She also specializes in training youth workers and health care professionals in ways to hold generative conversations with young people and health care clients. Leslie also leads self-development programs for girls and trains adults in methods for using arts in their youth work, counseling, and coaching practices. She is on the facilitation team of PYE Global (Partnership for Youth Empowerment), an international training organization that develops transformative youth leaders.  Leslie brings to her work extensive experience working with people from all walks of life, a practical can-do spirit, and a deep interest and curiosity in what makes people and organizations tick. She has a warm and empowering leadership style.

Shilpa Dabke

Shilpa Dabke grew up in Mumbai, India. A civil engineering by training she received a Master’s degree in Construction Management from University of Cincinnati and a MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management. Shilpa started her career as a project engineer in commercial construction, a non-traditional field of work for women, utilized her experience and education to successfully transition into the technology industry to work for a Fortune 50 company. After graduating from UCLA, Shilpa joined Microsoft as an Operations Manager, where she currently works. She has a unique background and a diverse professional experiences from working in engineering and construction, supply chain consulting, and technology operations.

Having had all the opportunities to get education and work experiences, Shilpa is keen to give back to the communities. She volunteered for Special Olympics of Southern California and Reading to Kids while living in Southern California. As a new resident of Seattle area in 2012, Shilpa was looking for opportunities to invest and engage with a nonprofit on a broader level. Shilpa firmly believes in the saying that if you educate a woman you educate the society. So it was an easy decision to volunteer for YWE when she learnt the vision and mission of YWE. She joined YWE wanting to give back but has said that she has gotten more back in the form of strong friendships, social network, and supportive environment. Being a hands on person, Shilpa is always ready to roll up her sleeves and do what is needed to support the young women and help grow YWE. Shilpa likes to say that once you join YWE, you become the citizen of YWE and your citizenship is lifelong!

Rahwa Ghebremichael

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 8.57.25 PM

Rahwa Ghebremichael was born and raised in Shegrab, Sudan, the world’s largest refugee camp. She and her family lived in the camps for eight years without basic necessities such as access to education and medical care. Her struggles taught her how to work with what is on hand to make the best of difficult circumstances. She is now inspired to make a difference in the lives of others. In 2003, she moved with family to the United States. On Rahwa’s first day in school, she did not understand a single word her teacher spoke. During her senior year of high school, Rahwa helped start Young Women Empowered by coordinating a fundraising dinner as a senior project, raising $10,000 to help launch the organization. As a Y-WE alumna, Rahwa participates in college and career fairs to support young students, and she volunteers to help the Seattle homeless community. She recently applied to a University of Washington health studies program. Rahwa is enthusiastic about helping other young girls in the way that Y-WE has helped her.

Sally Goodwin

Sally Goodwin, M.D. has been a practicing Family Physician for 33 years.  There has been a community emphasis to her practice over the years and especially during the last 10 years.  An increased understanding of the important link between environmental health and human health has guided her professional activities.  She served on the board of the Institute for Children’s Environmental Health (a project of Commonweal) from 2001-2008 and has been active in Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility on the Environmental Justice and Human Health committee from 2005-2010.  She has testified to promote public health in front of the Island County Commissioners, Environmental Protection Agency and Washington State Legislative committees.  In 2009 she started working with young women’s leadership and has been on the Board of Directors of Young Women Empowered for 5 years. She has served as a mentor in both the YWE-Lead program and the YWE-Speak program.  She is active on the health curriculum committee.

Sally earned her B.A in Chemistry from Williams College in 1975 and her M.D. from St Louis University Medical School in 1979.  Her residency training at University of Arkansas in Little Rock was in  Family Practice.  She was born in Baltimore Maryland and attending public school throughout her primary and secondary schooling.  She is married and has been living on Whidbey Island for 25 years.

“Health is empowering;  it is public and personal and I am committed to bringing this to Young Women Empowered.”

Sangeeta Gupte 

Sangeeta Gupte is an accomplished business leader with expertise in business planning, finance, product development, engineering and team building with diverse industry experience. Industry experience includes medical device, retail, and consumer packaged goods. Sangeeta is currently the Director of Finance in the Clarisonic division of L’Oreal.


Prior to L’Oreal, Sangeeta worked at Verathon and Starbucks. She led finance organizations for Starbucks’ multi-billion dollar divisions. She also has a track – record for building high performance teams with a collaborative leadership style. Previously, she held finance and strategy leadership roles at companies such as Kimberly-Clark and Thermo-Fisher Scientific. She has a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Boston University and an MBA in Finance from Case Western Reserve University.

Throughout her career, Sangeeta supports women’s professional and personal development. Sangeeta was inspired by Y-WE’s mission, leadership programs and the young women during the 2012 annual fundraiser. Shortly after that, she joined as a mentor in 2012. She became the board treasurer in 2013. As a treasurer, she partners with the Executive Director to develop the annual operating budget, reviews actual financial results and conducts financial reviews with the Board of Directors.

Susan Heikkala

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 8.36.28 PM

Susan Heikkala is an accomplished real estate development executive and business leader.  During her 20-year career with the Weyerhaeuser Company, she advanced from management of large scale and complex commercial development projects to divisional leadership roles.  She served as Senior Vice President of the master planned community division at the subsidiary Quadrant Corporation and later, led the design of a new business undertaking–Weyerhaeuser’s China Housing Initiative–and then served as its Managing Director in Shanghai.  She is recognized for her collaborative leadership skills as well as her expertise in strategic planning, project management and execution, finance, negotiation and communication.

Susan is now focused on work she is passionate about:  empowering women and girls through access to education, economic opportunity and gender equity—both locally and globally.  She is an active member of the Washington Women’s Foundation, which is how she was introduced to the inspiring work of Y-WE—recipient of a WWF Partner Grant in 2015.  Susan is Co-Founder and former Deputy Director of Global Women—Partners in Philanthropy—an organization dedicated to building women’s philanthropy in China.  Her global interests have recently taken her to Vietnam and India to meet with organizations working on issues benefiting women and girls in those countries.

She previously served as an officer and board member of the Washington State China Relations Council, Seattle Chinese Garden and Washington Chapter of the National Association for Commercial Real Estate and board member of Intiman Theater, among others.  Susan holds MBA and Master of Urban Planning degrees from the University of Washington and a BA from Stanford University.