Aug. 24, 2021

7. Elena Sinel - Part I

7. Elena Sinel - Part I

Hear from Elena Sinel, the Founder of Teens in AI which exists to inspire the next generation of ethical Artificial Intelligence researchers, entrepreneurs and leaders who will shape the world of tomorrow. This is the first of a two part interview in which we track Elena's journey across the world delivering social impact initiatives in war-torn and developing countries.  

Be sure to listen to the very end of the episode for bonus material.

You can follow Elena & Teens In AI
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elenasinel/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elenasinel_/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/elena_sinel
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/teensinai
Website: https://www.teensinai.com/ 

The Netflix episode mentioned in this episode is Coded Bias

The quote Elena mentions in her sonder moment is by Nikolai Ostrovski, from his book, How the steel was tempered:

“Man's dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world──the fight for the Liberation of Mankind”

A transcription of each episode as well as guest profiles and much more is available on our website www.sondership.com

Credits

Title music - Buddha by Kontekst https://soundcloud.com/kontekstmusic
Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported — CC BY-SA 3.0
Free Download or Stream: http://bit.ly/2Pe7mBN
Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/b6jK2t3lcRs 

Transcript

Elena:

I asked my mom, where do I live in London is such a massive place. And she said, just find a community where there are a lot of Jewish people and this community is going to be the safest. There will be the best schools, the best businesses, so find somewhere like that. And I literally Googled where do Jewish people living in London and it came up with Golders Green.

Danny:

Are you Jewish?

Elena:

No, I'm not. But people ask

Danny:

me about your story leaves it open yeah. She Jewish, is she not Jewish? Welcome to the Sondership podcast. I'm your host Danny Attias. Today I'll be speaking to Elena Sinel. Elena is a multi award winning social entrepreneur on a mission to inspire young people across the world into artificial intelligence for impact. She launched teens in AI at the UN AI for good global summit, with a mission to create pipelines for underrepresented talent, thereby improving diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence. It offers young people aged 12 to 18 early exposure to AI for social good, through a combination of expert mentoring, talks, workshops in artificial intelligence and machine learning, human centered design and ethics hackathons, accelerators, company tours, and networking opportunities. The vision is for AI to be developed by diverse group of thinkers and doers by advancing AI for humanities benefit. Well, that is a pretty bold vision, Elena. Welcome to Sondership.

Elena:

Hello, Danny. Thank you so much for having

Danny:

me the welcome. I mean, as soon as we talk about AI and ethics associated with artificial intelligence. Warning for our listeners, this is not going to be a technical conversation about artificial intelligence. This is a conversation about Elena and her journey. So bear with us while we say AI about 17 times, and then we're not going to talk about technology. But when you think about AI and diversity, I think about the recent movie on Netflix coded bias and for me, I know a little bit about AI as a technologist, but watching that film really helped ground it really helped understand the impact of human biases onto how AI's behave, artificial intelligence behaves. So the fact that you do something as, as critical and important as this and getting the next generation, because really that's the generation that are going to be around when AI gets really big, really scary, really powerful.

Elena:

Yes, we really do need to do more of this awareness work, I suppose, so that, uh, they really know the world they're entering and they know how to impact it in a positive way and yeah, no, it's a, it's a pleasure to do this work and I really hope that it could be life sometime for, for the young people and for the world as well.

Danny:

So, so too, so as you hopefully now know, the Sondership podcast is all about inspiring stories from people with purpose and today Elena you are that person with purpose and Sondership comes from the concept a Sonder, the word Sonder which is that moment that I'm sure we've all experienced on multiple occasions, the realization that other people have got stories is vivid and complex as our own. And the people that we speak to on Sondership are people who've taken those moments and turn them into something good. Turn them into something good for society. So if we could start Elena with one of your most memorable sonder moments,

Elena:

Oh, I've had a few, actually. I think one of the first ones that realization that you are not the only one and a lot of people around you have their own stories and for me, this was how can I impact those stories and how can I make a difference and do something in this life. That happened when I was a teenager and I was one of those bookworm teenagers that was just reading a lot of books and I was just very lucky I was brought up on a lot of Russian literature classics. So I'm from Uzbekistan, Central Asia. I didn't see a computer until I was about 18. So I, my entire world was just books and books and books. And, uh, I suppose learning to speak English and just learning English was something that really opened so many doors and so many opportunities, even when I was a teenager. So I was able to read magazines like the Times, the Economist, Time and really learn and understand what was happening in the rest of the world. And at the same time, I, as I said, I was brought up on the Russian classics and the book that really had an impact on me amongst many others, which were mostly very revolutionary type books, revolved go and do something, make a dance. It was called How the Steel was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrowski, and one of the paragraph that I will just remember and I've got it in front of me because I just always have it somewhere. It just kind of always reminds me about what I'm meant to do and it just says "our dearest possession is life and it's given to us at once and we must live it so as to feel no but regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past. So live that dying we might say all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world." And that was such a powerful, powerful quote from the book that it kind of made me ponder and wonder, where is my place in this universe? What am I going to contribute, what am I going to do? And so I suppose those feelings, you know, when nurtured from a very, very young age, very difficult moments in our family life, when Uzbekistan became independent, life suddenly became super, super hard for my mum and dad and for the whole family, when mum and dad wouldn't get paid for six months sometimes and the only thing we would have for breakfast was a tea and bread and grapes from the garden because there was nothing else we could afford. And so I kind of come from that kind of background when where everything my parents have achieved and my family have achieved it was super hard. And so, but at every journey I, I paused and I kept that quote and I wondered, what will I be doing when I grow up and how will I be impacting the world? But that the fact that I was persevering and persisting with English, and I was the only one amongst the children in our family who listened to my mum saying to me, if you learn how to speak English, it will open the world to you the world will be your oyster. And out of three children, I persisted, I persevered. I won every single competition as, as a child you know got into one of the best universities in Uzbekistan, my studies were in English and I think that really gave me a good start to begin that journey into the world. And so from the very, very early age, since probably about 14, 15, I volunteered a lot. So I was always surrounded by the most, the most incredible people who really helped shape me and my understanding of what the real world is out there, that there are real issues, real problems and how can I help? So that was always my, the question I had in the back of my mind. It was not, how can I make money? How can I grow and become, you know, I don't know, a lawyer banker and get my house, get my, whatever. I've always just wondered all of these things they're immaterial, they will all disappear. You can't really take them with you, but what, what is it that will I leave behind? What will I be remembered for? But it wasn't until I came into London that I realized what my real purpose was.

Danny:

So we will, we will get to that in a moment.

Elena:

And it was quite long. Yeah very tortuous very long. and, um, yeah,

Danny:

That's amazing Elena, thank you for sharing that quote with us, that is fantastic and I'm gonna put a link to that in the episode description as well. So it clearly the message from everything you've just said is, listen to your mother, listen to your mother. She knows what she's talking about. One of the objectives of the Sondership podcast is to hear the story of the person who's kind of grown up and done had positive impact on society and been successful. And it's absolutely fascinating, we're only just a few minutes in to hear that the person who's trying to launch a global revolution on diversity and inclusion in AI ethics didn't touch a computer until she was 18 and English wasn't her first language. This is incredible so I think it already shows a, you don't have to grow up with extreme privilege to be able to enter these kinds of fields, although we all have our various privileges and, and a strong family, a strong mother figure, these kinds of things are really important privileges, but, but B it's about it's about determination, you can, you can come from anywhere, but you realizing your potential, realizing your purpose and tapping into that energy that that then creates in you is absolutely incredible. So Elena thank you very much for opening up such a wonderful story and you mentioned about incredible people who shaped you, can you explore that a little bit further in, in your childhood or the kinds of people that made a difference in your life?

Elena:

Absolutely. I was fortunate really, really fortunate. My, again, my mum worked in the museum as a tour guide and as somebody who worked with archives in the sort of underground of the museum, and I spent almost every weekend with my mum, because there was no childcare. It was difficult for her to juggle everything so every now and then she had to work on Sundays and us, the children would be with her around her. And during those days, when I was in that museum, I used to just bump into these foreigners who didn't speak Russian. So I had to speak to them and it was a really great way to practice my English first and foremost. But when I was a little bit older as a teenager, I think the museum already knew by then that I spoke perfect enough English to give a tour in English. And so every now and then they would call my mum and say, oh, we don't have enough tour guides who speak English can your daughter please show them around. We have a small group and they, they want to see some of the oldest parts of Bukhara and I knew every single legend and every single historical fact, it was just drilled into me by virtue of me being around my mum and listening to these stories and so I said, yeah, sure that was my kind of first job, so to speak. What age I was about 14, 14, 15. I was super young and it was really, really amazing. I love doing this because it gave me this opportunity to speak in English. But the kind of people I met were absolutely amazing. They were British ambassador or American ambassador that would come into town, or they would be somebody from the United nations. There would be somebody from another international organization that does some phenomenal stuff in Uzbekistan. I never even thought we had those kinds of problems, like in the Aral Sea and there was, they would tell me stuff that I wouldn't even know about my country and then they would talk to me about how they're tackling those problems and then what else is happening around the world? That our attention. So I was really, I loved those, that opportunity to meet somebody who was doing something absolutely phenomenal and worthy and I think that is really what shaped me as a young person, conversations with these incredible people who I stayed in touch for many years after. And when I moved into the capital to study business management, I thought, okay, these are the people I want to stay in touch with because they will be the ones to open doors to me. So I volunteered as much as I possibly could literally offered myself 24 7 sometimes just to get as much experience as I possibly could, because I was one of those, like a sponge learning so much learning by doing things I have never even seen. Like, I couldn't even operate a printer until I was shown one, oh, this is a printer this is how you, how you print things. Or this is a computer and took me a while to learn how to type and all of that. But I was much older than, yeah most of the children that get introduced to technology,

Danny:

What an incredible opportunity to, at the age of just 14, 15 years old, to be in a museum, to be a tour guides, to be practicing your English, to be experiencing different lives of different people of so much diversity is not, not quite word, but the different world views and different world experiences that's much better than stacking shelves in the supermarket and you definitely had a great opportunity there. So what age were you when you left Uzbekistan Elena?

Elena:

I was about 20 so 20 or 21 and I left because I got married quite young, um, to somebody who I worked with and I thought this would be the person that I would change the world with. And he was a UN consultant and working at the British Council and I was at that time, that was also my very first job being, supporting a project that was created by the British Council. And this was at the very heart of the Erol Sea.in Uzbekistan. The place, which really introduced me to the kind of deprivation I have not yet encountered. And trust me, I've been to some of the really, really poorest places in the world, places in Africa and Asia, but still that memory of, of the Erol Sea back in 1999, 2000 is something that will probably never be erased from my memory and to date I still remember walking into a household where they had no furniture because all furniture was burned and to keep the family warm. And all I could see was just a light bulb, this tiny thing, hanging from the ceiling. And we sat down to have a conversation with that family, all they could offer to us was dry bread and there was nothing else, just tea and dry bread. And that was such a shock because just some years before this happened, these were families and communities who had everything because their life's dependent on the fishing industry in the Erol Sea. So they had everything they sea really fed everyone around you. But unfortunately, 60 or 70 years of the Soviet occupation also led to the mismanagement of that Erol Sea and it became so dry. It literally, you know, we had salt flying in our face. There was the sea, and then suddenly it just disappeared and became so dry, but it caused all sorts of health issues. Obviously, economically, none of the families could afford anything because that was really the only livelihood they had and it was so sad, I can't even describe. And I was only 19 20 at that time, uh, working on this project and we were training something like 40 women, how to create things by hand, craft things, there were knitting, embroidery and all sorts. And my role in that project was to take everything they have created, take it with me into the Capital, Tashkent, and, um, and sell it. So suddenly. On the shoulders of this 19 year old girl, I had 40 women and their families dependent on my ability to sell so no pressure. And that was quite incredible and I was just so worried that if I don't sell this, these families, so it was quite quite an impactful sort of impacted me. And I knew what I was doing would also really help those families. And it was amazing. We had one woman who was physically disabled with, uh, probably either arthritis or something her hands were literally like. But she was able to do embroidery. Her embroidery was sent to the Queen of England and the Queen responded and she wrote this incredible letter to this young woman writing to her saying that she has never seen the quality of embroidery, the craftsmanship of that incredible quality. Trust me, Danny, this was such an incredible story, nine months later, this woman stopped all medication and I think this was because she found a way to make a living, feed herself and her family. And just that realization psychologically put her into such a much better space that some months later she stopped all medication. And that was almost like a miracle. When you give somebody this purpose, this opportunity to do something that they're so proud of and they are able to change their own lives and their families and everyone else around themselves. It's such a powerful position to be in being in the driver's seat. And I think that again made me realize, wow. That's all you need to do, give somebody a purpose and that's it and they just fly. And I think, again, that was another building block. That was just, again, I was so young at that time. So trying to understand what was really happening and how my work was impacting other people's lives and then their, they work as well was just quite a revelation.

Danny:

I love that, you you've got so close to the work of the UN and those kinds of British council, um, at such a young age and being able to be a part of that global regeneration, global support initiatives. And how did he get on in that day in the market to do, did you sell some stuff?

Elena:

I think I sold everything. I mean, I was, I wrote a terrible story. Uh, well, I, I had to take all of this into the capital, so it was a long way from the Erol Sea to the capital and then I was just one of those people who would distribute that these crafts and all those goods into many, many different shops. So I had to manage the whole thing and make sure that they sell, they give me the money. Then I had to take the money. Cause there was no, yeah, there was no bitcoin, no banking system, nothing so it was all cash and I had to take it to these families and give it to them so that they could have the money

Danny:

Incredible, so age 20, 21 you're already now working on world-changing things or life-changing activities that you're leaving Uzbekistan where, where do you go from there? Is that straight to the UK?

Elena:

No, no, we were based in France. Uh, so my, uh, my husband at that time was living in south of France, very, very pretty place. And when I came to France, obviously I thought, wow, this is beautiful but, uh, in my mind, I could always, I just couldn't possibly see myself staying there. Because there was no interesting job I mean, what do you do in France? Nothing in my mind, what can you do? How can I impact the world? It's not, there is nothing, there are all these people with lots of money with all these yachts and the amazing houses and I was like, what am I going to do here? So it was quite a shock to go from Erol Sea where I knew my place straight away, this is where I need to be because I feel great. I'm able to help somebody. I feel my skills can contribute. Although I was very young, I was still learning so much, but I was so eager to learn and help in France. What do you do? Nothing. So I

Danny:

love that. That is going to be your quote underneath your, your social media promotion for this episode. What can you do in France? Nothing

Elena:

For me, you know, when you're a social impact person coming from the background that I came, I'm like, wow, these people, yachts, why do they, why do people have yachts? Like, like why, what good does it do to anyone? So I couldn't understand. So you haven't

Danny:

come, you haven't come from a hugely commercial consumption based society, unless you call grapes consumption. So tea and grapes. So this is, it's kind of wonderful. I mean, interestingly, when you describe that you grew up on books and you didn't touch a computer until you were 18, I'm thinking how blissful that you, you didn't and I'm relating that not so much to, to that generation, but more to this generation and the sheer amount of noise and wonderful access to information, don't get me wrong, but that just the noise, the constant interruptions and the opinions that all of our children now are being subjected to which is just not healthy. I think we absolutely,

Elena:

no, I was very fortunate. I had what you call a vegan food or everything, organic, what you call in, in England or in the west is what I was brought up on because that's the only food we had. We just grew things and we add things and there was no social media. So I had a lot of time where I could read books and reflect and because I was surrounded by some really empathetic yeah intelligent really, really intelligent people like world intelligence who have been to places. So it's conversations. I used to talk a lot and meet people like, yeah, there was no social media. I was very fortunate. The other day I was talking to a friend just talking about mental health and I said, I've never, ever thought or met young people of this age who would be struggling, would be depressed, would have other issues. Maybe I never noticed this around me, but I was very sociable in school as well and it just didn't happen. Or even adults around me and in this country, it's just such a massive problem because I meet young people with mental health issues all the time. They come and find us and they join our programs because it offers them that purpose. Whereas yeah, when I was growing up in that age, there wasn't so much noise as you mentioned.

Danny:

And, and the link here actually is that AI, artificial intelligence, is being used to drive a lot of these behaviors that is being used to manipulate the brain chemicals and the way that people react to likes and how many likes have you gotten? Oh, that's and the narrowing of your views of your social media feeds so you start to see views only that aligned to you. So you believe that you're right, because everyone agrees with you, everyone that you see, and if they don't agree with you they're wrong and that whole black and white, so, okay. So you're in the south of France. You're you're on your yacht and you're not on yacht your I know.

Elena:

Yes, my, my husband had a small, I mean, it was much smaller than everyone else, but he, that was where he lived, he didn't really have. Uh, I mentioned a house or anything. He just lived on the, on the yard. So I ended up on a yacht I'm like, oh my God, I don't even know how to swim, what what's going to happen. Because in Uzbekistan you know, Danny, it's a double landlocked country, like how to swim. So it's not a thing for me, I still don't know how to swim, but. So, so yes, it was literally like everyone has a yacht in here. Everyone has a big house. Um, people are loaded, maybe this is where I can fundraise a lot of money, then go back to, to the Erol Sea and do some more magic and great things but of course it doesn't work like that.

Danny:

That says something about your mindset that you're not saying. Oh, great. I no longer ever have to work again. I can relax now. Uh, I can put those troubles behind me. You're thinking the complete opposite. How do I take my new found advantage, my new found privilege and continue to make a difference with more impact?

Elena:

Yes, that was on my mind. And then I realized, okay, I don't know anyone it's going to take awhile and I think because I moaned and I moaned to my husband, I said, there is nothing I can do here. Like I just don't see myself ever being able to fit in this very commercial society. We, we need to go somewhere else. And I think he was listening to my moaning. Um, and by then we also had a very young child. My daughter was born in France, so she was only about seven months when her father found a job in the Balkans in Macedonia. And I was so happy, I said, right, that's it let's go let's go, let's run. So Victoria was only nine months old and we went to Macedonia and I was so happy as soon as we arrived, I thought, okay. Great. This is where I can do something amazing. And Victoria was very, very young. So it was so hard for me to find my feet straight away because I was breastfeeding and looking after and making sure she has everything. So, uh, it was a completely different sort of period in my life where I knew that I simply wouldn't be able to just do what I wanted to do. But as time went by, she started going to the kindergarden, age a year and a half, and I thought, right, okay now I have space. I have time to think, what am I going to do? And it was really great Macedonia, was a fantastic place, it was recovering from the conflict at that time. We had Kosovo next door, Albania and lots of other amazing countries and they were all struggling so I like it when I'm put into a situation, into a country where there is hardship and it's like a post-confict kind of situation where, okay, I can solve something. I can help you, but how?

Danny:

So you leave the comforts of the south of France, you go into a post-apocalyptic war zone and you go I'm home. I feel good. Now there's something for me to do here. Yes.

Elena:

I know I'm, I'm one of those strange, crazy people that wouldn't just settle.

Danny:

Is that what you're, you're constantly looking for ways to help people you're constantly looking for ways to make a difference.

Elena:

Hm, it was a constant search. It was almost like, this is what I meant to do. What can I do? And, uh, so yes, in Macedonia post-conflict again, I got involved with British Council and we created this incredible project called Business Without Borders and we managed to connect eight countries in the Balkans through youth entrepreneurship and that means we got them all talking. Which was very, very interesting because politically speaking, they couldn't talk because of all the conflict with Kosovo, the entire Balkans was very much recovering from all of this. So it was very interesting to get all young people or the representation from each country, young people sat around one table and getting them to talk. And what that taught me is that money talks definitely there is a way for us to break those political boundaries and those ways when countries cannot talk, but young people will still talk and resonate with something, you know, as long as you show them, you know, you could make an impact, you could be earning, you could be making a difference. That's all that matters. And as soon as we've managed to ignite them and show them that they could be doing great things with one another, Albania with Macedonia and ,Kosovo it just happened and we've had these young people, they were all university students, really learning about how to run a business and some amazing creative ideas, nothing to do with technology at that time. Again, we're talking 2002, 2004, so no technology at all, but they just had some great things they could make either by hand or something else and they could sell one another and trade. And that was beautiful to see, this was my kind of introduction to youth and entrepreneurship and everything else and again, another building block towards what I ended up doing eventually.

Danny:

Incredible, so you've said it yourself, this is your first introduction to youth. Cause of course you've got teens in AI and girls in AI. So you very much do focus on that potential of the next generation, empowerment of the next generation, which is just this just wonderful. Okay ,so how long were you in Macedonia for

Elena:

Only two years, but two years is enough to make a real difference. So for me, that was enough. We kind of executed what we wanted to do and we came to England. This was my first time coming to England in 2004. And again, I think I had a shock to my system when we came to England. Again, I'm in the country where there are no problems to solve. Why am I here? I just had this probably like a perception a misconception about England as one of those very rich countries where, you know, everyone is earning a lot, everyone is quite well off. So, compared to what I saw in Macedonia, in the Erol Sea, in Uzbekistan, it's just a thought, it's a developed country. What am I going to do in the developed country? I'm definitely not going to become an accountant, a teacher, or I don't know, um, politician or whatnot. There is definitely no like entrepreneurial business commercial streak in me, if it is anything it's social entrepreneurship, it's impact first. So when we came again, We had to get out. This is like, like the worst place for me. I'm only 24. What am I doing?

Danny:

Second worst place after south of France. It's not as bad as France.

Elena:

Yes, France was just yachts and the sea rich people in Monaco.

Danny:

Talk about a privileged country,

Elena:

Yeah, and then England. and we were in a very boring place. Uh, I don't know why. I think it was just relatives were living there. It was called Fareham ,you know,

Danny:

I apologize to the people in Fareham, Hampshire.

Elena:

And I thought, oh my goodness, this is like a little small town, like a village. Everyone is quite privileged, again, nice houses and everything like, Hmm, what am I doing here? Like, why, why? So, yes. I convinced my husband. I said, let's go let's go somewhere more exciting. And we found a really exciting contract in, um, in Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa. And I'm like, wow, this is, this is definitely me. I've always wanted to go to Africa and always wanted to do something amazing. Obviously again, brought up on a lot of stuff that I was reading about, you know, about all the unfairness discrimination and racism, about the history and I'm like, right, this is it, this is my thing.

Danny:

And your daughter is how old at this point?

Elena:

Well, that was 2005. So she was only three and a half four. So she was very small yeah she was very small. Her first, yeah okay. Yeah, one, maybe even reception years were in reception years where in Africa, in Addis Ababa. And again, we spent two years there. So both Christmases were when it was very, very hot. Um, but it was lovely. I absolutely, probably one of the most, one of my most favorite experiences and memories were in, in Ethiopia. And again, this was the first time I've ever seen a black person. And, uh, because it was Uzbekistan they just don't come to Uzbekistan that, that often, perhaps, and I suppose in France, again, it was a very posh white kind of culture in south of France. I didn't really see that many coloured people, Hampshire again, is very conservative. At that time was very white as well. So I came to Africa, wow, this is amazing. It's a completely different culture. And I met these incredibly warm people, the warmest people I've ever met, I think, and I realized that you don't have to have anything or you could do with very, very little and still be so happy.

Danny:

I think that's really interesting. When you talk about the south of France, I think most people can picture what you're talking about in terms of yachts and wealth and manisons. I think when you talk about Ethiopia, most people in the developed world. Don't know what you're talking about because we have had the images of famine and of drought and of, of Band Aid and Live Aid burned into our retinas. That it's very difficult for. I think, most Westerners to associate Central Africa with growth and with prosperity and with entrepreneurship and ambition. We think of the child with no body fat with their hands open and wanting food and there's definitely a problem in society where they don't see that potential of a developing nation. That can be a positive part of society rather than a sponge on, on global society. It's a really interesting for you to directly experience that. That's that's amazing. Yeah,

Elena:

Absolutely. I saw, I just met the most incredible people. Um, and there's through, uh, the country was also going through change and I do remember the elections. Um, I think we came probably during the times where there was change of government, but that doesn't really happen. Change of government just doesn't happen. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia, I know there was a conflict right now for exactly the same reason, but then we're talking 2005, 2007, we had the elections and the prime minister would just send the police to schools to just beat up children, which was completely unnecessary. It was just one of those violent ways to express power I'm in control, if you don't vote for me, then things happen. Yeah. Um, yeah, it was very sad to see that, but when it was peaceful, you would meet the most incredible people who didn't have much, but yet, and yet they still were very happy. They didn't know what they were missing out on, but I haven't seen the kind of deprivation that we would be shown on TV. So it kind of, again, made me realize you wouldn't believe everything you watch on TV, and it's always great to have a critical eye and read widely or watch widely and really understand what is happening on the ground from so many different perspectives. And again, we were in Adis but we have had a chance to travel around and, and the kind of communities the tribal communities have met. Yes. They had very little, almost nothing. They grew everything. They add whatever they grew, children, some of them did have a chance to go to school, others, but they had a different perception of happiness and they were just there without knowing what was happening in the rest of the world. And obviously so many different issues that if Europa had at that time, that, and we wouldn't even think of like marriages happened, happened very, very early, which caused so many issues for a woman when she would get pregnant very, very early give birth to a child left. Literally the whole system would just fall apart and they will just be on medication and be treated for the rest of their lives. So I met so many incredible charities supporting these women. And I ended up working with quite a few NGOs. Some lots of families somehow had, um, propensity to having twins. And so I ended up working in this charity called Gemini trust. And that's because yeah, lots of families just had twins and it was like almost. Yeah. And it was really hard to have twins because it's hard to bring up one child and feed them. And when you have two children, You know, at the same time, that's really made such a, such an impact on the family income as well. So we were trying to help those women train them in the kinds of skills that would again, help them generate the income that would support their families. And I can't even tell you the kind of difficulties these mums, some of them again would have so many medical issues. I think the problem that I'm thinking of is called fistula or something, which is again through childbirth and that's because the young woman's body, when they're only 15, 16, or even younger, when they're forced to marry and have a child at this really, really young age, it was just tragic. So the kind of problems that they have had, and I have seen, just not, not a first world problem.

Danny:

And as a mother of a young daughter, that must've really resonated with you as well, even more

Elena:

so, Absolutely, so I mean, I, I just noticed a trend at the time that I only get engaged with charities and organizations that support vulnerable women. And have families or whatnot. And even when it comes to young people, obviously I always got myself involved with teaching English as a foreign language to kids, teenagers. And that's just something that I always love doing wherever I go. I'll always find like an hour per week and then we'll just go and do this. But again, I've always felt like, okay, I want to support women more and how, what else can I do at that time? I didn't even realize the ratio of women, the equity issue, that equality. It just didn't even come to my mind that women are treated less, fairly, not on the, in the west, but also in some of the African countries as well. Interestingly enough when it comes to leadership positions, what I've seen many NGOs are actually led by women, which was something I only have seen in, in Africa and maybe in Bangladesh as well, some parts of Asia as well, which is very encouraging, but the kind of problems that I was interested in sort of tackling or helping. Were the family, you know, the, the kind of, uh, deprivation at the, at the level of income where women just would struggle because of some of the other circumstances or some of the other factors in their lives and that was fascinating.

Danny:

So 2005, 2007 you're in Ethiopia, where next back to the UK?

Elena:

Back to the UK. Not for a long time again, because again, I just, I just moaned and I attracted to get what I want. And again, I come back and I'm like, okay, we're in Poole now. And we're on the yacht because we decided, okay, we're just going to buy a yacht in England and travel around. So my husband's vision at that time was let's just never get ashore. Let's just bring up our child on a yacht and we'll just travel the world and wherever we land we're going to do something magical together. So that was like the big dream and vision, but buying a yacht from abroad is a very big mistake as we found, uh, because the engine apparently was faulty and we had to get ashore. Um, so we kind of, yeah, it was a really bad investment and that dream kind of almost ended there and then, so we kind of got a shore. Victoria went to local school, we thought, okay, we'll just pause and see what happens. And Victoria was only what six at that time, something like that. And we decided to stay, but while staying still looking for opportunities abroad, because I think when you have that mindset, that there has to be a certain environment around you where you can contribute again, I kind of felt England just wasn't the right place for me. I couldn't find the, yeah, the kind of challenges that I thought I could make a difference in and the people were, were different. I'm sort of was more drawn to warmer cultures, maybe. So Africa, Asia, you know, anything outside of England, I just felt I was. Yeah, I was closer to my heart, maybe. So I couldn't really understand how come you you're living with your neighbors and they don't even ask you who are you? They don't even say hi to you. It's a different culture. So like six months and I don't don't even know who the neighbors are because they never really stopped by to say hi and talk to me. It's very, very alien.

Danny:

You've been listening to the Sondership podcast and I'm your host, Danny Attias. Tune into our next episode to find out what happens next in Elena's journey

Elena:

It's going to be very sad, this is where people will cry and say up. you know? what happened? Bloody hell I'm always asked like, you should write a book about it because it will inspire so many women because you are such a resilient character. I was married to somebody who was very controlling, who was very jealous, who was very sort of power seeking |and really, manipulative. I found him cheating and I was just quite happy with that because it gave me a legitimate reason to end this marriage.

Danny:

don't strike me as a person who holds back.

Elena:

No, I am the way I am because of all of the things that have happened, I suppose that shaped me. I was quite petrified he had the kind of powers and the kind of privileges that I didn't have for once he held my passport, it was one of his things to just always own my passport. I was literally trapped. I was a prisoner for seven years of our marriage. He told me once, one day, I'm just going to leave you here by the way and I'll just take Victoria abroad, you won't be able to leave because you don't have any rights. You don't have any papers. He said, why don't you just take all of these sleeping pills? You will fall asleep and I'll take care of Victoria and everything will be absolutely fine. I was really petrified. I called somebody at the United nations who employed, my husband. And I said to them, look I have to get out of here because I don't feel safe. If something happens, like nobody will find me here. I said, I don't care whether you believe me or not. I need to get out and if you don't get me out now, I'm going to call the Reuters and BBC. I'm going to tell the world that the United nations is, employing a wife abuser.

Elena Sinel

Founder & CEO

Elena Sinel is a multi-award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of Teens In AI and Acorn Aspirations, motivated to make a difference in the world by empowering young people aged 12-18 to solve real problems through technology.

Elena is committed to inspiring young people to make a change in their community, country, and economy through passion, agility, teamwork, and expert support. She believes we need to teach invaluable skills to our next generation in order to help them thrive in an ever-changing 21st Century workplace.

Elena’s latest appointment as a member of the Education Task Force at All Parliamentary Group in Artificial Intelligence gives her an opportunity to influence policy in respect of AI skills in education. She also advises governments on integrating AI and entrepreneurship skills into the curriculum.

Prior to this, she worked as an international specialist consultant with nine years of experience in poverty reduction strategies, rural livelihood development, and poverty alleviation with a specific focus on the creation of small and medium enterprise development, product design, marketing, and fundraising in Central Asia, the Balkans, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh where she worked in international organisations, including British Council, UNDP, and World Bank.

Elena's latest awards include:

Winner Women in IT UK 2021 Advocate of the Year
Winner GLOMO 2020 - Diversity in Tech
Winner GLOMO 2020 - Women4Technology –
Industry Leadership Award
50 Computer Weekly most influential
women in UK tech 2019, 2020, 2021
100 Women in AI Ethics 2020