Six picks from a young political leader
What inspires the inspiring? The Gates Foundation Goalkeepers are a community of change-makers who are advancing the Sustainable Development Goals in diverse and innovative ways. But what inspires them to reimagine and work toward a better future for all? We asked political leader and Goalkeeper Jana Degrott for her six sources of inspiration.
Jana Degrott does not accept the status quo, and she’s proud of it. Her style is all her own—from her inclusive approach to politics to how she authentically engages with others.
It wasn’t always this way. She spent years asking herself, “Where do I belong?” She always felt different, in part because of her biracial identity. As a child in Luxembourg, she remembers walking into the classroom and hearing comments about her hair and the shape of her nose and lips. And when visiting Togo, her mother’s birthplace, she was seen as a white person.
The more Jana questioned her place and purpose, the more her mother reminded her that she could achieve anything she wanted. Over time, Jana found her voice—and stopped trying to conform to European beauty standards.
At the age of 21, Jana became one of the youngest elected officials in Luxembourg. After joining the city council in the town of Steinsel, she used her platform to address the lack of representation among women and people of color in her country’s politics. She wanted to ensure that the policies being made met the needs of a diverse society.
A desire to create a sense of belonging for women, and especially women of color, inspired Jana to co-found the mentorship nonprofit We Belong Europe. She also advocates for gender equality as a member of the Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers community.
Jana’s six picks inspire her to take up space and tell her story:
1. All About Love by bell hooks
I used to be the kind of person who gave all my energy to others, but not to myself. All About Love taught me the importance of setting boundaries and focusing on my self-worth. bell hooks helped me see how loving yourself gives you the space to love your community, your family, and others more fully.
2. The Diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett
This podcast invites business leaders, aspiring entrepreneurs, and celebrities to share their vulnerability on topics ranging from mental health to personal missteps along their journey. I’m inspired by these conversations because I believe that sharing our personal stories is a powerful tool to drive change. Lately, I’ve focused on talking about the mental health issues I’ve struggled with while in office. Some people say that explicitly talking about these challenges is a sign of weakness, but I disagree. I believe it makes me stronger.
3. Laut by Sawsan Chebli
Sawsan, a Muslim woman with Palestinian roots, received thousands of death threats as a senator of West Berlin. But that never stopped her from engaging on social media. Laut (or Loud in English), is among the most personally compelling books I’ve read because it speaks to my own experiences in politics. It helped me see how online hate influenced the way I communicate. Early on, the online personal attacks I received silenced me. This book empowered me to find my voice and use it online. Now when I experience backlash, I lean on my community and take social media breaks when needed. This book is currently available in German, and I hope it is translated into English because it’s so amazing. (Sawsan is also a fellow member of the Goalkeepers community!)
4. The Swimmers on Netflix
This film tells the incredible story of my friend Sara Mardini and her sister, Yusra Mardini, who fled Syria along with 18 other refugees on a boat that nearly sank on their way to Greece. Because Sara and Yusra were competitive swimmers, they managed to bring the boat ashore on a Greek island and get their fellow passengers to safety. Despite all that Sara has been through, she continues to be a positive force through her humanitarian work. I was so moved by her story that I had her as a guest on my podcast.
5. Becoming by Michelle Obama
I love this book because the former First Lady talks about how to face challenges and find your voice. I could relate to her political background and being in the public eye in mostly white-occupied spaces. Her stories inspired me to find my own voice. If we believe in ourselves and we understand our potential, we can achieve anything we want. It’s a mindset.
6. Gender equality data from the 2022 Goalkeepers Report
Increasing women’s economic power is critical to the work I do at We Belong Europe. Melinda French Gates says that it’s not enough to simply empower women—a message I feel very aligned with. At We Belong, we focus on teaching women the skills they need to go out and achieve their dreams, through tailored business and communication training. For example, we host a leadership program called Power Her for teens from diverse backgrounds in Europe. Power Her teaches young women how to pitch their entrepreneurial ideas, own their story, and understand their “why.” In addition to providing business and organizing skills, we also focus on building self-confidence and public speaking skills, and we share tools for maintaining mental well-being while engaging in activism and navigating the fatigue that often comes with that work.
Who are the Goalkeepers of the Sustainable Development Goals?
With seven years left to achieve 17 ambitious goals, these are the thinkers and doers working to accelerate progress in their regions.