A Mother’s Day Feature: Things Worth Fighting For

By Angela Poe Noronha, ME 2013

As a woman and mother, what have you done to push for radical positive change?

Although so much has changed since graduating, the issues I care about have stayed the same. I’m still passionate about education, poverty alleviation, and sustainability. And I feel lucky to have carved out a mission-aligned career, when many advised me to do so after earning more money or getting big brands on my CV first. I’ve gone from freelance supporting social enterprises in Thailand to four years at a venture-backed edtech startup, a global nonprofit scaling high impact entrepreneurs, and most recently shifting into climate – where I’ve been lucky enough to work with MNCs, startups, governments, and investors to fix sustainability challenges in shipping, agriculture, plastics, and biodiversity.

This is just the start for me. I’m still learning from the many greats on how to deliver real impact, and I hope to do much more that improve life on this planet – but boy, fulfilling these hopes hasn’t come easily. Going from an independent woman on a mission to a wife and mother, who’s also on a mission, has constantly challenged and shaped the way I’ve pursued all that. 

How do I justify late nights working on a product release or proposal that will improve lives, when my 3-year-old and 6-month-old are waiting at home and looking for me at dinner? How do I keep credibility as I’m leading calls in a room full of senior executives, and Paw Patrol can be heard in the distance? How do I avoid the “do-gooder discount” and keep my market value high enough to be a proper financial anchor and supportive partner, so it’s not like I chose my passions over providing for my family? Does doing XYZ make me a bad mom or wife?

These are just some of the questions I’ve grappled with while trying to manage a family life without compromising my identity and ambitions. It’s taken a lot of work and openness to get through this – multiple tries at tough yet loving conversations and designing acceptable compromises. It gets tempting to keep all the struggles private and only talk about successes, but being open with close friends has always helped – you get fresh eyes, a kind yet practical outlook, and reminders of how awesome you supposedly are.

It never feels like we’re out of the woods, but my husband and I have come such a long way in building a life we love, where we are present for our kids and each other while also being supportive of our individual ambitions. I’ve come a long way in accepting my evolved identities as a woman, mother, and partner. I've embraced my generalist superpowers and grown a lot as a professional, finding ways to blend social impact with market value through ventures and innovation. And interestingly enough, facing these challenges has given me plenty of gifts too – opportunities that I believe deepen my capacity for impact.

Angela with her husband and two children now 8 and 6 years old

A fuller perspective. When I was younger, I couldn’t even imagine myself as a homemaker. I equated success with an exciting career, so I didn’t particularly value the effort or energy that goes into caring for a family. In the beginning, I found it hard to relate to some of the non-working parents at my kids’ school. But being in situations where I’ve had to take care of the kids and house for extended periods, spending time with moms who’ve given up careers to manage the home, making some of those career choices myself, and forming great friendships with people who are so far from my old definition of success have given me much deeper respect for parents and adults of all stripes. I see the value of different career and life choices, and I’m now equipped to help people either make peace with their situation or take solid steps to change it. I can’t tell you how many moms I’ve spoken to who are afraid to get back to the workforce because they’ve been out for too long, or similarly ambitious friends who worry about life after kids. I love that I can help them be less anxious and work toward what they want because I’ve struggled with the same, done the experiments, and had the tough conversations. I’m grateful that my struggles have helped women in my circle navigate their own work-life harmony journeys a little easier.

Direct culture change. Because my kids are learning everything for the first time, I get constant data points on assumptions being made like what’s seen as normal amongst their peers, and I have the privilege of setting a better normal with them. The teachable moments are organic – usually triggered by their candid responses to real people, scenes in movies, or something they read – but we’ve had great conversations about racism, dwarfism, quadriplegia, marriage rights, homophobia, the LGBT community, religious freedom, climate change, corruption, and more. My own parents, in-laws, and husband have been uncomfortable with some of these chats because “they’re just kids,” but I remember being young and hating being underestimated. So I expose my kids to the world and talk them through it – and in doing so I completely believe I’m helping them become more thoughtful and inclusive, kind yet capable. Some folks might see this as radical, but I see it as fundamental. If I can help create a kinder world by normalizing what’s taken other generations decades to wrap their heads around, I’ll do it. Millennials have been the butt of so many snowflake workforce jokes, but you wait and see – we’re driven by values, and it will show in the way we build better workplaces and raise our kids.

Angela (middle) during Echelon 2022 in Singapore

An example of fighting for the life you want. I don’t consider myself a success just yet – perhaps one in the making – but I’m proud that I’ve found ways to do work I believe in, craft roles and programs that didn’t exist before, and build meaningful relationships in spaces I care about. I’m fully aware that I benefited from the privilege of not being the sole breadwinner; there is no way I could choose the paths I did, or parent the way I do, without the support of my capable and similarly values-driven husband. That said, too many people are afraid to ask for or create what they want, even when it’s possible. One of my favorite quotes by Howard Thurman goes, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I’ve put in a lot of work to spend my days feeling alive while still being devoted to my family. I hope that I can help more people cross that bridge whenever their situation allows, both for themselves and for our planet which needs all the help it can get!

This piece was pulled from our 2022 archives and reworked in celebration of this year’s Mother’s Day. Angela is currently based in Singapore with her husband and two children (now 8 and 6 years old!), working with businesses, foundations, governments, and communities on programs that reduce ocean plastic, advance social inclusion, unlock climate finance, and enable more circular and regenerative economies.

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