Create & Cultivate 100: Philanthropy: Grace Mahary

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LIGHTING THE WAY.

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Grace Mahary, model and philanthropist, is all about bringing love and light to the world.

A first generation Canadian of Eritrean descent, Grace has walked in Victoria Secret shows and graced the pages of Vogue, but over the last four years, she has been researching renewable energy solutions, especially for countries lacking electrical and mechanical infrastructure

Drawing from her global network, Grace compiled a team to create tangible clean energy solutions for communities around the world, turning her sights to something near and dear to her heart: Project Tsheigh.

Project Tsehigh ( (pronounced se-hai, PjT for short) was established in New York City in 2015. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing uninterrupted energy to impoverished communities around the world via renewable energy sources. Tsehigh, translated as “sun” in English, is determined to bring uninterrupted clean energy to impoverished communities around the world, Grace launched the non-profit in Eritrea, home to her family and a place in desperate need of sustainable clean energy.

That’s what we call beauty on the inside. Keep shining Grace.

More below.

Name: Grace Mahary

Instagram: @gracemahary

Business Instagram: @ProjectTsehigh

Where do your drive and passion come from?

My parents, as they are extremely passionate people who exemplify hard work and perseverance.

How do you feel as a woman in tech?

I’ve never thought to consider myself “a woman in tech” because I don’t have formal STEM education. However, as I learned more about the sciences through my work with Project Tsehigh, I realized that I’m passionate about advancing technologies in the renewables space that will improve the quality of life for so many people. The traditional definition of technology is expanding, and I’m honored to be surrounded by these intelligent, strong women who are changing the world.

It’s great to see the numbers of women in stem rise, but it’s also important for young girls and adult women to know that if you don’t want to go into a career in tech or math or sciences, it doesn’t make your career less meaningful. As someone who has two careers, can you talk a bit about this?

I’ve had to deal with defending my job throughout my entire modeling career. Some people think that the fashion industry is completely frivolous and that modeling is as easy as standing in front of a camera and smiling. That’s definitely untrue, and now modeling has opened so many doors for Project Tsehigh. And even though I’m developing my STEM skills, that doesn’t devalue my career as a model. If you follow your passion, there is always room to incorporate purpose.

Would you say modeling gave you a thicker skin to deal with the STEM field?

Modeling has taught me a lot of valuable skills like confidence, independence, and the importance of humility. All of those skills are transferable to running a business or nonprofit. Project Tsehigh is still very new, and I compare it to a startup tech company that is building its infrastructure, reiterating processes and fundraising. This year we launched our first project and donated 105 solar power units to households and establishments in Maaya, Eritrea. It was one of the most challenging -- and rewarding -- projects I have ever worked on in my entire career. There were set-ups, setbacks, and comebacks, but my confidence, independence and humility helped me persevere.

What are your hopes for young women who are interested in STEM?

My hope is that young women who are interested in STEM are never discouraged because society says that tech is for men, or that working in tech “makes you less feminine” -- which is just ridiculous! Growing up I wanted to be a basketball star, but I was conditioned to think that women were either athletes or they were “girly girls” -- we couldn’t be both. As I grew older, I quickly learned that wasn’t true at all. I was able to play ball and walk the Victoria’s Secret Runway Show. The great thing about STEM is that you can combine multiple passions to make your career. If you love coding and reading, you could create an app for finding the best books. If you love the math and fashion, you could manage the finances for the biggest fashion houses. The possibilities are endless!

What is your biggest pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve is when people chew with their mouth open. The sound of their lips smacking drives me off the wall!

What are your biggest fears about running a business?

My biggest fear about running a business is failing the people that work with me. I try to be transparent and honest with everyone I work with, and I take obligations to others seriously. I regularly ask for their feedback on how our organization is doing and how I’m doing as a leader, like a reverse employee evaluation.

What's something you'd like people to know about your job that they probably don’t?

Working as a model is very unpredictable, and opportunities can be super last minute. Some mornings I’ll wake up with my day planned in my mind, and then I’ll receive an email or call about flying to another city that same evening for a job!

IYO-- How can we stay original when we are so saturated with other people's work?

"Be authentic. You’ll break through the static when you find your secret sauce and share it with the world."

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What about your career makes you feel the most complete?

Knowing that Project Tsehigh is creating lasting change on a global level.

If you had to trade jobs with anyone else in the world, who would it be and why?

A performer! If I could sing well, I would be on tour igniting the stage and sharing my energy with everyone. Also an actor because I like challenging myself to play different characters, and then I could act out additional dream careers like working with professional athletes in sports medicine, working with Elon Musk on eliminating fossil fuels and powering the world with 100% renewable energy, or a character who lives minimalistically in the tropics teaching yoga or some type of exercise to the local community.

At what point in your career did you find the confidence to really take charge and become the woman you are today?

That is still an ongoing effort for me. Over the last couple of years, I really started embracing my talents more and being less fearful. I’ve grown so much after starting Project Tsehigh. As a model, I’ve always had an agent guide me to make the best decisions, so running Project Tsehigh has pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m usually speaking directly to partners and potential donors, which was daunting at first, but now has become second nature.

What's the best advice you've ever been given? Or your favorite piece of #realtalk?

You need to make mistakes in order to grow and learn. Don’t overthink -- take the first step and then figure out how to execute the rest of your goal. Specifically pertaining to modelling: don’t take things personally.

When you hit a big bump in the road, how do you find a new road or a detour?

I will admit that I am a bit stubborn at times, but it becomes a positive character quality here because once I have my mind set on achieving something, I’ll literally do whatever it takes to accomplish it. If that means financial sacrifice, so be it. Hard labor and exhaustion, I’ll do it. I refuse to feel defeated because I believe in myself and know I can accomplish anything with hard work.

What song do you sing in the shower when you’ve had a bad day?

"Closer" by Goapple because it inspires and reminds me that no matter what happens, I’m closer to achieving my dreams and goals!

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