Kasha is a 31 year old Senior Associate of Growth & Engagement working at a non profit that regulates purpose-driven companies. She’s also an avid member of the Toronto running community, and speaks approximately 72 languages.
I met Kasha while working at Public Inc. and immediately wondered how a tall gorgeous woman with a mysteriously ambiguous accent (British, but has been in Canada for 20 years, so it’s subtle and lovely), a Master’s degree in European, Russian & Eurasian Studies, and a former UN employee, could also be such a massive goofball. I loved her right away.
Kasha is truly the best mix of comedian, athlete and supermodel and I can almost guarantee that you’re going to fall in love with her three questions into this interview.
So how many languages do you actually speak? I always round it up to the 70s, but surely it’s somewhere in the 90s.
*laughing* I speak three fluently, and I can understand two more.
.. so that’s five . That’s like four more than the average person.
Okay, perfect, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Just in case anyone was questioning if Kasha is actually perfect.
*Giggling* [we giggled a lot]
How did you pick those up?
A: So, Ukrainian was my first language, English because I was born and raised in the UK, but Ukrainian because my family is Ukrainian so we speak that at home, and then when I moved to Canada my parents put me into an all French school, just because it was a better school than the local English one. I went to high school in a really small town, so the options were kinda limited, and then I went on an exchange to France and went to a French language university, so I just kinda learned it from all that.
Speaking about your world travels, I know you worked with the UN for a while; what was that like? Because it sounds really heavy, really academic, and really worldly. It sounds like all sorts of thing that I hope to someday be.
A: I get a lot of energy from working with people, and so that part of it was really rewarding for me, because I got to meet and work with the people that our programs were affecting. I held two positions with the agency over the years. The first was more on the academic and research side, because it was in Vietnam, and I didn’t speak the language [editors note: I bet she could have picked it up in a week] and the focus of my work was heavy. I worked on trafficking and smuggling, so it could be draining at times but I also wasn't working on the front lines, so it was a little easier in that way. It was more of a 9-5. I was really lucky to have gained some perspective on an issue I wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to. I think you hear and read about these things in the world and so it was interesting to me so see how nuanced and how complex these issues can be and how difficult it is to implement solutions, how many people it takes to bring to the table to have those conversions, but how important hearing those voices is.
In my second role [at the UN] I was working with failed asylum seekers, and on that side of things it was less of a 9-5, much more hands-on and incredibly heart-wrenching a lot of the time, but again nuanced. Leaving a country to seek asylum is such a layered process, and there was such a broad spectrum in terms of stories. I feel like sometimes you need to distance yourself from your work but in this role it was hard to do that because it’s so human. You work with these people for months and at times you get attached and it can be difficult to watch someone go through a hard time and know you can’t do enough. I feel like it sounds a bit contrite, but you do get to know people and so it can be draining. That’s obviously nothing compared to what the individuals and families are going through themselves though, too.
One of the reasons I decided to leave that sector was to take a different approach, and work on the more systems-change part of things.
Is there a story form your time at the UN that you still think about? One person that really affected you?
Yeah, there are a couple. One of the first families I ever met were returning to Mexico and they had gotten into a car accident on the way to the airport, and it just broke my heart. It wasn’t a serious accident and they weren’t hurt, but it was just like, when it rains it pours. Their reaction to the whole situation was so calm. Just to understand how incredibly privileged I was to be going home to my apartment and have my status as a Canadian and I had a bed and all of this stuff, and to look at this family with two really young kids, one of the daughters had some health issues and it just all seemed so out of whack. It was really really heartbreaking.
There was also another guy I met who was returning to west Africa and had built a life for himself here working at a bakery. He only spoke French so I worked with him more closely than some other beneficiaries, just to help him navigate the process and paperwork. His story for leaving was pretty traumatizing, but he had exhausted his options to stay and was out of choices. He had these horrible machete scars and I knew he had gone through some shit. On a totally embarrassing work-fail side note, I accidentally got him stranded in an airport in Paris temporarily and I’m so horrified by that [editor's note: It’s nice to know that even Kasha fucks up).
And he couldn't talk to anyone about it since there was nobody around him that spoke his language?
Yeah and obviously people speak French, but in Toronto it’s harder and he lived in Mississauga and I think a couple of layers of barrier were there. I remember him saying to me “Can I just stay? I’m working, I’m not causing anyone any harm, can I please just stay?” and it’s difficult to hear that, but then to see systematically the changes that need to happen and know at like, a policy level why he can’t stay and try to take the emotion out of it. So that part was tough.
Did you find being female affected the way some global partners treated you or saw you?
I worked in countries where culturally there’s maybe a more dated view of men and women, but I was lucky to land in places where my immediate colleagues were respectful and inclusive. *A dog tied up outside the coffee shop looks at us*
That dog is so cute.
Stop ruining the interview, dog! Back to the question.
He’s so cute. Wait… what was the question?
*A minute and a half of laughter*
Did you feel differently being a young female, uncomfortable or like it affected your work?
When I working in Ukraine, I was on a campaign around gender awareness and education, and I remember one of the first projects I came across was trying to communicate to employers that when they put out a job posting they shouldn't be requesting a photo with the application. We we were looking at job postings that said like, “young, blonde wanted for reception role” and I mean this was 10 years ago, so it wasn't THAT long ago. That was eye opening. I won’t say it was a dream of no harassment and everyone was 100% respectful, there was definitely a learning curve for me as a 20 year-old in a foreign country but I had to think about how I assert myself and how I present myself more than I think a dude would have in the same situation.
Switching gears a bit ... you’re a big runner, like an insane runner and not too long ago you ran from LOS ANGELES to LAS VEGAS. I think you must have ‘los’ your damn mind, but tell me what on earth drove you to do complete such an impressive feat?
*Pity laughter for my dad joke*
Yeah, I ran with a team from LA to Vegas. There’s something really motivating about a challenge that is done for no other reason than to see if you can do it. There’s not a ton of glory or caché in it, but the experience is so rad it’s hard to say no. For me it was right place right time. I was not working so I had been spending big chunks of my days at the gym and I got the invitation to participate in this team and it just seemed like the universe aligning. It was an unsanctioned race, and it was the third and last time they were putting it on, so I felt like if I don't go for it now, I never would. It was just about completing a challenging that was larger than … I don't want to say “larger than life” because that's so cliché ...
….. It’s also a Backstreet Boy album.
Oh, true! Then I will say it. It was about completing something Larger Than Life.
I think what drew me to it was just the impossibility of the task.
And it was an all-female team, right?
Yeah, it was all female, we didn't know each other beforehand. The first night we all slept together in the RV and got to know each other and it was a pretty rad group of women. Super supportive and we had a US Marine (the driver), a girl from Hawaii, others from California. Early on in the race I had twisted my ankle and one of the women ran like a half marathon stretch to pick up one of my race legs. It was pretty amazing. To wake up in the RV at 4 or 5 in the morning from an hour of sleep and to know that I didn't have to run on a shitty ankle because one of my teammates was picking up the slack and not hold it against me was incredible. We ran through two nights consecutively and the second night when the sun went down, cause we were in the Death Valley desert in March and it got pretty chilly, for me it felt balmy because I had been training through the Canadian winter so it was nice to be able to give those miles back to the women that covered for me when I injured my ankle.
What was the experience like? Did you ever have a moment where you wondered what you had gotten yourself into?
Yeah. The entire time was like that. It was such a mind fuck. It’s two days of feeling like it will never be over and then it’s over and you’re like, “that was it?!”. There's just so much adrenaline. We ran for 52 hours and there's no thinking, just this singular goal of getting there as fast as you can. And then you get to the Vegas sign and party and then everyone goes home. High highs and low lows for sure.
What I’m hearing is, you were scared shitless and you did it anyway.
I was scared shitless beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to do it. The first night, at like 1am I was closing in on 40km and wondering how much further I’d be able to push. I knew I had run 40km before so I figured I could do it again but that at 50 I thought my body would give out, same thing at 60, and by 70 I were just like alright, I can do it. It was a good lesson on just focusing on the things you can control and just taking the next step, which is probably some kind of deep lesson I can apply in other areas of my life but haven’t.
When I was a kid, I had a bunch of crazy ideas about what being a woman, like a grown up woman, would look like. Did you have any ideas of what being a grown woman would be like that turned out to complete BS?
Yeah I mean I think I’ve gone through different phases of what I thought it would be like. I didn't think of it much as a kid, because my mom got married really young and so she always told me and my sisters not to rush into that and really put an emphasis on education and independence. And then I think I went through a phase where I was more fixated on the next and overthinking what’s next. I think it’s easy to fall into that and question everything when you’re going through your 20s and get stuck in it, and you have a lot of social pressures on where you should be in your life. I was lucky though that my mom is very community minded and outgoing and I saw that and sort of took that for granted and thought that was normal. As I got older I realized the naivety in thinking that this kind of empowerment was the standard experience, but it helped that I also landed in a really good crew of women that taught me there's no standard of how to be a woman. If anything, it’s doing whatever you want.
I know that the running thing was big. What was the last thing you did that made you feel like a badass? It can be something small or big, whatever gave you that feeling.
This new role that I’ve taken on with B Lab has taken me in a lot of directions that make me feel that way. For example, last night I was on a panel, which is something I’ve never done before so in being able to say yes to that, I appreciated my own courage. For me it was hugely out of my comfort zone and being able to push myself a bit was scary but a positive experience.
And with you being so busy with your athletic pursuits and career, and learning 75 languages, do you have a schedule or set routine for taking care of yourself emotionally (trying really hard not to use the term ‘self care’ but that’s what I mean)?
I do! I plan my week out over the weekend and I will set up my calendar with social and work stuff and then put in my workouts around those. I juggle a few different things (Muay thai, running, yoga) so it helps to plan it out so I don't have to decide on the day, it’s just on my schedule. And I also schedule in things that make me feel human. So I try to catch Creative Mornings once a month, which is a breakfast talk that happens in chapters globally and just helps to start off the day properly and get a bit of energy and inspiration. Also having gone through some health issues recently, I’ve been more deliberate about scheduling more down time for reading and selfish me-time.
A self care routine fit for a queen!... for a woman that kinda sounds like one.