Ruby Pawankar is a senior leader and past president of the Asia Pacific Association of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology (APAAACI), a nonprofit organization comprised of clinicians, researchers, and allied health professionals in the Asia Pacific region. Over the years, she has helped transform APAAACI into a robust organization at the global level with a focus on inclusivity, diversity, gender equity, globalization, and the inclusion of youth and women in boards, committees, and initiatives.
As the Executive Director, Ruby is responsible for the overall vision and strategy of the organization, developing innovative outreach and educational programs, leadership management, and international collaborations. She also leads multiple collaborations with other regional and global associations and bodies, including the UN, WHO, COP, and G20, where she acts as Co-Chair of the G20-T20 main Task Force on LiFE- Lifestyle and Environment, and as a G20 Empower Advocate for Women Empowerment. Ruby also mentors women in STEM and youth leadership.
What inspired you to work in the international association sector? Would you recommend this career to others?
When I was elected to the board of the World Allergy Organization (WAO), there were just two women and two representatives from the Asia Pacific region on a board of 20. I felt there was a huge representation gap for such a large region of the world, and that we could bring in a different global focus that was more inclusive of being Asian. As the first female President of WAO in 61 years, I realized that there was much that I could do for better inclusivity, diversity, representation, and a global voice as a woman leader. My priorities were to create a global community in a culturally and geopolitically diverse world, and to generate new knowledge, new science, new consensus by developing a voice for not just the leadership but the youth and women represented by WAO. I visualized the opportunity to work with multiple stakeholders to better achieve my vision of a world of inclusivity in diversity. This journey in WAO helped develop my strengths and experience for my leadership role in APAAACI.
I would certainly recommend to others that leading associations is very important and meaningful because you can bring positive change. To be innovative, you have to lead by example, be the hardest worker, and focus on collective thinking and work, including the voice of women and youth. In doing so, be a game-changer for the larger cause of the organization.
How do you #EmbraceEquity? Does giving a voice and a space to diverse groups make for better results? What are the challenges you encounter? Did you solve them?
Most of my career development has been in Japan, where pursuing a career as a woman is a challenge. Yet, I never focused on the glass ceiling but pursued a path of excellence as a clinician-scientist and then as a female leader with positivity, persistence, perseverance, and passion. In my journey, I have had motivating mentors but often heard “You cannot have it all.” « It’s not a woman’s job, » said in different ways and many times. But my experience taught me that one should not be discouraged by such obstacles as they do not bring solutions, help recognize problems, and do not inspire.
Following one’s passion, staying focused, positive, and strong are key. Be inspired by good mentors, mentor those younger, and motivate them. Be open to others’ perspectives and divergent views. Be curious, consistent, patient, and perseverant. Where there is no path, create one. Engage, participate, and prioritize, embrace equity. Do not be disillusioned by failure; it is the first step to success. Teamwork is crucial, and so is motivating your team and including their diverse opinions.
How important are diversity, equity, and inclusion for the future success of associations? What initiatives, projects and ideas can you share that help others understand the real value of DEI?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are integral to an association’s long-term success and sustainability and also help grow the community it serves. Our efforts in DEI have been very successful, and we continue to grow in strength.
I personally believe that diverse opinions, thought processes, different perspectives, and the engagement of diverse groups in an inclusive manner create a healthy environment of growth. Having traveled for work to 65 countries, I believe that we can always learn from honest interactions and dialogue. Open discussions and conversations can lead to the best solutions for the biggest challenges. Being born and brought up in a pluralistic society, I value such differences and learnings from others, as life is a constant learning curve.
As part of our efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusivity, we have included people from around the world, of a wide range of age groups, both men and women, in our initiatives so that we in Asia can benefit from not only regional but also global perspectives. Sharing our initiatives through partnerships with organizations from within the region, such as FIMSA and Thai Asthma Council, but also from outside the region, such as EAACI, WAO, FOCIS, ACAAI, and global bodies like the UN and WHO, has been a great success. We encourage and promote other organizations, and that openness has added strength to our associations. Last but not least, we celebrate International Women’s Day through different activities and highlight the importance of women in STEM, mentorship, and leadership.