Maria Christoforatos, Member of the Board of Directors of ATHENA International, Brings an International Flair to the Board
As a member of the Board of Directors for ATHENA International, Maria Christoforatos brings new meaning to word “international!” She was born and raised in Australia. Her parents are from Greece, and they met and married in Australia. Maria is second generation Greek, and she married a man of Greek heritage who like her was born in Australia. Maria is now living as an expatriate in Shanghai with her husband, Spiros Christoforatos, Head of Business for China’s St. James’s Place Wealth Management Group. She has been living in Shanghai for three years, and their time there is open-ended. Maria certainly brings an international flair to the ATHENA Board of Directors!
Maria likes to tell people, “The children didn’t leave home, so we did!” Maria has three adult children who live in the family home in Sydney, Australia. About living in Shanghai, Maria says “I look different and I sound different!” She and her husband have had an opportunity to travel while in Shanghai, and Maria loves Xi’an, one of the oldest cities in China which is home to the Terracotta Warriors.
The way in which Maria became involved in ATHENA International is interesting. Administrative assistants at the company that employs her husband knew Andrea Conner, and they would talk about the work Andrea is doing with ATHENA International. Maria read the book, Becoming ATHENA, by Martha Mertz, and the ATHENA Leadership Principles really spoke to her. Maria says, “One of the beauties of Becoming ATHENA is the reference to a Greek Goddess!” Maria met Andrea Conner, and Andrea asked to join the board of ATHENA International in February 2017.
While her three children were in school in Australia, Maria worked for seventeen years in a library helping set up iPads and other technology for students. Because of visa issues, she and other spouses of expatriates working in China can’t work. So, Maria volunteers with three organizations in Shanghai: ATHENA International, Heart to Heart, and Lifeline. Through Heart to Heart, Maria raises money for operations for children who cannot afford them. With Lifeline, she serves as a crisis counselor for a suicide line twice a month taking calls from both expatriates and English speakers.
China is country in which there are many opportunities for partnerships for ATHENA International. According to Maria, “There are many successful women in business in China.” Education is important, and official statistics show that there are more female than male students in Chinese universities, and the gap is widening. Chinese women are taught the value of hard work. As a result, there are many affluent and independent women. In preparing this article, I found an interesting statistic: Of the 88 self-made female billionaires found across the world, 56 are Chinese businesswomen, marking China the best place in the world to be a female entrepreneur.
Maria represents Andrea Conner and ATHENA International in China. Maria has been working with She Power, with the goal for getting She Power to offer the ATHENA International Leadership Award. Founded in Dec 2015 in Shanghai, She Power focuses on developing "Woman Leadership" and connecting businesswomen through "Sister Clubs”. She Power has over 200,000 subscribed members of which 400 are C-suite executives and entrepreneurs. “Networking among women is strong in China,” according to Maria.
Maria has also been talking with Global Women Connect, a mentoring program with which ATHENA International hopes to partner. Maria regularly talks with young girls in Shanghai about ATHENA Leadership Principles. She would also like to start a leadership program for girls in high school.
As she talks about the ATHENA Leadership Principles in China, Maria discovered that some organizations use the leadership principles, but the terms are not the same. Maria loves the fact that there are ATHENA Leadership Principles, because they represent “a common bond, a connection point. The ATHENA Leadership Principles are guides that can bring us together.” Maria feels strongly that the ATHENA Leadership Principles are not just for women, but for men as well. She says, “Males and females can connect with the ATHENA principles as guides for their lives.”
For Maria, the most critical ATHENA Leadership Principle is Live Authentically. She says, “If you want to build a real bond with someone, it starts with being authentic. Living Authentically means you are willing to share your vulnerabilities which allows us to grow.”
Maria says all women have a story, and she shared her story. She had a closed mindset for many years about how she viewed and lived her life. She held very structured standards about having children and about her children behaving in a certain way. But, then, her life changed.
A tumor was discovered in her back which had to be removed by surgery. Then, she had a tumor in her brain which was attached to nerves causing her to lose some of her hearing. This was a traumatic time in her life as her youngest child was five, and her oldest child was eleven. The tumor had to be removed surgically. Fortunately, it was a benign.
Maria says that her perspective on life changed. Many things she thought were important were a waste of time and energy. She now looks differently at life and how it flows. She has become more authentic in her relationships, and she discovered that people like her more when she is authentic.
What a joy it was to talk with such truly international personality! ATHENA International is most fortunate to have a woman like Maria Christoforatos on its Board of Directors!