Izabel Olson Seriously Badass Woman Chicago

Meet Dr. Izabel Olson

Izabel is the founder and executive director of Salt and Light Coalition, which provides holistic restoration and workplace training for human trafficking survivors. Olson’s cognitive science academic background and passion for holistic self-care uniquely qualify her to help women change their lives. Olson received the 2017 Illinois Secretary of State Latina Humanitarian Achievement Award.


What inspires you?

The women at Salt and Light Coalition inspire me every single day. I see women start off in our program clearly depressed, with expressions and reactions revealing a lifetime of trauma. Over the course of the year I see their depression transform into radiance and drive. Something clicks when they are they are loved, seen, embraced, and given an opportunity. They are so committed and incredibly hard workers. Seeing this unbelievable transformation is not only inspirational, but it’s also what keeps my passion burning bright. If I am ever having a bad day, I run to Salt and Light Coalition. Being there around these amazing women makes my day better every time. The women I work with are the best example of having a spirit of overcoming and resilience. They are the ones deserving of the title "seriously badass women."

What do you believe?

I believe in love, connection, faith, and presence as the main ingredients of healing. At the end of the day, everyone just wants to be loved and seen. With these ingredients, I believe anyone is able to create a better narrative for their lives; a narrative of empowerment, overcoming, and flourishing. When you show women that - you start to see true transformation. When women have all of those ingredients, they are able to reframe their trauma and recreate a narrative for their lives. We see a narrative of empowerment and overcoming emerge.

Who helped get you here?

My mother is a warrior woman, she is an example of what empowerment is! I saw her face homelessness head on. I saw her deal with every challenge in a creative way. She never put her head down or ran away from problems. She never threw the towel. When I was growing up, I just saw my mother work hard with perseverance. She would never quit. Not only that but her belief in me was paramount for everything that manifested in my life. I grew up with a woman that wholeheartedly believed in me. She fought through life to give me the best education. She told me every day I could do anything I wanted. She believed I could work full time and study full time while being a single mother. She believed I could get a PhD. She believed I could start a not-for-profit with no business background. She believed I could - and because of her belief I also believed and that belief manifested. I would not be who I am without my mother.

With Salt and Light, it is no accident we are called a coalition. Lots of people have helped us get here. Every client who trusts us, every volunteer who decides to walk alongside us, and every business that invests in us help us create a space to change women's lives. Salt and Light does not exist in a vacuum and never will because everything is better and stronger with the power of community, partnerships, and support.

What are you most grateful for?

I am most grateful for the women who were brought to Salt and Light Coalition. Every day they choose to empower other women, and I am so grateful for their unrelenting dedication, hard work, and support. Without them, Salt and Light Coalition would not exist. The opportunity to change even one life is only because there is an army of women that said yes to their calling in this challenging, yet amazing work. I would not be able to do this without them, and I am grateful for that every day.

What do you do when you feel stuck?

I believe life should flow without striving. This does not mean I don't believe in working hard. I absolutely believe in hard work, however I also believe in a greater power. This means I believe in a perfectly tailored plan for my life. If I am feeling stuck, I reassess my life and meditate on whether I am taking the right route.

When I was in graduate school, I felt stuck. I felt like I was striving and fighting my way through life. Sure, I loved my work, but I felt that if I was truly fulfilling my calling there should be some sort of flow to what I was doing. There is a sweet spot between working hard and finding the path of least resistance. I call that my rhythm of grace.

I believe when you find this rhythm, you can be fearless and there are no boundaries to what you can achieve. When I started Salt and Light Coalition that is exactly what I started experiencing. I started talking about starting a not-for-profit organization and all of a sudden doors opened! Lawyers offered their services, I serendipitously met high profile individuals who bought my idea and supported me. All of a sudden I had built a not-for-profit and it felt effortless. Of course I was doing my part and worked my tail off, but there was a flow—an energy I can't explain. If that energy is not there in my work, I stop and reassess.

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Photo Credit: Jamie Kelter Davis Photography