Shaun Robinson: My Journey to WMM

Author: Shaun Robinson (Member, Women Moving Millions)

As a little girl growing up on the west side of Detroit, Michigan, I remember my grandmother and I walking around the block to the bus stop and taking a 30-minute ride to a tall building on, what seemed like, the other side of the world.

I remember sitting on the floor of the hallway, sun shining through the windows, playing with whatever toy I brought with me that day, while Grandma sat in a chair against the wall with a red tube poking into her arm – the other end attached to a plastic bag hung on a tall, skinny pole. She would sit there, with other grown-up people I had never seen, also with red tubes coming out of their arms – all of them squeezing these blue rubber balls. Grandma and the strangers would smile and make small talk with each other. As the minutes ticked by, the bags would go from see-through to filling up with a red liquid. I would play quietly (even though this was not my idea of a fun summer vacation day), not daring to be unruly or else Grandma would shoot me a look that I knew would mean unpleasantries when we got home.

A lady dressed in all white – from her folded white hat on her head all the way down to her white stockings and shoes – would come out and adjust the bags and tell Grandma and the other nice strangers, “You’re doing great” and then disappear back through the door. In the brief seconds that the lady was tending to Grandma, I could see, attached to her all-whiteness, was a sticker that said, “Red Cross”.

Grandma was a philanthropist.

Not the kind with a lot of money in the bank – she cleaned houses for well-to-do people and her husband, my step-grandfather, drove a truck for the post office. But, no dictionary defines philanthropist as a “wealthy person”. Instead, it reads, “one who has an altruistic concern for human welfare manifested by one’s generosity to needy persons”. There was a call by the Red Cross for people to help and Grandma answered that call with her life’s blood.

My mom and dad always told me that, “If God gives you a platform, use it to give back.” Philanthropy wasn’t an option, it was a requirement. Our family’s unspoken motto was, “Even if I have only a little, you can have a little bit of my little.”

My college years were spent at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia – an all women’s HBCU (Historically Black College and University) founded in 1881. The first class of Spelman consisted of 10 women and one girl – some of whom had been born into slavery. It was at Spelman that I learned about the strength and pride of my ancestors and the women who came before me. It was where I learned about the value of sisterhood and, when you invest in a girl, she can change the world. It was there that I saw, firsthand, how young women of color, many from underserved and disadvantaged backgrounds could go on to be lawyers, doctors, actresses, businesswomen, COO’s of Fortune 500 companies, and talk show hosts.

My career led me to Hollywood as host of the entertainment show, ‘Access Hollywood’. It was 1999 – before social media – before Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. At the time, it was one of the only national entertainment shows around and the go-to place for news on your favorite celebrities. Not long after that, I began getting letters from girls asking about the stars – “Is so-and-so as beautiful as she looks on the magazine covers? “What about so-and-so? Is she as skinny and perfect as she looks in the movies?”.

I knew I had a duty. So, I wrote a book to teens girls called, “Exactly As I Am: Celebrated Women Share Candid Advice with Today’s Girls on What it Takes to Believe in Yourself”.

I interviewed girls around the country to find out what they felt were the images and messages that destroyed their self-esteem. I interviewed celebrity women about what they would tell girls if they could speak directly to them. And, the message was clear: True beauty comes from within. No amount of money, fame, or looks can bring you real happiness. The quote that Oprah gave me for “Exactly As I Am” was this…“You are valuable because you were born.”

One of the chapters in my book is called, “Giving Back”. I already was serving on the National Board of ‘Girls, Inc.’ whose motto is, “Teaching girls to be Strong, Smart, and Bold.” I currently serve on the Advisory Council of the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up organization which gives girls the resources and platform to start a movement of social change.

When I left Access Hollywood after 16 years, I started my passion project – the S.H.A.U.N. Foundation for Girls. We are a 501(c)(3) that supports small, grassroots non-profits that empower underserved and underrepresented girls in 5 key areas: (S)TEM, (H)EALTH, (A)RTS, (U)NITY and (N)EIGHBORHOODS.

There are so many small nonprofits that are impacting girls in meaningful ways. We find them, vet them, and if their work is in alignment with our principles, then we use our platform to help them with their mission. We focus on IMPACT over numbers. If you change the life of ONE girl, that ONE girl can change the world.

At the intersection of Philanthropy and Women, you will find Women Moving Millions. Although I am still a “newbie”, I feel energized when I am around the women in this organization who are using their platform to help others. Just as Grandma sat in that chair to do her part, I think we all have a responsibility to use whatever resources we have been blessed with to reach back and help others who need us.

America’s Leading Ladies

Author: Natalie Lynn Rekstad (Member, Women Moving Millions)

It is such a pleasure (and shock) that I share that I have been curated into the book “America’s Leading Ladies who positively impact the world….. ” which profiles fifty American women doing extraordinary things in the world.  I am in the company of Oprah Winfrey, Melinda Gates, and others who fiercely advocate for women and girls and a more just and gender balanced world.  The hard cover is in production, but in the interim the e-book can be found here.  Read on for my submission to do with advice to potential gender equality advocates about embracing their role in this moment and this movement.  

America’s Leading Ladies

My core belief is that the future hinges upon a more just and gender balanced world. As the beneficiary of the first and second wave of feminism, my mission is to help mobilize significant resources to bring about equality, on my watch and in my lifetime. It is a deep honor to be on this journey with so many awakened women and men who join me in this vision, all of us with unique roles to play.

Including you, Dear Reader.

Why does it matter? In the US alone, women continue to be more economically disadvantaged, experience much more violence, earn less, and are dramatically underrepresented in positions of leadership across all sectors.

But there’s good news. As context, we’re living in the most important time in the history of humanity. Never have we had so many viable solutions to suffering, poverty, and discrimination. Never have we had so many passionate people equipped to take direct action toward a thriving planet in which everyone can live with dignity.

We are living in the sweet spot of a world and time where women are more fiercely coming into their voice, thereby becoming more fully expressed and more fully empowered. In the US, women now have the economic chops to get equality over the finish line on a global scale.

Everyone is invited into this conversation and this movement, particularly men who are holding up the other “Half the Sky.”* In fact, I’ve noticed many fathers of daughters are some of the fiercest warriors for gender equity. These men encourage their daughters to take their full space in the world as the strong, spirited, dedicated leaders that they are capable of becoming.

It matters for our sons, too, who deserve to be raised in a culture that is free of the myth of superiority.  In fact, it is their birthright to live fully expressed lives alongside our young women. To do so, they need to feel safe to be truly seen, heard, and valued as a whole, as well as to be encouraged toward great depths of thought and feeling. These are the men of tomorrow who will help bring about deep and lasting change.

We all benefit. Where there’s more gender equality, there’s more peace:  Gender equality is a more reliable predictor of peace than a country’s GDP or level of democracy. Advancing gender equality will add billions to the US economy. Gender diversity in leadership roles also boosts business performance. And close to home for all of us:  Gender equality makes children’s lives better. Teens in countries with higher levels of gender equality experience higher levels of satisfaction than teens in countries with lower levels of gender equality.

Continue reading here

Hope & Determination: Outcomes from the 63rd Session of UN’s Commission on the Status of Women

Author: Natalie Rekstad (WMM Member and Founder & CEO of Black Fox Philanthropy, LLC, B Corp)
Date: March 29, 2019

“The Agreed Conclusions, even though not everybody got everything they wanted, give us enough to take home, to work and to take further the work of improving the quality of life of women and girls” stated UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to delegates at the close of the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

The convening took place March 11-22 at United Nations Headquarters in New York City.  It was an honor to be included in a private delegation of Women Moving Millions (WMM) members organized by UN Women National Committee Australia.

Mlambo-Ngcuka’s statement closed the session on a high note of directed action, particularly after her acknowledgement in her opening speech that although there has been “much progress to acknowledge” for women and girls, the “gains are fragile, and we are seeing them reverse.” This is particularly the case in developing countries where high numbers of women dying in childbirth are ‘inextricably linked to poverty and lack of services and infrastructure’ with disparities in education, health care, and legal rights compounding complex challenges.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report shows as much. There is some progress in discrimination against women and girls, but females are still being deprived of basic rights and opportunities in many areas and in many countries. For example, child marriage and female genital cutting (FGC) remain a challenge, with an estimated 200 million women and girls having undergone FGM and more than 720 million women alive today were married before their 18th birthday. 19% of women—one in five—between the ages of 15 to 49 have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the last year. In 49 countries, there are no laws that protect women from domestic violence.

Using legal frameworks, UN Women and grassroots organizations alike can address issues related to the structure of gender inequality. UN Women’s goals are to end harmful practices like FGC, child marriage, violence, exploitation, trafficking, and discrimination (UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’). The goal also looks to offer women and girls participation and equal opportunities in leadership; to ensure equal opportunities and rights in areas of law, economics, and healthcare; leverage technology to promote the empowerment of women; and adopt and strengthen policies and legislation to advance gender equality.

“That gender rights and equality are so perilous & have to be guarded so vigilantly was a key undertone of CSW63,” shared WMM delegate and co-founder of The Case For Her, Wendy Anderson. “Member states made their opinions clear in the careful selection of the words ‘gender’ vs. ‘women’ vs ‘family’ when phrasing support of the conclusions under discussion. We were reminded of new restrictions seen around the world to curtail women’s reproductive rights and freedoms and the years of work still ahead to achieve gender equality.”

Not only does the elimination of discrimination help women and girls, gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive. Where there’s more gender equality, there’s more peace:  Gender equality is a more reliable predictor of peace than a country’s GDP or level of democracy. Advancing gender equality will add billions to the US economy. Gender diversity in leadership roles also boosts business performance. And close to home for all of us:  Gender equality makes children’s lives better. Teens in countries with higher levels of gender equality experience higher levels of satisfaction than teens in countries with lower levels of gender equality.

NGO and Women Moving Millions partner Tostan echoes the necessity for changing the perception of women and girls in local communities that hold traditional beliefs; however; they have seen only a few proven ways to do this and it’s not just through passing laws enforcing formal education, but by putting resources toward local empowering education models.

The objectives sought are a large task, but not an impossible one. Although UN Women is underfunded, receiving less than half of their proposed budget (International Center for Research on Women), and “progress towards global gender equality seems to be glacial,” as acknowledged by UN Women CSW delegate Analisa Leonor Balares, the mood remained positive and inspiring.

“I believe that there are sources of hope that we can accelerate the rate of change–so that hopefully we can attain gender equality in our lifetime,” said Balares, CEO and Chief Innovation Officer of Womensphere Foundation, Innovation Leadership Lab, and Incubator Network. Balares also remarked on a way around the issue of underfunding for UN Women. “I also believe we can foster greater collaboration, and stop the ‘competition’ for funding between organizations/NGOs for women/girls/equality, by expanding the pool of capital and resources available to fund operations and programming around the world.”

Angeline Martyn, Head, Private Sector Engagement, UN Women, also shared, “Without accelerated action, it will take 108 years to close the global gender gap and economic parity will take 202 years to achieve.  The 2030 SDG agenda gives us 11 years. If we want to reverse that trend then the time is now for collective action to unlock new pockets and pools of funding to support UN Women’s urgent mandate.”

When asked in the private session with Women Moving Millions members, “What is your greatest hope coming out of CSW on March 22?” Mlambo-Ngcuka replied, “That member states adopt the CSW Agreed Conclusions and bring them to their Cabinets with the request that they put those these commitments into practice at the state and local level.”

The commitments Mlambo-Ngcuka hopes the member states will make include provision of social protection systems; access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality; and the empowerment of women and girls. The 63rd session of the CSW seeks a shift in policy. In the conversation with WMM delegates, Mlambo-Ngcuka continued, “We will need to see an overhaul on discriminatory laws. And we need quality data and monitoring tools so that in places where there is not adequate infrastructure, we have a baseline to track progress and come back and ask member states, ‘What have you changed?’”

Along with the representatives of the Member States and UN entities, ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world attended the session. In addition to the discussion of several new themes, women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development were also reviewed in the sessions run by NGOs in several ecosystem events. In fact, NGO and WMM Partner Tostan helped shine a light upon the good news coming out of the 12-day convening via the film premiere of  “Walk On My Own,” a celebration and deep dive panel discussion that many WMM members attended.

The documentary profiles Tostan’s model that emphasizes dignity for all men, boys, women, and girls. The film is unique in that it is told through the lens of filmmaker and would-be child bride, 13-year-old director Ndèye Fatou. As part of the “films ByKids” four-part PBS series, Ndèye Fatou tells her story of growing up in Senegal after recent changes ended traditional harmful practices toward women and girls.  She reflects on how human rights education has changed the lives dramatically for girls of her generation who now lead choice-filled lives, including pursuing higher education.

Tostan has created a global movement for positive social transformation, and its community-driven development model has thus far positively affected nearly 5.5 million people. One of the film’s producer’s, Mark Wheeler, shares, “At the present time, over nine thousand villages in West Africa have made public declarations of the abandonment of these practices.”

“It is essential to note the enthusiastic embracement of this movement by African men. Instead of a poorly educated wife, dependent on her husband for every need, the newly educated and independent women are becoming life partners in the true sense,” Wheeler continued. “The basic substructure of society is changing. Women are taking their place as equals to men. Despite headwinds regarding women’s rights in many parts of the world, women in West Africa are moving into the modern age.”

What is notable to this author is that Mark Wheeler is among many men who have joined in the conversation, being all in with advocacy, funding, and more, to ensure that this global movement continues to gain traction in Africa and beyond. This is vital as men hold up the other “Half the Sky” (Kristof and WuDunn, 2008) and their involvement in bringing about shifts enables the movement to go farther, faster.

Founder and Creative Director of Tostan, Molly Melching shared during the panel discussion, “We must include both women and men. To ensure everyone is included, to make it about human rights. To make it known that we have responsibility over the health and well-being of our daughters and sons, and dignity for all.”

Featured guest Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, amplified the transformative model of Tostan with closing remarks that included the vital perspective, “Today we have greater laws, we have stronger advocates on these issues, we have more research…but here’s the thing: the big thing I’ve learned is that change can’t be legislated. It can’t just be voted into being. People have to believe it. They have to want it. They have to be willing to stand up and fight for it.”

As the UN Women Executive Director said in her opening speech, “Well-coordinated and integrated infrastructure and social protection that reach large proportions of the population, especially the poorest, the young and old and most in need, can give us that leap ahead.”

Filmmaker Ndèye Fatou—and all she embodies for a new era of possibility—is a prime example of this hope.

Sources:

“Opening statement by Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.” (UN Women. Monday, March 11, 2019.) http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/3/speech-ed-phumzile-opening-of-csw63

“CSW63 (2019).” (UN Women. 2019)
http://www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw63-2019

“Financing for Gender Equality: Toward a More Feminist United Nations.” (International Center for Research on Women. September 2016.) https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Financing-for-Gender-Equality-FINAL-7.14.pdf

“Expenditure by Agency.” (United Nations System. 2017.) https://www.unsystem.org/content/FS-F00-03

“5 Ways Gender Equality Benefits Everyone” https://www.canadianwomen.org/blog/5-ways-gender-equality-benefits-everyone/

“The Global Gender Gap Report 2018” https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-gender-gap-report-2018

“Ndeye Fatou’s Story: Walk On My Own.” (Tostan: Dignity For All. February 26, 2019.)
https://www.tostan.org/walk-on-my-own/

“Sustainable Development Goal 5.” (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform. 2018.)
https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5

“Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” (UN Sustainable Development Goals) https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

Now is the time to make a pledge at #TimeIsNow. Private sector and philanthropic engagement in the achievement of the SDGs remains invaluable as we track towards 2030. 

To Support Tostan, go to https://www.tostan.org

Ami Kuan Danoff & Christina Gordon are Empowering Boston’s Girls & Women

Ami Kuan Danoff & Christina Gordon – WMM March 2019 Members of the Month
Authors: Ami Kuan Danoff & Christina Gordon
Date: March 29, 2019

Ami Kuan Danoff (left) and Christina Gordon (right), Co-Founders of the Women’s Foundation of Boston

AMI KUAN DANOFF
The Women’s Foundation of Boston has its genesis in conversations that Christina Gordon and I were having in 2016 with friends about how to boost the power of women in our community. We have lived and worked in Boston for over 35 years, developing extensive community, business and philanthropic ties to our city. We are both active in several local nonprofits — among her many commitments, Christina has been volunteering at Rosie’s Place for over a decade, and I was active in Harvard’s capital campaign — but we couldn’t find a non-profit which targeted the economic empowerment of Boston girls and women. Unlike most major American cities, Boston did not have a women’s foundation — so we decided to focus on filling this gap.

After much discussion and research, we identified economic resource and leadership development as key drivers in women’s empowerment; so when we incorporated our nonprofit in January 2017, it was with the dual mission of advancing economic and leadership opportunities AND increasing philanthropy for women and girls in Boston. We knew that we wanted to partner with local nonprofits who were already working with women and girls, and create new projects together to accelerate success for women and girls in Boston. Although there had not been a women’s foundation in Boston, there were many disparate organizations which were working tirelessly to develop opportunities for women and girls through after-school activities, educational workshops, and mentoring and leadership programs. We are very fortunate to have partnered with outstanding nonprofits such as the Red Sox Foundation, Science Club for Girls, Budget Buddies, Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, Hope & Comfort and Big Sisters, just to name a few.

CHRISTINA GORDON
One of our core tenets is that when we advance a woman, we are very effectively advancing a community — women re-invest 90% of their income back into their community. When women have economic opportunities, all the outcomes for them AND their families and communities improve, through better educational access, housing stability, and health care. It is truly the highest return for the philanthropic dollar, which makes the shortfall for US women-directed giving all the more shocking: less than 7% of US foundation giving goes to women; and of that, 40% goes overseas (vs 20% for all other giving). Less than 2% of $1m gifts are directed to women. Ami and our partners and I are experienced in the fields of investment and business, and it is so clear that funding women and girls is savvy investing in our community.

Our extensive business experience in Boston also equipped us with a pragmatic ROI-focused lens. We approach our partnerships and projects like venture capitalists, looking for the most positive outcomes and impact for Boston women and girls. We value collaboration highly, and work to connect local nonprofits and businesses through the networks we have developed as longtime Boston business people and residents. We are excited to have made so much progress in moving the needle on Boston women’s philanthropy in the past two years and welcome all that lies ahead for usPlease check us out at https://wfboston.org/ and join us in our mission.

Wendy Anderson on Stepping into the Uncomfortable

Wendy Anderson – WMM October 2018 Member of the Month
Author: Wendy Anderson
Date: October 31, 2018

To me, strategic philanthropy demands that you surround yourself with people who support and encourage you to step into the uncomfortable and create an environment in which you and your philanthropic goals can grow. I didn’t always know that philanthropy was learned; I thought it was something one ‘did’ — and the process of changing my perspective hasn’t always been easy. It’s required questioning, challenging, participating and looking deep into mistakes for the opportunity to learn. And it’s meant putting myself in places I never thought I’d fit.

A little over 10 years ago, my husband and I decided to designate fifty percent of our earned income to our family foundation and share responsibility in its running. He’d manage the environmental side and I’d look after the humanitarian. I understood very little of philanthropic foundations and even less about strategic giving, but I had a clear goal: to invest in the health and education of women and girls.

At that time, being a Swedish philanthropist was a lonely experience and many organizations were not used to working with individual funders. I started by engaging in very traditional philanthropy: I learned how project briefs and funder updates worked and gained insight into the structures of larger organizations. It was a great experience — and it led to a meeting with Cristina Ljungberg, who would eventually become my collaborator and co-founder at The Case For Her.

Cristina prompted the first ‘A-ha’ moment in my journey towards strategic giving. We were invited to the same proposal presentation in one of those traditional conference rooms with IKEA furniture and a whiteboard in the background. I’d read the proposal and was having an internal dialogue on the asked amount when Cristina – a rule breaking, sharp and educated philanthropist – started asking questions, pushing the envelope, and really using her skills to support and challenge the proposal in front of us.

It sounds silly to say this — but I didn’t know that one could challenge a proposal in that way, to demand more detail or question a method. I had significant work experience as a project manager and analyst in the financial services industry, but what I hadn’t realised is to what extent that experience was valid & could still be applied, despite the change in framework. I gained confidence that day in trusting the value of my own perspective. I also learned that effective giving requires doing homework — and that it’s much more fun with teamwork.

Together, Cristina & I began discussing the complex challenges facing girls, and one particularly underfunded area rose to the surface: menstruation. Health education, sanitation services and social support programmes are siloed  – menstruation is a red thread that runs through each and yet has no champion. We would fill that role. Our two separate foundations began co-funding organizations and researchers through grants, and undertaking direct investment, convertible debt or working capital loans to companies and social entrepreneurs working in menstrual health. Seven years later, we launched our own organization, The Case For Her, and added another team member: our managing director and co-founder, Gerda Larsson.

The Case For Her is a nimble, lean and trailblazing funding collaborative and investment portfolio that today invests in three areas – Menstruation, Female Sexual Pleasure and Menopause. Some may call us a gender-lens investing portfolio, but we do more than invest: we’re systems entrepreneurs. Our strategy is to build and nurture networks, support local leadership and to convene meetings and events. We actively engage with our partners and provide resources to help ensure success.

One of my biggest learnings on this journey has been that ‘resources’ means more than money. It means time, dedication, and stepping up publicly. The latter — for me — is where things get really uncomfortable. My first step into the public sphere began with a commitment. I joined Women Moving Millions in 2017 in time to participate in the ‘Acing Your Advocacy’ seminar with Lisa Witter on offer that spring. I was beyond nervous. Until then, I’d been a quiet philanthropist. A silent one, even. Only my closest friends knew how I spent my time. Walking into that seminar, I felt like an imposter in a room of capable, professional women. My legs shook & my voice trembled — but every person gave me her full attention and patient understanding. I felt supported and encouraged. Later that year, still nervous but more confident, I took the stage on Member Day to share my experiences in collaboration, and insights in gender lens investing.

My strategic learning journey took an accelerated turn when I was invited to participate in WMM’s pilot of the Leadership Curriculum. Public Narrative, OpEds, Collective Impact became tools, not just terms. And along with that, my cohort became a Sisterhood.

In September this year, I joined the Board of Women Moving Millions. I am honoured and humbled by the opportunity, and look forward to moving our collective impact forward through the strength of our combined commitment and the power of our voices.

Letters from Liberia

Author: Deborah Lindholm (Member, Women Moving Millions)
Originally posted on October 19, 2018 on the Foundation for Women website

On October 11, 2018, ProPublica and TIME Magazine published a report about the sexual assault and rape of girls in the care of an NGO based in West Point, Monrovia, Liberia. Since then I have been present with the news – no sharing on social media, a few conversations with trusted colleagues and FFW board members, sitting with the heart-breaking reality that an American NGO founded by a woman could have allowed this to happen to desperately poor and innocent girls striving to create a better future for themselves in this country.  I have heard from many of you in the US, questioning how it could have happened and wondering if I’ll stay in Liberia and continue my work in a place I have called home for 12 years.

I personally must respond.  I have no idea where the trust broke down between this NGO, their board of directors, or most importantly the trust that was so egregiously breached by the organization at the expense of the girls they were supposed to be serving.  The consequences of this ongoing abuse have devastated the people of Liberia. This organization was entrusted with the lives of these exceptional girls. To have so severely and unforgivably violated that confidence will have untold ripple effects for years to come, for these girls, their families, and communities throughout Liberia.

Click here to view Deborah’s full post on the Foundation for Women website.

The Power of Courage | Reflections on the Women Moving Millions Summit

Author: Natalie Rekstad (Member, Women Moving Millions)
Date: September 16, 2018

I often spend part of my Sunday mornings reflecting upon the week:  What has moved me, what has brought me joy, and ways I can show up differently, better, in my work and life for myself and for others.  This Sunday was different due to the level of intensity and depth of emotion, and I’m not certain how to unpack it other than to write.

I returned home Saturday evening from the Women Moving Millions Summit in Seattle with both a heavy heart — for the staggering issues discussed during the Summit — and a heart full of hope for all of the brilliant and passionate leaders working to solve them.  I’m struggling with how to reconcile the simultaneous and opposing intensity of emotion, and also the feeling of inadequacy that surfaces when I’m in the company of giants.  My inner critic (i.e. my crappy inner roommate) shouts: “You’re not doing enough!” and a wiser, gentler voice whispers “You are enough”.  At the end of the day I know that to both do enough and be enough I need to practice what I preach:  If there is one piece of advice I give clients when I sense them nearing burnout it is to — please, please — “Protect the Asset” (they are the asset) — the world needs them to be grounded and vital.

I find myself saying that phrase a lot to people working on big global issues.  What drives us so hard??  A couple of dots I’ve connected is that what many of us in the social sector, including countless philanthropists, have in common is that we’ve come from difficult backgrounds that have involved a great deal of suffering, and therefore cannot bear the suffering of others.  But I wonder if in my case if the drive is also there to outrun the heartbreak of that suffering (my own and the world’s).  I used to quip that I don’t dwell in the suffering because I have too much to do to alleviate it, and at any rate I’d just be adding my own pain to the mix and that wasn’t what the world needed.  I had an awakening at the Summit that will take some time to process, but at its core I know it will take the kind of courage to not quip, but feel.  How did I arrive here?

The Summit’s theme was “The Power of Courage”, and courage was indeed woven throughout the sessions in terms of bold action and the life and death risks involved in speaking truth to power, be it about gun control, race, climate change, or equality.  But what is sitting heavy on my chest this morning is that I also witnessed a number of deeply vulnerable stories that led people to the journey of bringing about change.  Those stories aren’t mine to share so I won’t do so, and I also feel it would be diminishing something sacred to try to capture something that can only be a felt experience.  But it reminded me of a favorite Rumi quote:  “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”  And so many that I had the honor to be with — the WMM members, guests, and speakers — are truly lit from within and are using that light as a beacon for others.  It is holy to witness.

There were also hard moments for me personally during those three days in Seattle:  several mirrors were held up to me around race and unconscious bias, how I present as an affluent white woman and what that affords me in this culture (but at my core still very much feel like the excluded  “have not” girl on food stamps), around feeling inadequate in a room of freakishly smart and bold leaders facing ridicule and death threats for years and doing the work anyway, and around using hard-won resilience to outrun unfelt despair (that demands its pound of flesh sooner or later anyway).

We know the root word of courage is Latin’s “cour” or “heart”, and what comes to mind for me when I hear that is lionheart, bravery.  But what I know now is that a deeper layer of courage is more tender and far scarier – that of being vulnerable to yourself and to others in a way that leaves you feeling naked and exposed — but doing it anyway because that is the only path to true freedom and true connection, and being included and loved for who you really are.

I’ve been involved with Women Moving Millions for over four years, but something important shifted at the Summit this year.  We all come to the community from very different pathways, but what was revealed in Seattle (but there all along) is that not only are our strategic minds and financial resources invited in to bring about bold change for women and girls, but our whole selves, including our wounds and our light; in short, our humanity.

There is also great joy in being in community with each other – cheering each other on, holding sacred space for each other and deeply listening, and seeing and celebrating our vulnerabilities, complexities and badassery.  It is a great privilege of my life to be among such bold and tender women (and a few good men!).

Read more posts from Natalie here.