PEACE CORPS: A New Era of Possibility through Documentary Film

natalie lrPEACE CORPS:  A New Era of Possibility through Documentary Film
Author: Natalie Lynn Rekstad (Member, Women Moving Millions)

A TOWERING TASK:  A Peace Corps Documentary (Alana DeJoseph, Producer & Director)

peace corps towering task


Alanna Joseph
Alanna Joseph

Republic of Mali, West Africa, 1993.  Twenty-three year old Alana DeJoseph followed the village midwife through the African night with only a kerosene lantern to light winding paths leading to a small, round, mud hut where a young Malian woman reclined stoically.  Inexperienced, scared, and resolute, Alana did more than show up as a Peace Corps volunteer; she was a woman crossing a cultural bridge during one of the most unifying times in women’s lives:  childbirth.

With over 220,000 chosen Americans having invested their youthful idealism and fine minds in the Towering Task of Peace since 1961, this snapshot of the Peace Corps experience is one of millions  shared by a declining number of souls who call the Peace Corps the most profound and transformative experience of their lives.  New graduates brimming with potential, they thought they would change the world; by Peace Corps design, the world changed them.

In response to the Cold War threat and a race for global favoritism over Russia, the Peace Corps was founded by John F. Kennedy, Jr. as an international cultural bridge, particularly among developing countries lacking infrastructure and vulnerable to oppression.  The Camelot ideal of peace was a beacon of hope for an increasingly cynical youth of America, including young Alana.

From a perch of relative privilege, Alana attended Washington and Lee University, an environment at the time more dedicated to educating young business leaders and lawyers than searching for new approaches to peace.  Yet a passionate business school professor noticed her shining eyes as he described engagement in the world, not as a periphery concept, but at the core of living a fully expressed life.  He suggested the Peace Corps, and Alana, like so many of her American compatriots, applied for the ride of their lives.

Since it’s inception, the Peace Corps has served in 141 countries, many of which have become stable global citizens and US allies, Superpowers and peace brokers. They’ve led the charge on global initiatives like food security, disease treatment and prevention, and gender equity. These efforts went on to have an even greater impact through educated leadership:  In Africa alone, Peace Corps volunteers were the initial teachers to twelve students who went on to become top political leaders.  In the face of opposing messages, their personal experience of the United States afforded unprecedented understanding and connectedness, and a shared vision of collaboration and peace.

Although difficult to measure in facts and figures, the global impact of the Peace Corps is overwhelming.  For fifty-five years volunteers have been striving to meet three main goals:  Meet the need for trained men and women in developing countries; promote an accurate and accessible view of Americans throughout the world; and illuminate generations of Americans on the universality of the human experience among all peoples, regardless of race, religion, and geography.

But if you ask a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) how the experience impacted their lives, invariably they tell stories of knowledge transformed into wisdom, western idealism transformed into humility, and above all, a deep connection and grace that bridges cultures to this day.  Now awakened world citizens, they embody a loyalty to humanity while identifying as Americans, and they take their roles as engaged “super citizen” to heart.

As a celebrated documentarian with a powerful journalistic ethic, Alana has become a steward, archivist, and catalyst for the Peace Corps, a role she considers sacred and urgent.  To RPCVs, including Alana, the marginalization in the past several years of the Peace Corps is a form of blasphemy and a reflection of fading ideals; the overwhelming response among returned volunteers has been “Not on my watch.”  Within this community is a fierce determination to see the Peace Corps remain relevant and vital on the international stage and in the intimacy of the informed American dining room.

For Alana, that has taken the form of producing and directing an unprecedented landmark documentary not only as a vehicle to create a baseline history of one of the greatest global emissaries of peace in history, including capturing the early voices before they fade away, but to usher in a new era of possibility in today’s context.  With countless opportunities already squandered, the stakes are staggeringly high.  

To warriors like Alana DeJoseph, the global leaders she has assembled, and Americans who care about how we show up in the world, the call to action is clear and urgent:  Keep the Peace Corps relevant on the world stage by honoring its iconic past, while ushering in a New Era of Possibility.

#PledgeForParity – I’m In. Are You?

#PledgeForParity – I’m In. Are You?
Author: Jacki Zehner (Member, Women Moving Millions)jacki photo
Originally posted on March 8, 2016 on LinkedIn

Every year, on March 8th, events are held all around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day. And every year, without fail, these events are often accompanied by a chorus of dissenting voices questioning why we need an International Women’s Day at all. I must admit, I sometimes find myself asking that very question, because I want more than anything for this day to become obsolete. I want to live in a world where men and women are treated justly, and enjoy the same rights and opportunities, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I want these things to be our reality right now, but unfortunately social change doesn’t work that way. Long term social change is exactly that: long term, which means these things don’t just happen overnight, as much as we all may want them to.

The good news is that in today’s digital age of communication, it’s easier than ever to move the dial and accelerate positive social change when an issue gets the attention it deserves. Examples of this are everywhere. For example, this year’s Oscar short listed documentary The Hunting Ground shone a spotlight on the issue of campus sexual assault in the United States, and since its release at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, it has gone on to be screened at thousands of campuses, ignited a public discourse over the issue of consent and sexual assault, partnered around the It’s On Us and See Act Stop campaigns, and brought the issue to a global audience with Lady Gaga’s powerful performance of “Til It Happens To You” at this year’s Oscars. (full disclosure, I am one of the many Executive Producers of The Hunting Ground) Though sexual assault on college campuses has been a problem for a long time, never have we had such focus and accountability. This is something to celebrate.

Read more from Jacki here.

Kristin Hull is Making Finance More Accessible to Women

kristin hull photo for member of monthAuthor: Kristin Hull (Member, Women Moving Millions)

Like many of you, I share the belief and deep inner knowing that women and girls are needed for us to achieve all that we want for our world. I am so lucky to have found this group of exceptional Women Moving Millions who share my passions and understanding that the inclusion and sincere involvement of women and people of color is crucial to re-imagining and re-structuring our educational systems, our governments and our economy. We women have powerful roles to play and I’m excited to meet more of you and learn about your passions and projects!

Growing up white in Oakland, I had both the opportunity and the challenge of negotiating race and privilege on a daily basis. From the age of five, I recall many instances where I was given rich, colorful books to read while the black children next to me were stuck with less engaging lower level readers. These formative first-hand experiences shaped my worldview and subsequent decisions to focus on better understanding and addressing inequities at different levels. The methods and sectors in which I have engaged have evolved over the years, and have recently come full circle: from a family trading business to teaching in inner city schools, to now working on financial literacy and a gender lens product for women. The common thread with all of my work has been an effort to engage with and empower less heard voices.

Pivotal to my story is that while I was young, my father had several different jobs; one of which was starting a commodities trading firm in our garage. He started on the West Coast then commuted to Chicago while I was in high school. Dinner table conversation typically focused on topics such as “puts,” “calls,” “asset allocation,” or the need for more “foreign equities.” Early on I participated in board meetings, hiring decisions, and as a clerk on the trading floor. As you can imagine, for a young woman, the financial industry in Chicago was far from a hospitable place, despite some sincere efforts of our family firm to increase the level of diversity and the experience of women in the industry.

At 17, I had the fortune of living in Venezuela as an exchange student. During my time abroad, I was struck by the extreme poverty I witnessed and spent the year learning Spanish, Venezuelan culture, and as much as I could about systemic inequality. When it was time for college and choosing my own career, I felt called to address our world’s inequities. While I understood complex strategies involved in futures and options trading, I wanted to be a true change maker, became a classroom teacher and decided to dedicate my career to urban education. At the time, mid-1980’s, I understood first had how schooling played a big part of creating inequality, and yet I didn’t see how much our financial system actually contributed to and in some cases was a cause for the injustices I wanted to address.

I loved my time as a bilingual teacher, and activist, eventually co-founding the North Oakland Community Charter School. As I worked within the local educational system, our family business grew. I spent summers and spring breaks traveling back to Chicago for board meetings, time in the office as well as on the trading floor.

It wasn’t until years later after we sold our company and I entered the world of philanthropy, that I realized not all women and girls grow up with quirky fathers, speaking the language of finance. In the process of leading the investment process of our foundation to being 100% mission aligned, I learned that not enough women felt comfortable making decisions about their own assets. When it came to the world of investing, I realized I was somewhat bilingual and bicultural and I wanted that ease and clarity for all women. Not only should our financial system be accessible, I truly believe that when women understand and can confidently direct their finances, as an expression of who they are, we will begin to transform the entire economic system.

Upon that realization, I shifted my focus from my own investments to creating Nia Global Solutions. The word Nia comes from the Swahili and means intention and purpose. As a way to help educate and empower women, I felt a solutions focused and transparent gender lens product was needed; one that would both promote women in leadership, as well as include products and services essential to women. Through Nia I am dedicated to creating educational materials, making our financial markets and systems more accessible to women. I’m now thrilled to see this intentional investing space taking off and am honored to be a part of it, knowing we have a lot of work to do before all of the not yet included voices are investing their assets in alignment with their values.