Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Take Care of Women

There are a few books on my shelves that changed by life. Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom because he helped me understand the true meaning of what it takes to sacrifice for the greater good. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird because her words and advice welcomed me into the world of being a writer. Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea is a striking story of perseverance. And for the first time, he confirmed for me what I have thought intuitively for a long time - women are the root of the world's progress. If we invest in improving, they become the rising tide that lifts all boats. There is scientific data collected over decades of research that shows the tremendous benefit experienced by the world as women become more educated, financially independent, and confident.

This coming Sunday, The New York Times Magazine will run a stunning cover story by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about raising up "the world's women, as the best way to address global poverty and instability." The entire issue is devoted to the subject. You can get a sneak preview of the article here. The article is a portion of their book entitled Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The book will be available for purchase on September 8th. Kristof is an active Facebook user and I highly recommend his page for anyone interested in global social issues.

The area of philanthropy and community building that I find most fascinating is the power of leverage. Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of Acumen Fund, writes about it so eloquently in The Blue Sweater. Greg Mortenson writes about it, as does Robert Egger in his book Begging for Change. If I give $1 to one group, they get $1 worth of products or services that helps their cause. What I want to do is give my $1 somewhere so that it does $1.25, $1.50, $2 worth of good. It's the familiar economic principle of economies of scale. How much of a product or a service do I have to buy so that each incremental unit becomes cheaper? It's buying in bulk applied to the goal of societal benefit.

Now step away from the scientific data, and we find that embedded in Half the Sky are remarkable stories of endurance, passion, and the transformative change of whole communities built upon the rock of female confidence. Abbas Be became a bookbinder and now funds her sisters' education after spending her early years as a prisoner in a brothel in Delhi. Saima Muhammad from Pakistan lived a miserable existence under the thumb of her abusive husband until she received a $65 microloan from Kashf Foundation to start a textiles company that is now thriving. The stories are powerful and many, and they come from every corner of the globe. They also make any challenge I face minuscule. If these women can survive and thrive in their circumstances, we can all do well with what we've got.

In so many nations, women and girls are marginalized and abused, their value as community members and as human beings discounted to the point of worthlessness. This must stop. Today. Kristof and WuDunn continue to lay the ground work along with so many other brave voices that must lead to a world that provides a better existence for women and girls. Better education, healthcare, and just the opportunity to improve their lot. You really want to change the world? You want to have an impactful, lasting change on how our communities function? Help women.

The photo above was taken by Katy Grannan for The New York Times.

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