The Sum — The Meaning of This Week: Transform
The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.” —Warren Bennis.
Word of the week is TRANSFORM.
As in the women who transformed Rwanda.
As in women transforming lives and communities through philanthropy.
As is in a transformational confrontation with one’s power demons.
Ever have one of those weeks when you have to, as I used to hear people say when I was growing up in Texas, holler “calf rope?” Well, I just hollered, and that’s why “The Sum” is coming your way on Monday instead of last Friday.
No Excuses to coin a phrase, but I did have reasons, such as my sister’s challenges as she recovers from a kidney transplant and preparing for the launch of the 50 Women Can Change the World program for emerging women nonprofit leaders in Arizona.
Summer slid imperceptibly into a vertiginous array of fall events. Save the date of November 14—exciting details coming soon about the first ever Take The Lead Day—it will be epic and transformational and I imagine my team and I will all holler “calf rope” by the time it’s done.
But let’s move on to the Sum of the Week. Its meaning truly all culminates for me in the word “TRANSFORM.”
Meet the Women Who Transformed Rwanda, and One Who Tells the Story
Swanee Hunt wove through my whole week. Activist, philanthropist, academic, global citizen, her incredibly moving book Rwandan Women Rising tells a story you won’t find on Rwanda’s Wikipedia page. Over 17 years of intensive study, impeccable research, and most importantly listening to the stories of hundreds of women, Hunt documented how those women transformed a society decimated by years of brutal civil war and the genocide of 800,000 of its citizens.
I attended a book event where Hunt delivered a riveting narrative of how the women gathered to transform their country through reconciliation rather than revenge—“reconciliation far beyond anything we can imagine,” says Hunt.
While it’s true that the decimation of a large percent of the male population in the war opened opportunities for women to lead, there is another truth that cannot be left unspoken. Hunt points out that 94% of the people who perpetrated the genocide were men. The foresighted leadership of women who had suffered brutal losses of as many as hundreds of their own families transformed their culture by seemingly radical moves such as adopting orphans from previously warring tribes. The women simply led differently than the men had. And they transformed the country from one where the majority of women were illiterate and all were second-class citizens to one where education for girls is compulsory and the Rwandan parliament has the highest ratio of women in the world, 64%.
Hunt also pointed out the importance of changing the laws so that women can own property, for now they can use their property as collateral to get loans to start businesses. Economic power is as important as political power.
The meaning of Rwanda is that the women took the lead, and did it non-violently.
“If the women of Rwanda could bring unity to a war-torn country,” asserted Hunt pointedly, “the women of America can do it here.”
Meet Women Transforming Lives Through Philanthropy
Swanee Hunt and her sister Helen LaKelly Hunt are the visionary founders of Women Moving Millions, a global philanthropic community committed to large-scale investments in women and girls. Currently at 282 members who have given or pledged at least $1,000,000 to organizations that advance and make life better for women and girls, WMM is inspired ever higher by its dynamic Chief Engagement Officer, Jacki Zehner.
At a celebration of WMM’s 10th anniversary last week, Zehner challenged members to “change history.”
Philanthropy with intentionality can be such a powerful tool for social change, and the women (and a few men) who make up WMM are massing their capacity to be just that.
Meet a Woman Who Faced Down Her Power Demons and Was Transformed
In the why we do this work category, may I ask you to read this article, entitled “One.” It was written by a woman who had just participated with a workshop led by Take The Lead Leadership Ambassador Sara Nett. It took my breath away. Although Elizabeth, the woman who saw herself as having no power when she started the workshop might not have moved up on the power continuum at the time she wrote the article, I am quite sure that by finally telling her story, she has started the long road so many women have to take in order to bring the locus of power back inside of themselves, back from a culture that has disempowered them through objectification or shame.
If you aren’t already subscribing to Maria Popova’s weekly newsletter “Brain Pickings,” I suggest you do so right away if you’re ready for something more substantive than 140 character tweets and Facebook posts. As it happens, this week she also had an article about transformation, observing:
When faced with the most transformative experiences, we are ill-equipped to even begin to imagine the nature and magnitude of the transformation — but we must again and again challenge ourselves to transcend this elemental failure of the imagination if we are to reap the rewards of any transformative experience.
See you next week. Till then, Power TO you.
Welcome to The Sum, where I share my take on the meaning of sum of the week’s parts. I want your voice too. Leave comments here or @GloriaFeldt
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About the Author
Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead, is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. She teaches "Women, Power, and Leadership" at Arizona State University and was named to Vanity Fair's Top 200 women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers.