Producing Change

Telling the stories of women worldwide

It requires bravery to face the suffering of women around the world. So often, it’s easier to ignore the painful realities faced by so many women and girls – sexual exploitation and trafficking, rape, domestic violence, maternal mortality – than to talk openly about them. These challenges feed on silence, and bringing an end to the atrocity requires an end to this silence. It requires bold, creative thinkers. And it requires everyone to resist the pull towards silence and ignorance.

At the Trust Women Conference held last week in London, men and women from all over the globe showed up and boldly went where so many shy away from. There were tears. There was debate. But there were also concrete action steps planned to address some of the most challenging issues facing women in this lifetime.

One of the common threads throughout the many conversations had over the past few days was the importance of bringing these issues to light with broader populations. The need for storytelling – sharing the stories of survivors of sex trafficking, the trauma faced by slave laborers, the gaps between current laws and actual implementation.

Yet the challenge with storytelling remains…people can choose whether or not to listen or watch these stories. Not everyone is going to want to watch a documentary based on human slavery. It’s painful.

Even those who do watch also choose whether or not to really hear the stories, sit with the pain, and boldly take action. Telling the stories of survivors is only the first step. Getting people to really hear them is the second. The third and most challenging? Getting people to act.

Part of getting people to act means showcasing solutions. There’s a balance that needs to be found between talking about the problem, highlighting the complexity of it, and showcasing viable solutions. The more focus and energy we place on highlighting solutions — instead of what’s not working — the more energy and momentum built around success. It’s not an either/or, we need to talk about both.

So here’s the real question:

What’s the right balance between shedding light on the reality of experiences for women suffering atrocities worldwide and highlighting viable solutions?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Jessica Morneault, Director of Social Action & Advocacy


BOX on TrepLife: Running on 2 engines

What you’ll find at Box’s headquarters: juggling balls, a slide in the lobby (down from the second floor), and employees riding around on scooters.

Box Co-founder and CEO, Aaron Levie, talks the hustle, grind, and payoff of launching a killer company in the latest episode of TrepLife. Box was built on the idea that people should be able to access and share content from anywhere. Since 2005, Levie has scaled the business from an initial investment of $80K to over $300 million.

So what’s Levie’s secret to success? 2 engines, operating simultaneously at Box.

Engine #1. Operational excellence. The day to day operations of the company and ensuring the success of current projects.

Engine #2. A startup mentality. Agility. Startup decision making speed. Constantly building new products, entering new markets, and providing new services.

“You need both of those engines running to be able to succeed in a business like ours, where it’s so competitive and things change so rapidly. There’s no 3-year plan in our company except to say that we want to win and we want to store people’s data.” – Aaron Levie

Sounds like he’s on to something. Considering the success of Box and who they’re up against, including the likes of Microsoft, IBM, and Google, striking a balance between these two major forces in a company could be a key to success for entrepreneurs everywhere.

And what Levie claims is the payoff might surprise you. HINT: It’s not about the money. Check out the full episode to hear what really inspires Levie to stay in the hustle and grind.



The Power in Global Sisterhood

May you honor the power, grace, flexibility of the feminine which is present in all people around the globe. – Kavita Nandini Ramadans

Last night the Global Fund for Women celebrated 25 years of funding women’s organizations across the globe. And we had the pleasure of being part of the party!

The evening was women lead and women’s centered. All of the speakers were women. The performers, women. The majority of attendees? Women. The radiant femininity could be felt in the air.

There’s a power in sisterhood that cannot be defined. But it exists.

There’s a rising sisterhood that is changing the world. We see it when we hear women like Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee talk about how she’s brought peace to Liberia. When you hear Leymah speak, you know she has embodied her truth and lived her life in accordance with her authentic self. It just so happens that authentic self is a powerful peacemaker, a true embodiment of love and compassion for humanity.

Women who embrace their true authentic selves, allowing their intuition to guide them, reaching their full potential, are some of the greatest change agents in this world. And their power grows exponentially when they operate in solidarity with other women. This is the secret to powerful, exponential change that is just now being realized.

This is the power of the Global Fund for Women. Funding for the foundation comes from both men and women, but the foundation was built in the name of supporting women who are changing the world. And for 25 years, the foundation has brought needed resources to women in the name of global sisterhood.

Does this mean men aren’t allowed? That we don’t need you? Absolutely not. The point was made during the evening that we all — men, women, and everyone on the gender spectrum — need to work in solidarity for true change to reach the world. But there’s a dire need for feminine leadership and voice to reach the masses.

To all the men out there who are working alongside us women: We need you, but we also need you to let us lead.

Let women lead the way.

Watch the world change before your very eyes.


Director of Social Action & Advocacy


One word: Diversity. What comes up for you?

Throughout this SVN conference, talk of diversity and inclusion has been a common theme. SVN’s Bridge Project has made tremendous strides in getting young entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs of color, and women entrepreneurs into the community. And yet we’ve all got a ways to go in our own individual ventures.

We’re all movers and shakers. We’re the ones that don’t take no for an answer. We hold a vision of how we’d like society to be and make it happen. We’re unstoppable in so many ways. And we’ve never been ones to wait on the world to change. We change it ourselves.

And yet diversity and inclusion is just not happening fast enough. Only 0.7% of philanthropic dollars that go to LGBTQI causes. That’s not even 1%! Women and people of color are still massively underfunded as compared to white men. And many of us in the SVN community could use real improvement in our hiring practices and board composition.

What’s taking us so long?

So I ask you, what comes up for you when you’re called to address diversity and inclusion in your business? Take a moment. Sit with it. When asked this question, what emotion arises? What’s stopping you from having the conversations? From taking the necessary strides to improve your practices?

We’d love to jam with you in the comments below. Tell us what you think.


Director of Social Action & Advocacy

How Crowdfunding is Leveling the Playing Field

Social Venture Network Conferences always start out with a bang. Well, one could say the beginning, middle, and end is all one big bang! There is no shortage of inspiration at the conference, which brings the best and brightest social entrepreneurs together in one place for 4 solid days of courageous heart driven conversations and networking.

For the opening night of the conference, the founder of Indegogo, Danae Ringelmann, took the stage. The most profound takeaway I had from her talk? That crowdfunding is finally providing a means for anyone with an idea to access funding to make that idea a reality. And when I say anyone, I mean women, people of color, urban entrepreneurs, youth, seniors…anyone.

Anyone who’s been unsuccessful at obtaining funding from traditional sources (banks and venture capitalists continue to underfund women entrepreneurs at enormous rates) can access the capital they need to get their business off the ground. And crowdfunding not only provides a source of startup capital for entrepreneurs, it allows them to attract a community of people who love their idea and will likely remain supportive throughout the process. It build community, both customer and client bases. Bank loans can’t do that.

Left Brain Right Brain successfully raised over $25,000 by crowdfunding support of Alex & Ali in 2011. The funding supported initial production the film, I Am the Water, You Are the Sea, which will be completed this year. Without the support, the project wouldn’t have launched. And because we elected to crowdfund, we built a loyal and excited community who’re supportive of the project and jazzed about the film’s release.

At the end of the day, I feel joy in my heart for entrepreneurs everywhere with a great idea and only one thing stopping them: funding. The roadblocks of the past are slowly being torn down as successful entrepreneurs use their drive and passion to pave the road for others to follow.

Thank you, Danae Ringelmann and Indiegogo, for lifting up the brilliance of just-born entrepreneurs everywhere.

Jessica Morneault, Director of Social Action & Advocacy

International Day of the Girl Child

There are girls in this world that wake up every morning before the sun rises, walking miles to school in bad shoes. Walking. Not complaining about the walk, having to get up early, or having to study. They live for education. Their dream in life is to go to school. And all too often, this dream is taken from them way too early in life.

Two years ago, the UN declared October 11th the International Day of the Girl Child, a day to recognize the rights of girls around the world. The theme for 2013 focuses on innovating for girls’ education.

Around the world girls are twice as likely to be out of school as boys. When you educate a girl, not only is her life drastically changed, but so is the life of her family, the life of her community, and the life of all other women and girls around her. Girls who stay in school in developing countries marry later, give birth to fewer children, and become productive members of the economy.

One of our clients, the Women’s Global Education Project, is working to address barriers (economic, cultural, and social) that keep girls from going to school. Working with local community based partners, they ensure that the communities they work with are the ones driving their efforts. They now work in 58 villages in rural areas of Senegal and Kenya, and are hoping to expand to other countries in the coming years.

The Global Fund for Women, another client of ours, advances the rights of women and girls around the world by providing funding and resources for women-led organizations. The fund is one of the largest supporters of organizations working to improve girls’ access to education in developing countries.

The International Day of the Girl is just one day of the year. These organizations, along with so many others, work tirelessly every day of the year to ensure that girls and women have access to education and are free from barriers that keep them out of the classroom. For this, we celebrate their hard work – and we celebrate our opportunity to work alongside these incredible organizations, helping advance a world in which women are just as educated, just as well paid, and just as influential as men…not just in the US, but everywhere.

Here’s to another year of increasing impact and innovation…changing the life of one girl at a time.

Women Are Innovating With No Outside Help

Collaborating for the common good.

From the breakfast plenary breakout session during the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Global Health Symposium on International Women’s Day.  Reported by Tiffany Champion for Left Brain/Right Brain Productions.

Q: Are there community support structures to help these women succeed?
A: (Danielle Nierenberg) I’ve seen with shea butter co-operatives, especially in urban areas, urban residences – several thousands of the women in that community organized themselves into self-help groups. Two that I visited with are finding ways to grow food in very small spaces. They consume part of what they grow, group and then sell the excess to the community. Having that sort of group behind that is important.
The shea butter cooperative developed a whole pattern of people who are cooking for each other, women who are taking care of the children while other women are preparing the shea to sell. And I want to say a lot of this is done without government or NGO or foundation support and women are STILL finding this out on their own and implementing it. Imagine if these sorts of things were getting the support that they need, what they could do! It could change everything.

Tiffany Champion

Finding Common Ground to Advance Women’s Reproductive Health

Educating women on their reproductive health. Photo credit: WHO

From the “Family Planning and Reproductive Health” breakout session during the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Global Health Symposium on International Women’s Day.  Reported by Tiffany Champion for Left Brain/Right Brain Productions.

Q: How do you connect with religious leaders to improve women’s health? Especially if their beliefs may have them firmly entrenched in ideas that can be detrimental.

A: It varies but what you do is find a common ground of concern. If you share with them that the many maternal deaths that occur within their community could be avoided if contraception were available, if they were able to space how long in between having children. If you convince them that this will improve their children’s health, child survival rates, and improve the economic well being of the family – thereby improving the well being of the community, and their nation. It all starts by finding a common ground they will agree with you on. Of course this won’t happen overnight, but it’s something that grows over time. Then when you convince that one, use that one to convince the next. It’s a multi-pronged way of discussing it with stakeholders in the community. It’s a step-by-step process.

Tiffany Champion


Cell Phones & Soap Operas Break Down Gender Barriers

Cell phones empower women farmers.

From the breakfast plenary during the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Global Health Symposium on International Women’s Day.  Reported by Tiffany Champion for Left Brain/Right Brain Productions.
Q: How has technology changed things for women farmers in Africa?

A: (Danielle Nierenberg): The role that cell phones and the Internet have played in sub-Saharan Africa is amazing. Cell phones from what I’ve seen are really helping break gender barriers because women farmers can now access information on their cell phones that they couldn’t access before – about climate and weather, accessing banking information and trading and investment. All of these areas were once dominated by men. It was men’s work. Now, women can access it without the same barriers. That’s a really exciting thing.

A low technology thing I’ve also seen is the use of theater and soap operas to help eliminate gender barriers. There’s this research group working with a theater troupe in Zimbabwe to use the research they’re developing about women and their access to credit to create community plays and soap operas. Then they travel all over southern Africa, Zimbabwe, other parts of Sub Saharan Africa to teach people about inequality and the struggles women face. These things are helping communities understand challenges women face as teachers, farmers, entrepreneurs, and mothers.

Tiffany Champion

Better Cooking for Better Women’s Health

Global Health Symposium, Breakout Session 1A

During one of the first breakout sessions of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Global Health Symposium for International Women’s Day, Sola Olopade of the University of Chicago’s Center for Global Health (@UofC_CGH), and Subhrendu Pattabnayak of the Sanford School for Public Policy at Duke University (@dukesanford), discuss indoor air pollution, the environment, and women’s health.  Some takeaways:
  • There is a link between the methods used by nearly half the world’s population (3 billion people) and climate change
  • When people cut down trees and cook with firewood, this releases black carbon into the atmosphere, absorbing solar energy, and contributing to climate change and erratic weather
  • But black carbon only has a life of 3 weeks, compared to industrial carbon emissions, which stay in the atmosphere for 200 years
  • By providing more efficient stoves, we do have the opportunity to have a major impact in a short period of time by stopping the cutting down of trees for firewood
  • Clean cooking also improves indoor air quality, impacting women and their families
  • On Hillary Clinton’s last day on the job, she signed a deal helping a company in CA in the creation of clean stoves and biofuels in Kenya, with plans to expand in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda
  • In order to scale these solutions, we have to work with governments
  • But social entrepreneurs can help scale these solutions even faster

3 billion people cook their food over fires, which contribute to black carbon emissions.