21 Leaders for the 21st Century

21 Women Leaders 2013 - Seven Who Transform Opportunities

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Profiles of seven outstanding leaders dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls: Jessica Mayberry, Naveen Rao, Ellen Ratner, Dara Richardson-Heron, Mary Robinson, Regina Scully, Rose Stuckey Kirk

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Jessica Mayberry: Producer for the Poorest

Jessica MayberryJessica Mayberry changed the lives of thousands of marginalized women in India, by following her vision.

Mayberry founded Video Volunteers in 2006 in India and has been living there ever since, working to make the lives of impoverished Indian women better.

Video Volunteers identifies, trains and empowers grassroots media producers who work to help change the lives of voiceless communities within India. Over the years the organization has created the largest and most diverse network of community producers in the world.

 

"My goal was to create a media in which the people spoke for themselves," Mayberry says. "It was important that people were telling their own stories, rather than having someone tell it for them."

Four of the Video Volunteers' most popular videos directly address women's issues: "Prostitution Enforced by Tradition," "Women Celebrate Freedom Fest," "Gender Bias in Wage" and "Educate the Girl! Educate a Nation."

Mayberry was born and raised in New York City and attended Spence, an all girls high school in Manhattan. After high school, she attended Oxford University and graduated in 1999 with a degree in history and French.

"My whole life leading up to college, I was proud to call myself a feminist," she says. "I became actively involved with a talk show at Oxford University that discussed sexism within the campus."

After university, Mayberry began working in television, including Fox and Court TV, but quickly realized the media in the United States was failing to sufficiently inform the American public about events in the developing world. For Mayberry, this was a call to action. In 2002, she traveled to India with the American India Foundation Fellowship program.

"I wanted to experience other forms of media. I wanted to revitalize media outlets and create a plural media environment for the world's poorest, and primarily women," Mayberry says.

Mayberry had a transformative moment there when making a film about child marriage with 12 women who all had been married as children, she says.

 

"We screened the video back in the women's villages and hundreds of people would stay back to have a passionate discussion about child marriage. In these villages nearly all the women had been married before 16, yet had never once had a conversation about it. Community media gets people talking about taboo subjects--and the most untalked about subjects in rural villages are women's issues, because women are marginalized; because women are the most voiceless. Efforts like ours, that give a voice, are transformative," she says.

"When women speak on their own behalf, it has authenticity," she adds. "It changes the way we look at issues."

-- By Jenna McGuire

 

Naveen Rao: Mapmaker for Reducing Maternal Deaths

Naveen RaoDr. Naveen Rao has the privilege and responsibility of guiding his company, Merck, in making a distinct contribution to the global effort to reduce the number of women who die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

More than 800 women die each day from pregnancy and childbirth complications and nearly all of these deaths are preventable.

Rao leads Merck for Mothers, a 10-year, $500 million commitment to tackle maternal mortality globally. Merck--one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world – tapped Rao in 2011 to head its new international public health initiative.

Rao was born in Hyderabad, India, in 1954. After medical school, he immigrated to the United States for a residency in internal medicine. He taught and worked as a medical doctor for 12 years in New York City before joining Merck in 1993 as part of the company's medical research team.

"As much as I enjoyed working closely with patients, I realized that the impact I could have as a researcher developing life-saving medicines would be huge," he says of the transition.

In 2005 Rao returned to India as the medical director of Merck India. Two years later, as managing director, he successfully led the company's commercial operations until he repatriated to the United States in 2011.

 

Merck for Mothers is focused on the two leading causes of maternal death--postpartum hemorrhage and preeclampsia – as well as on family planning, which plays a critical role in saving women's lives.

In addition to programs in sub-Saharan Africa, India and other developing countries, Merck for Mothers is addressing maternal mortality in the United States, where the rates of women dying are on the rise. This past fall, Merck for Mothers launched a public awareness campaign called "Once Upon a Birth" to educate Americans about the problem.

 

Rao is a member of the Board of Overseers of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and chairs the Maternal Health Pillar of the MDG Health Alliance, an effort supporting U.N. agencies to improve the health of women and children.

"The private sector is uniquely positioned to create sustainable programs that can have a major impact on saving women's lives. Merck and other companies can be an important partner with governments, nongovernmental organizations, U.N. agencies and others to make sure that women get the quality care they need at a price they can afford," Rao says.

--By Samantha Kimmey

 

Ellen Ratner: Trainer for Healing

Ellen RatnerEllen Ratner, as she puts it these days, has been "bitten by the Sudan bug."

Her efforts began in 2008 in the nation that has been torn by armed conflict. That year she led a group of talk radio stations to visit the Sudan (since separated into two countries). She says she was "horrified" by the conditions women lived in.

"Men had wheelchairs and women didn't," she says.

Now visiting the country four times a year, Ratner has spearheaded innovative trainings in breathing and meditation for women in South Sudan who have undergone major trauma. She has also organized micro-enterprises such as jewelry making and silk screening. One woman told Ratner that the income allows her family to eat on a regular basis.

At home, she organizes a national "Time To Talk Day," with leaders in the U.S. anti-gender violence movement booked as guests for multiple talk radio hosts.

Ratner's drive for activism emerged in college. While enrolled in Vermont's Goddard College in the early 1970s, she worked as a gay and lesbian rights activist. After graduation, she ran an art gallery and organized a benefit for a clinic in Massachusetts. That night, a woman in need walked into the all-male clinic and refused to speak to a man; Ratner stepped in. "I talked to her even though I had no training," she says.

For the next 17 years Ratner served as an administrator for mental health care providers. She also founded and briefly ran the Pride Institute, a rehabilitation center focused on mental health and chemical dependency for gay men and lesbians.

In 1990, Ratner's first book, "The Other Side of the Family: A Book for Recovery from Abuse, Incest and Neglect," was published. Journalism called her away.

Ratner is now the bureau chief and White House correspondent for Talk Radio News Service, which she founded in 1993. It provides talk radio stations around the country with news reports. She has also been contributing political analysis to Fox News since 1997 and writes a weekly column for World Net Daily.

In addition to her latest book, written with Anne Gehman, "Self Empowerment: Nine Things the 19th Century Can Teach Us About Living in the 21st," Ratner has also written "101 Ways to Get Your Progressive Ideas on Talk Radio" (1997) and "Ready, Set, Talk! A Guide to Getting Your Message Heard by Millions on Talk Radio, Talk Television and Talk Internet" (2006).

As for her latest plans, Ratner wants to move to South Sudan where a clinic in the country's northwest region might have a spot for her and her spouse, Cholene Espinoza, currently enrolled in medical school.

"We are going to hopefully take over the clinic," she says.

--By Samantha Kimmey

 

Dara Richardson-Heron: Enhancer of the Lives of Others

Dara Richardson-HeronDr. Dara Richardson-Heron is a physician, quality health care advocate and strong proponent for equality. She is currently the CEO of the YWCA USA.

For more than 150 years, the YWCA has been at the forefront of social movements in the United States--from the abolition of slavery to voting rights, from civil rights to pay equity, from violence prevention to health initiatives. More than 2 million women, girls and their families are served by the YWCA USA annually.

 

Richardson-Heron grew up in Oklahoma City with her parents and four sisters. Her socially conscientious parents and a house full of girls had a profound effect on her upbringing. "It was as if we had our own women's rights group at home," she says. "My parents always instilled in us that we should never be limited by our gender or race. They also made sure that we were exposed to different cultures and learned early on the importance of helping others."

Richardson-Heron graduated from Barnard College in New York City, with a degree in biology. She then went on to earn a doctorate from New York University School of Medicine.

"During this time, less than 5 percent of physicians were women," Richardson-Heron says. "I wanted to break that barrier." She also decided to do her medical training at Bellevue Hospital, the world's oldest municipal hospital, because it was not just important for her to provide high quality health care, but to also make sure that everyone had access to it.

She was appointed to serve on a commission investigating New York City's growing race and ethnicity-based health care disparities. She also served as the chief medical officer of United Cerebral Palsy of New York City and national chief medical officer for United Cerebral Palsy Association.

Richardson-Heron later served for four years as CEO of the Greater New York City affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization that hit home for Richardson-Heron, a 15-year and counting breast cancer survivor. When the Komen organization touched off an intense controversy in early 2012 by ending its grants to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Richardson-Heron made a personal decision to seek other leadership opportunities and announced that she was leaving Komen.

Within months, Richardson-Heron was in talks with the leadership of the national YWCA. Her appointment was announced in August. Richardson-Heron says her goal is to work collaboratively with the over 230 YWCAs across the country.

"It is my hope that one day very soon, societal and institutional racism will be eliminated," Richardson-Heron says. "Until then, I plan to do everything in my power as a leader and advocate for equality for all and enhance the lives of others; that is my passion."

--By Jenna McGuire

 

Mary Robinson: Changer of Global Climate

Mary Robinson

As the first female president of Ireland in 1990, Mary Robinson is arguably the most influential woman in Irish history. Now working for women's rights on the global stage, Robinson is intensely involved in protecting the world's poorest women from climate change.

After five years as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, she founded in 2002 in New York an ethical globalization initiative called Realizing Rights. Eight years later, she returned to Ireland to start the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice.

Mary Therese Winifred Robinson was born in Ballina, in Ireland's County Mayo. Fighting from her corner since day one, she was the only girl in a family with four boys, "a human rights issue on its own," she says.

During a formative year in France, she was introduced to feminism and the value of rights. Robinson abandoned her plan to become a Catholic nun and decided law could provide her with the platform she needed.

At 25, she was appointed Ireland's youngest professor of law at Trinity College Dublin after earning degrees at Trinity and Harvard. Robinson quickly gained a reputation as a champion for the elimination of discrimination against women and for reforming the country's laws against homosexuality. She also won elections to the Irish parliament, serving for 20 years until 1989.

On Valentine's Day 1990, Robinson was invited to run in Ireland's first presidential election in 17 years. Robinson says she was unreceptive to the idea.

"The traditional role of the president seemed removed from issues of the constitution, involving red carpets and protocol," she says.

But after reading the oath, Robinson saw an opportunity to transform the office into a real and moral representation of the Irish people.

Backed unanimously by the women of Ireland (and some men) Robinson won handily and she recalls her seven years in office as the greatest and most challenging of her career. While in office, she used her influence to draw attention to global humanitarian issues by traveling to Somalia and Rwanda. When she visited Queen Elizabeth in London, it was the first such meeting between heads of state of the two countries.

Now a member of Nelson Mandela's global organization, The Elders, Robinson, a married mother of three, says the biggest issues facing the future of women's rights are climate change and a failure of world leaders to continue to support reproductive rights. A challenge, she says, that gets her out of bed in the morning.

"I have four grandchildren who will be in their 40s by 2050, and that's just around the corner. What will they say if we don't act on the science?" she says.

-- By Claire McCormack

Regina Kulik Scully: Visualizer for Activism
Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery In Journalism

Regina Scully

The Oscar-nominated documentary "The Invisible War" is the most recent project of the bi-coastal Regina Kulik Scully. The film makes visible the epidemic of sexual assault in the U.S. military. For carrying this work forward, Scully is one of two winners of this year's Women's eNews Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism.

Her first film, "Boyhood Shadows," addresses early child sexual abuse and was recently picked by PBS to air this year. "Miss Representation" premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was bought by Oprah Winfrey, aired on OWN and has been shown at over 3,000 schools across the country, accompanied by an age-appropriate curriculum. Scully is also the co-founder of MissRepresentation.org.

Scully has several more projects in the works, including a new documentary with V-Day creator Eve Ensler, as well as Ensler's new play "Emotional Creature," and the social outreach campaign for the recent PBS documentary "Half the Sky."

"All of the films I have worked on have been amazing, however it was the film 'The Invisible War' that actually changed my DNA," Scully says. "Everyone that worked on that film was a different person from having participated on that project. That documentary is still inspiring positive changes in our culture, government and medical communities."

Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Scully graduated from Horace Mann School and Georgetown University. While in college, she began her career in journalism at CNN in its Washington, D.C., newsroom. There she found herself asking, "Where are all the women writers? Producers? Why aren't there more stories about women? Why aren't more women part of the decision-making process in the news, media?"

Realizing the power of media to incite change, Scully made the transition to public relations and brand marketing, first with a global public relations firm and later as public relations director for L'Oreal and Christian Dior. Scully then opened her own firm, RPR Marketing Communications, spearheading multi-tiered public relations programs for companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Neutrogena, Aveeno, Polo.com and LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy).

Scully has also created the Artemis Rising Foundation.

"I started Artemis Rising so that I could give a voice to the extraordinary stories that shed light on issues in our society that need to be changed, healed . . . transformed," Scully says. "Issues such as the devastating effects of childhood abuse; the epidemic of diabetes and obesity; the corrosive effects of our media on the self-esteem of girls and women, undermining their reach for positions of power, influence and leadership; the mistreatment and violence against women and girls around the world; and the epidemic rapes of our women (and men) in the U.S. military."

-- By Victoria Fitzgerald

 

Rose Stuckey Kirk: Supplier of Anti-Violence Technology

Rose Stuckey KirkRose Stuckey Kirk came of age at a time when individuals were actively promoting the rights of women and when the new strategies of the civil rights movement were coming into being.

"As a little girl, I saw how the world was re-shaping itself and I understood I could be a part of it and that I could contribute as a person of color and as a woman," she says.

Currently president of the Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Verizon Communications, Kirk has spent 25 years in the telecommunications field in a range of assignments, including as vice president of sales operations for Verizon Wireless. As the head of Verizon's philanthropic strategy, Kirk focuses on utilizing innovative technology to address today's social inequity.

"So much of the work of the Verizon Foundation is specific to working with the underserved and disenfranchised," she says. "Too often, women fall into both those categories."

Under Kirk's leadership, the foundation invests more than $65 million annually in cash, including investments in educational programs, with an emphasis on promoting science, technology, engineering and math instruction. It also leverages its technologies to improve health care for women, children and seniors with a specific focus on chronic disease and domestic violence prevention.

"We're looking for ways to actually eliminate violence against women," Kirk says. "There is a strong correlation between violence and health care. Many health issues that come later in life are related to the violence experienced early in life."

Kirk holds a degree in journalism from Arkansas State University and is a thesis away from a master's degree in international relations from Washington University.

Kirk is a member of the board of directors of the media council of The Paley Center and has spent more than 30 years working with organizations in Alabama, Missouri and Texas on the prevention of domestic violence. She also is the recipient of numerous national awards and has spoken across the globe on women's and business issues.

As for what's next, Kirk envisions the Verizon Foundation at the top of the list when it comes to using innovative technology to transform the statistics of underrepresented groups.

"We will continue to use the power of technology across the board – in education, health care and sustainability – to be on the ground, intimately doing the work that we know will make a difference in our communities," she says.

-- By Stephanie Yacenda

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