By WeNews Staff
Thursday, January 2, 2014
Profiles of six outstanding women and one man, leaders dedicated to improving lives of women and girls: Heather Arnet, Shelly Esque, Paola Gianturco, Lynn Grefe, Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., Denise Restauri, Reshma Saujani
Heather Arnet's one-hour documentary film, "Madame Presidentá: Why Not U.S.?," is both a tribute to her grandmother, Vivian Goldstein, whose mother was a suffragist, and a call to action to her generation to increase the chances of a woman becoming president of the United States.
As a child, Arnet paid attention when Goldstein told her repeatedly: "You must vote in every election, large and small, because other women fought and died for you to have that right."
Goldstein supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2008, as well as dozens of other women who ran for president in her lifetime. When it became clear it was not to be, at least in 2008, she told Arnet she regretted that she might not live to see the day when a woman would become president of the United States. Goldstein passed away in November 2013 at 97 years old.
Last year, Arnet took a sabbatical from her position as CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation in Pittsburgh to film in Brazil, a nation currently with its first female president, Dilma Rousseff. The film explores the key question of why Brazil and so many other countries have elected female presidents before the United States. The documentary is scheduled to be released to mark International Women's Day 2014, March 8.
"The film poses powerful questions regarding the role that voting access, reproductive rights, quotas and economic policies have in advancing women," Arnet says. "I hope it will inspire audiences to think about what can be improved in the U.S. in regards to gender policy and what we can learn from our global sisters and brothers."
A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Arnet holds a bachelor's degree in literary and cultural studies and directing. In addition to writing and directing this upcoming film, Arnet has directed several plays, including Vanessa German's "Root" and "Yo Mama!"
At the Women and Girls Foundation, Arnet engages women and girls in civic actions. Her work focuses primarily on developing the female leaders of tomorrow while advancing women's rights today through policy change. Decreasing the gender wage gap and increasing women's representation politically and on public and corporate boards is a key focus.
Arnet also currently serves as a board member for the Ms. Foundation for Women and the International Women's Funding Network, and is on the advisory boards of the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh, WQED Multimedia and The Forbes Funds.
Besides promoting her film, in 2014 Arnet will expand the Women and Girls Foundation's keystone program, GirlGov, which gives Pennsylvania high school-age women the opportunity to shadow state legislators each year.
"We hope in this way we are training the next generation of female political leaders," Arnet says.
-- By Darina Naidu
In the male dominated tech world, Shelly Esque has certainly made her presence known, particularly with her innovative work for women and girls at Intel, the world's largest and highest valued semiconductor chip maker.
"The world isn't fair, let's talk about what you're going to do about it" was an adage her father, a farmer, repeated often to his daughter. Esque also took another message away from the demands of rural life.
"Nothing gets done just sitting around and talking," she says. "Farmers don't sit around and think all day."
Instead of talking about fairness, Esque has spent her career at Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., doing something about it.
Now president of the Intel Foundation, the Phoenix native and graduate of Arizona State University is also the company's director for corporate affairs and vice president of legal and corporate affairs. Esque decided about five years ago that Intel could be making a bigger impact on women and girls. It was then that the Intel Girls and Women Initiative was launched, helping millions of women and girls around the world have access to education and technology as well as inspiring them to pursue STEM and technology careers. STEM is a common abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
"I'm so proud we did a lot of talking to help change people's minds, but we're also doing a lot of doing," she says.
Esque has been at the heart of Intel's work, bringing about the groundbreaking "Girl Rising" documentary and the accompanying global social action campaign for girls' education, "10x10."
Most recently, as a result of Intel's recent report "Women and the Web," the company announced Intel® She Will Connect at the Clinton Global Initiative in September. The program, starting in Africa, is committed to reducing the gender technology gap by expanding digital literacy skills and access to technology for young women in developing countries. Nearly 25 percent fewer women than men are online in developing countries.
"I saw this as a real opportunity to use the voice of Intel, the resources and global footprint to bring more attention to girls' education and how technology can accelerate opportunities for girls and women," she says.
Moving forward, Esque says she and Intel will continue to research access gaps and use the company's global presence to expand the access of women and girls to education, technology and tech careers.
"With all the data out there now about the social and economic benefits that will come from closing the education and Internet gender gaps, the real question in my mind is 'Why wouldn't everyone want to invest in women and girls?'"
--By Maggie Freleng
Photojournalist Paola Gianturco's powerful images--from Nepalese trekkers to activist grandmothers--along with her rich narratives, are published as luscious coffee-table books, with 100 percent of the author royalties donated to organizations committed to improving the lives of women and girls.
Gianturco is the author of five philanthropic books documenting women's lives in 55 countries. Frequent-flyer miles from a 35-year career in business allow her to fly and stay for free while creating these books.
"Because expenses are low, I can afford to give my royalties to organizations working on issues featured in the books," she says.
Women's rights have been part of Gianturco's life for as long as she has been working. After graduating from Stanford University in 1961, Gianturco did PR for the first retailer to serve working women, then became a principal in the first U.S. advertising agency owned by women.
She joined Saatchi and Saatchi Corporate Communications in 1981.There she found herself working mostly with men and looking critically at the glass ceiling. She decided to do something she had always wanted to do: take courses in women's studies.
That led to co-developing and teaching Summer Executive Institutes on Women and Leadership at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., and Stanford in 1994 and 1995, while she continued to do corporate communications consulting. Exhausted, Gianturco took a "one-year" sabbatical to do what she loved most, travel and photography.
One year turned into 17. Photojournalism was her second career.
Since then, Gianturco has spoken at UNESCO's international headquarters in Paris on International Women' s Day 2008; her photographs were exhibited there in 2009 and 2011, and have been shown by museums all over the United States. She has served on the board of the Association for Women's Rights in Development and in 2013 was the oldest woman named in "40 Women to Watch over 40."
Today, Gianturco is collaborating with the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Michigan, which created a traveling exhibit based on her newest book, "Grandmother Power." She has donated all author royalties from that book to the Steven Lewis Foundation to benefit African grandmothers raising children orphaned by AIDS.
While she considers topics for her next "ambitious" project, Gianturco is humbled by the results of her books. Gianturco knows of $120,000 that went from the readers of her first book to the women featured in that book. She recalls returning to Gujarat, India, and watching women build huts after a devastating earthquake, only to surprisingly discover they were using funds wired by one of her readers. "It put tears in my eyes."
"There are wonderful results from the books that I never imagined would happen," Gianturco says. "And they continue to occur."
--By Maggie Freleng
The election of George W. Bush to the presidency resulted in teens gaining a powerful advocate and pro-choice Republicans losing one. Lynn Grefe currently serves as president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), following a career that included lobbying state and federal governments for protections of women's and teens' reproductive health.
At NEDA she works to educate, advocate and spread awareness about eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, which take more lives than any other psychiatric illness. Some 20 million women in the United States, the vast majority in their teens or early 20s, will suffer from an eating disorder at some time in their lives.
"Unlike many other mental disorders," says Grefe, "eating disorders affect people head to toe, both physically and mentally."
Holding a bachelor's degree in criminology, Grefe was part of a leadership team that opened the first halfway house for female teens, as an alternative to prison-like reform schools, in Florida. A marriage brought her to New York, where she earned a master's degree in criminal justice from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Grefe then became the president and partner of an international public affairs firm for 15 years, working on communication and advocacy on a wide variety of issues. But her passion for women's issues was stifled, so ultimately Grefe re-focused her skills on a political pro-choice organization, the Republican Family Committee. Under Grefe's leadership, and a newly revised name, the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition grew into national prominence and a political action committee.
While Grefe organized and lobbied at the federal and state levels, her major accomplishments included persuading New York Republican legislators to support Democrat-sponsored women's health laws: a state version of the federal law barring harassment of those entering abortion clinics; a law requiring health insurance companies to cover contraceptives, breast and cervical cancer screening and osteoporosis exams; and one that required health care facilities to inform and provide emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault.
With her daughter struggling with an eating disorder, it was a perfect match when she was selected for the leadership role at NEDA. For the past 10 years, Grefe has grown this young organization with a personal passion and insight and there have been significant advances under her leadership.
"The wave of the future with the Affordable Care Act is that treatment will need to be proven effective, but that is what women deserve anyway." Grefe says. "A key is advancing the quality of treatment. Ultimately we hope to identify eating disorders earlier, get people to effective treatment immediately and, through research, someday find the cure. Nobody should ever die from an eating disorder, but they do, and that has to change."
--By Nancy Zeldis
For the first time in 21 Leaders' history, a man has been selected as the recipient of the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism.
Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. is a direct descendant of two of the best-known Americans from the 19th and early 20th centuries: Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. He continues his family's legacy of anti-slavery and educational work as the founder and president of the Atlanta-based public charity Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.
The father of two teenage daughters, Morris was deeply touched by a 2003 National Geographic Magazine cover story called "21st Century Slaves," which outlined the contemporary manifestations of slavery, including the sexual exploitation of young children. He decided at that moment the only alternative was to act and, calling upon his famous ancestors for guidance, he began pursuing new solutions to this ancient crime against humankind.
Today, Morris and his organization educate young people who are most vulnerable to the dangers and injustice of human trafficking. As part of the organization's work, he speaks at schools across the country, shares history-based service-learning curricula, entitled "History, Human Rights and the Power of One," and participates as a leading activist in the anti-trafficking movement. One recent service-learning initiative, "100 Days to Freedom," helped teach students about the Emancipation Proclamation while facilitating their creation of a "New Proclamation of Freedom."
Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives' programs seek to educate boys about the injustice of sexual crimes committed against women, encouraging an understanding of women's rights at an early age. They also inform girls on how to prevent and protect themselves from becoming victims of sex trafficking.
Morris quotes his great-great-great grandfather, Frederick Douglass, saying, "It's easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." He found that this has proven true through his teaching and he hopes young people will follow his lead in educating others. He tells his audiences that everyone "descends from someone who made a difference and you can too."
Even though Morris was aware of it at an early age, his family downplayed his lineage so as not to raise expectations. His activist roots emerged in 2003 and he's never looked back. "We need to know where we've come from in order to know where we're headed," he says.
--By Reshmi Kaur Oberoi
The stories of young women are powerful enough to unleash a quake that will produce a tidal wave of change. This is the belief of Denise Restauri, the founder and CEO of GirlQuake.
Through multiple platforms, Restauri amplifies the voices of women and girls who are creating a global force of positive change.
"If we want to create new role models, then we have to get their stories out there; otherwise they are hidden heroes," Restauri says.
The former vice president of sales of USA Today, Restauri was born outside of Pittsburgh. Although the prevailing notion at the time was that women should be wives and mothers foremost, her parents taught her to dream big. And she has.
Restauri's interest in hearing the voices of girls began when she decided to write a book with her daughter that collected stories from girls around the world.
The idea of the book segued into a social networking site where girls could connect and learn from each other. In 2009, Restauri led a summit in Washington, D.C., to bring 250 girls together. After listening to what they had to say, she discovered that many of the girls lacked role models that inspired them.
"At the summit, witnessing 250 girls give standing ovations to other young women who were changing the world, that was my 'aha' moment when I knew I needed to shine the spotlight on young women activists," she says.
That led to the creation of GirlQuake in 2011.
Restauri found that Forbes.com, with its established reputation and readership, was an excellent platform to share the stories. She has written many posts for the site highlighting various activists, including 24-year-old Veronika Scott, who pioneered a program that creates jobs for Detroit's homeless women, and 26-year-old Maggie Doyne, who works to provide a home and education to orphans in Nepal.
Restauri was also the executive producer of the inaugural Forbes Women's Summit: Power Redefined in 2013, where a new generation of women redefining the notion of power through innovation and disruption joined forces with traditional leaders to help solve society's most difficult problems.
"If we keep the generations separated, we'll never see change," Restauri says.
She will also be writing an e-book with Forbes in 2014 that focuses on Millennials who are taking matters into their own hands and getting things done.
"I want to be able to give young women and all emerging voices the chance to have their stories heard," Restauri says. "Because they will change the world."
--By Amy Rubinson
For lawyer and politician Reshma Saujani, preparing young women for well-paying jobs in computing and engineering is the highest priority.
The founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, Saujani heads the national nonprofit organization aimed at closing the gender gap in technology and bringing young women on a path of financial well-being during economically limiting times.
The ambitious graduate from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government found her newest focus in 2010 when she ran as primary challenger for the seat of U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney in New York.
The first South Asian women to run for Congress, she lost the election but gained a new perspective on how she wanted to be of service.
"During a campaign, you go to the schools," she says. "I saw the inequity at work."
Saujani realized that female students were shying away from science and math courses, a path she knew would exclude them from the education needed to enter technology jobs. She also realized that women were now half of the entering classes of medical and law schools, while the gender imbalance in technology fields was actually growing. Only 9 percent of corporate chiefs of technology are female, for example.
Young women in general comprise about 46 percent of the advanced placement calculus test takers, but around 80 percent of them don't end up taking a computer science class, Forbes reported.
"It is a problem that can be solved in my lifetime," Saujani says, "and that's what I want to do."
To reach gender parity by 2020, Saujani says, women must fill half of these tech positions, or 700,000 computing jobs in the United States. This means that 4.6 million adolescent girls must be exposed to computer science education.
With start-up funding from Twitter, Google, eBay and General Electric, in 2012 she launched an eight-week computer training camp for girls in New York, reaching 20 girls from all five boroughs. In 2013, Girls Who Code expanded across the country with programs in New York, Detroit and California, with a total of 152 girls participating.
The Summer Intensive Programs include volunteers from tech companies who teach the young women coding, take them on field trips and share the message that technology can change the world. The teens attending the camps are expected to return to their high schools and create a tech club for girls, complete with a faculty advisor.
Saujani is now planning to expand the camps to a total of 16 programs in additional cities including Miami, Boston and Seattle.
She is determined to see that girls are prepared to make equity in the tech sector happen.
"I am passionate about gender equity," Saujani says. "This is the future."
--By Nancy Zeldis