I challenge women and girls to learn from example and have the courage to overcome mediocrity. Give yourself the chance to be extraordinary.
– Saundra Pelletier, CEO of WomanCare Global
My friend, Laurel Kallenbach, posted on Facebook this past Tuesday that in honor of Women’s International Day, which is on March 8th, she made a loan through Kiva Microfunds. Her recipient is a female entrepreneur in Tajikstan, sister city of Boulder, CO, where Laurel lives. But Laurel did more than just give a helping hand to another woman. She put forth a valuable challenge to us all: “The way I see it, the celebration of women’s talents and achievements should receive recognition for a whole month, so I challenge you to help a woman succeed in your home town or around the world sometime during the month of March,” she wrote.
Taking up the challenge
International Women’s Day has been celebrated for more than 100 years, dating back to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City to demand shorter work hours, better pay, and voting rights, which too many of us take for granted – the voting rights, that is; we still have the glass ceiling. While it’s a day to honor women’s struggles around the world, Laurel’s right in that we should honor them for a month, if not every day in our thoughts, words, and actions. Laurel’s call to action is also a wonderful way to go beyond a single act of humanity and send out ripples across the ocean, so to speak, to create greater impact.
Inspired by Laurel’s actions and challenge, I, too, went to the Kiva site and am funding a woman from the Philippines so that she can buy a new variety of seed (hopefully not Monsanto!) and organic fertilizer for her farm and tires for her motorcycle. It was easy to do, and I encourage everyone who is able to make a microloan of $25 to a low-income and/or underserved entrepreneur or student from around the world to do so. Begun as an initiative by Matt Flannery and Jessica Jackley in 2004, Kiva was founded in 2005 as a nonprofit organization that brings borrowers and lenders together via an online lending platform. In October 2013, Kiva hit the 1 million lender milestone, with $537 million lent to Kiva to date. The organization has made nearly 680,000 loans, with nearly 1.1 million users who have funded a loan. Check out Jessica Jackley’s TED talk.
As I thought more about International Women’s Day, I came across a blog post by Saundra Pelletier, CEO of WomanCare Global, an international nonprofit organization that improves the lives of women by providing access to quality, affordable women’s reproductive health products through a sustainable supply chain. Pelletier grew up in a small farming community in northern Maine. Her mother decided that she didn’t want her daughter to follow the “Betty Crocker” fate of many girls in the area – getting married and having babies and living a domesticated home life – so she raised Pelletier to be an independent thinker who eschewed conformity. Wow! She was so lucky to have such an unconventional mother. Pelletier understands how fortunate she was and that many girls and women don’t or did not have, respectively, strong female role models in their families, neighborhoods, or communities in their formative years and beyond.
Even with this handicap, she wants us all to know that strong female role models exist. We just have to seek them outside of our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, to look outside and elsewhere. “All you need to do is to seek them out for inspiration and learn by their example,” Pelletier wrote. “Every woman needs a cavalry of mentors, emotional supporters, helpful taskmasters, and strategic alliances.” As nurturers of the tribe, so to speak, women were not raised to be risk takers. But the world has changed and continues to evolve and being a risk taker is what Pelletier asks us to become. “By taking risks, not only do we learn to be brave, but we discover opportunities that lead to miraculous outcomes,” she wrote. “The women who accomplish the most are often the ones who are willing to take chances.”
Making a difference
When I first sat down in my overstuffed library chair and ottoman to write this blog post last night, I was tired and drowsy. But as I warmed up to this celebratory topic, I became fully awake. As a woman in her 50s, I hold dear the call to take chances and make a difference. I was an incredibly shy girl, terrified of taking risks for which the outcome was in question. I did not rock the boat. I took the straight and narrow path – the sure thing. My parents stressed the importance of a college education, but beyond that and the expectation of marriage and children there was no other guidance. All those are important to me, of course, but making a difference in the world was in my DNA, long before I could articulate my desires. Making a difference has taken on many forms throughout my life. Now with a daughter, I see the call to action evolving yet again, especially where girls and women are concerned.
The International Women’s Day site entreats us all to “make a difference, think globally and act locally.” Get inspired every day. Help make the world a better place for girls to grow up in and women to thrive. For me, it’s fitting to celebrate March 8th at the Lunafest film festival in El Cerrito, with my women friends and my community – enjoying women filmmakers’ achievements in nine short films, fundraising for local organizations and especially The Breast Cancer Fund, and supporting local women entrepreneurs. Even as March 8th passes, make every day Women’s Day by helping other women become extraordinary. By engaging in this act of humanity and heroism (as a heroine) we become extraordinary ourselves. By taking risks, we will find the miraculous outcomes for which we are destined.