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Women Entrepreneurs: The Key to Global Economic Development

  • Architects of Change

09/2/09 | Gayle Tzemach Lemmon | 3 Comments

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Author

When I began writing about women entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries with a trip to Rwanda in 2005, no one thought there was a story.  I tried to mine government workers and international agency officials on the ground for interview ideas, only to be told that there were not enough small businesswomen in the country to make my trip worthwhile.

They were wrong.

What I found in Rwanda, and later in Bosnia and Afghanistan, was a small but growing group of female entrepreneurs building the kinds of businesses that stimulate economies and put people to work. I met a group of women weavers in Rwanda selling their baskets to Macy’s, and I visited a textile company near the former front lines of Sarajevo employing more than two dozen women. With little fanfare and even less support, these women were marshaling resources to run the enterprises so critical to supporting families and to lifting their countries out of poverty.

In speaking with these businesswomen about the opportunities and the challenges presented by their work, I realized the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries.

Why is it so important to support them?

  • Conflict leaves many women at the helm of their households for the first time.  As breadwinners, they must find a way to support themselves and their children on their own.  Entrepreneurship is one way to accomplish this.
  • Reaching women means reaching children.  With more income, women are likely to ensure that girls, as well as boys, receive an education. Education is the surest way to lift a country out of poverty over the long-term. By educating both sexes, the positive impact of education is that much greater.

There are many reasons to support women’s economic empowerment, but it is easier to envision than to implement.  And while many organizations try to support women’s initiatives, few succeed.  This comes in part from an aid system focused on short-term results rather than long-term investment.

What women entrepreneurs need most is

  1. Access to information.  Women are often not connected to the business networks through which information flows and contacts and connections are shared.  When women find a way to share their know-how and their skills, their businesses benefit.
  2. Access to markets.  Finding markets for the goods women produce is a challenge, particularly in landlocked and remote countries such as Rwanda and    Afghanistan, where shipping costs can far outweigh potential profits.  Connecting women entrepreneurs with interested customers provides a long-term boost to the women’s businesses, with the possibility of creating long-term sustainability.
  3. Access to capital.  Finding the dollars needed to grow their businesses is  difficult for many women entrepreneurs, most of whom have little in terms of  collateral or a prior track record of business achievement, both of which are  critical parts of securing a bank loan.  Tools such as loan guarantees and  women-focused financial products can help women get around the barriers  presented by a lack of available investment capital.  Microfinance is another excellent first step for many, with microloans providing the funds to get a small  venture started.  The challenge, however, comes when the business succeeds  and the necessary investment amounts grow larger; here in this “missing middle”  there are few tools to help women make the transition from micro-enterprise to  full-fledged small business.

What is certain is that women entrepreneurs are playing a vital role in rebuilding their countries and are poised to contribute even more.  Already, with little assistance and often limited resources, women entrepreneurs from Rwanda to Bosnia to Afghanistan are doing their part for their nation’s economic reconstruction.  Their work creates jobs and spurs growth, and it is part of helping their nations reap the benefits of the talent and potential of all -- not just half -- of their citizens. 

Aziza, Afgani entrepreneur & founder of Muska Ball and Leather Making Company
Aziza, Afgani entrepreneur & founder of Muska Ball and Leather Making Company

Recent news coverage of women entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries:

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a former ABC News producer who began writing about women's entrepreneurship during her second year of MBA study at Harvard. She currently is working on a book to be published by HarperCollins in 2010 about a young entrepreneur who supported her family and her community during the Taliban years.

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Sen. Edward Kennedy 1932-2009

  • Architects of Change

08/25/09 | The Women's Conference | 6 Comments

Senator Edward M. Kennedy

Statement from The Kennedy Family:

"Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him."


Statement from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

"Maria and I are immensely saddened by the passing of Uncle Teddy. He was known to the world as the Lion of the Senate, a champion of social justice, and a political icon. Most importantly, he was the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle. He was a man of great faith and character. Teddy inspired our country through his dedication to health care reform, his commitment to social justice, and his devotion to a life of public service.I have personally benefitted and grown from his experience and advice, and I know countless others have as well. Teddy taught us all that public service isn't a hobby or even an occupation, but a way of life and his legacy will live on."


To read more about the life and work of Senator Edward Kennedy, a true Architect of Change, visit www.tedkennedy.org

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Mixing Love & Money – Without Losing Either

  • Family and Friend
  • Work and Money

08/25/09 | Jean Chatzky | 2 Comments

Jean Chatzky Blog
Jean Chatzky, Today Show Financial Editor

Jean Chatzky will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2009.

When it comes to life, knowing how to differentiate between the things you can control and the things that you can’t control can make everything a whole lot easier. Take, for example, your finances.  For the most part, you have the ability to be in control of them. But when you’re married or in a committed relationship, the line between yours and theirs tends to get a bit blurry.
Although it might seem right to share everything, a bit of financial independence is imperative in any healthy relationship. When it comes to my marriage, I need to be able to buy a cup of coffee without checking with him. He needs to be able to do the same. If you don’t have this sort of financial independence, one spouse starts feeling like a parent and the other like a child.
But how can couples manage finances together and still achieve the right balance of control? For me, what’s key is remembering that just because you tie the knot, you don’t all of a sudden become the same person. What you have to do, therefore, is understand HOW you are different and how those differences are going to worry or stress your partner. Then you need to keep lines of communications open so that you both understand what is happening with the family pie.
Talk About Your Finances Once a Week
To make discussing your finances an ongoing dialogue, set aside time to talk about money once a week. It should be a time when neither of you is overly tired nor overly cranky -- perhaps after a television show you always watch together. During the week, keep a list of items you want to make sure not to forget to discuss. This meeting is like a doctor’s visit -- you want to be sure to put the time to good use.
How much should you put in the FSA? Should you switch healthcare plans? Are you paying too much for cable? Should you re-allocate your 401(k), or should you start budgeting for a new flat-screen? All of these items are fair game. If you are feeling nervous, worried or angry over money, try to understand what is behind your own feelings before you air them with your spouse. If you can understand why you feel a certain way, your spouse will have a greater chance of understanding too.
Create a Household Budget
While it’s more than necessary to talk about finances with your significant other, you’re going to have to take some action.  There is a school of thought that says the more you merge your money, the more you trust each other and the marriage. I am not completely of that school — quite possibly because I’ve been divorced. I am a big fan of joint AND separate accounts. The way this works best is if you come up with a household budget that the joint account will cover. It must include the amount you want to save for your joint goals – like vacation, a house and retirement. Then figure out what equal percentage of both salaries will cover it, transfer that much in from the separate accounts, and leave the rest. NOTE: The bills covered by the joint accounts shouldn’t ALWAYS be paid by the same person. One will gravitate toward these tasks, but make sure you switch it up at least once a year.
I know that for most couples, money isn’t the most enjoyable thing to think about or discuss. However, if you start looking to the future and what it might hold for the both of you, it can be. One of the best parts about being a couple is dreaming together. Setting financial goals is a form of dreaming. Ask each other what do you want this year, next year, in 5 years, in 10. Then attach numbers to those dreams so you can figure out how you’ll get there.


Jean Chatzky is the financial editor for NBC’s Today, a contributing editor for Money, a columnist for The New York Daily News, a contributor to "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and a featured money coach on Oprah's "Debt Diet" series.  She is the author of four books, including best sellers such as Pay It Down: From Debt to Wealth on $10 A Day and her latest book, The Difference: How Anyone Can Prosper In Even the Toughest Times. Her website is JeanChatzky.com.

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Generation Islam: Winning Their Hearts and Minds

  • Architects of Change

08/12/09 | Christiane Amanpour | 1 Comments

Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent & Host, “Amanpour”

Generation Islam originally aired on August 13th. It is now available to watch on CNN.com.

I was inspired to investigate the possibility of a post 9/11 mend between the U.S. and the Muslim world when President Barack Obama addressed the issue at his inauguration in January. He called for a new beginning and warned that the U.S. cannot afford to have another generation of Muslims who see it as the enemy.

I decided to explore the possibility of a mend by meeting with young Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza and the West Bank. These were conflict areas Obama has targeted with special envoys.

What I found was surprising: There was an overwhelmingly large population of youth that wanted to be on good terms with the United States and that was invested in creating progress, prosperity and a representative political structure in their own countries. In each place I visited, I found dedicated, unsung Americans who were doing their best to win the hearts and minds of the next generation.

Who were some of these Americans?

There was Marne Gustavson, who had grown up in Afghanistan in the 1970s and had then returned to launch her own organization, PARSA, which gives children education and shelter. She works with one poverty-stricken family at a time. It is hard and grueling work, and yet her dedication pays off. She has gotten children like Nassim, whom we profile in “Generation Islam,” into school, off the streets and out of the hands of militants who seek to recruit the poor and the desperate.

We also profile the incredible work of Greg Mortenson, the former American mountaineer and the author of the bestselling book, Three Cups of Tea. He showed us just how possible it is to build schools and to enroll and empower the next generation of Muslim kids, the future leaders of their countries.

Mr. Mortenson ventures to places most Westerners dare not, and over the past decade or so he has built dozens of schools for boys and girls. He does it by getting each community invested in the project, getting villagers to provide the land and the labor, while he raises the money for the buildings. It is not expensive by our standards, but it is an invaluable investment in the future of these kids, their countries, AND our security. Education offers opportunity and reduces the chances that these kids will fall into the hands of extremists.

Mr. Mortenson is helping U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan fight the battle his way: with books not bombs. Incredibly, this summer, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opened one of Mr. Mortenson’s schools in Afghanistan.

The great news is that extremism is decreasing: In Afghanistan less than 9% support the Taliban (which is where the U.S. military is fighting now). In Pakistan the population is turning away from extremism as well.

The challenge for the U.S. now is to keep its promises to the people of the area, to take these people’s goodwill and repay them with sensible, smart and strategic nation-building. For some reason, Americans and their political leaders are allergic to that term, but without it there will be no real and secure progress. Think of nation-building not as creating a model America-on-the-Khyber, but as a cheaper, quicker, more effective investment in their and your future than the current policy of spending good money after bad.

In Gaza, where the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict drains the bulk of the goodwill for America across the Muslim world, I found much the same: Its overwhelmingly youthful population wants a good education, a good job when they graduate, hope and ambition for their future. The problem is the political situation has turned Gaza into a big prison, and these people have little hope now of achieving any of their dreams. With no way to entertain themselves -- without access to even a movie theater, many are online and chatting with “friends” in America. They know the opportunity that exists in the world, and they want to be part of it.

This summer there are competing “summer camps” in Gaza. But there’s room for only a quarter of Gaza’s 700,000 kids to take part. Most parents want their kids to attend the UN’s sports camps, but those who cannot go to Hamas-run martial arts and self-defense sessions or to Koran camp run by the mosques.

I hope that “Generation Islam” will give Americans a glimpse of what it’s like to be a child growing up in these places. I hope the program will inspire Americans to better understand what I discovered: Children and young adults are pretty much the same everywhere. They want a better future than their parents had, and they want to be part of the world community. But they desperately need help getting there. If they do get that help, it will ensure a win-win investment in a positive and peaceful future for all.     

Christiane Amanpour is CNN's chief international correspondent and the host of “Amanpour,” which will begin airing in September. 

Greg Mortenson, whom Ms. Amanpour references in this post, will speak at The 2009 Women's Conference Night at The Village.

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Eunice Kennedy Shriver: An Extraordinary Architect of Change

  • Architects of Change

08/10/09 | The Women's Conference | 15 Comments


Eunice Kennedy Shriver with her grandchildren at The 2007 Minerva Awards
Eunice Kennedy Shriver with her grandchildren at The 2007 Minerva Awards

Please visit www.eunicekennedyshriver.org for a look back at Eunice Kennedy Shriver's lifelong dedication to the Special Olympics.

Statement from The Shriver Family

It's hard for us to believe: the amazing Eunice Kennedy Shriver went home to God this morning at 2 a.m. 
She was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others.  For each of us, she often seemed to stop time itself -- to run another Special Olympics games, to visit us in our homes, to attend to her own mother, her sisters and brothers, and to sail, tell stories, and laugh and serve her friends.  How did she do it all?
Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing -- searching, pushing, demanding, hoping for change.  She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power.  She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more.  She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world.  Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy.
We have always been honored to share our mother with people of good will the world over who believe, as she did, that there is no limit to the human spirit.  At this time of loss, we feel overwhelmed by the gifts of prayer and support poured out to us from so many who loved her.  We are together in our belief that she is now in heaven, rejoicing with her family, enjoying the fruits of her faith, and still urging us onward to the challenges ahead.  Her love will inspire us to faith and service always.
She was forever devoted to the Blessed Mother.  May she be welcomed now by Mary to the joy and love of life everlasting, in the certain truth that her love and spirit will live forever.


Eunice Kennedy Shriver

The 2007 Women’s Conference Minerva Awards

Part 1

Part 2


Learn more about why we honored Eunice Kennedy Shriver with a Minerva Award in 2007.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver demonstrated passionate commitment and dedication as the honorary chairperson of Special Olympics International, which she founded in 1968. Through her vision, courage and tireless work, today more than three million athletes are training for the Special Olympics in all 50 states and 181 countries. Learn more about Mrs. Shriver's commitment to the Special Olympics at EuniceKennedyShriver.org.


Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Founder of Special Olympics:





















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Domestic Violence is Global: What You Can Do to Help

08/3/09 | Basia Christ, Author | 3 Comments


On July 15, 2009, the Obama administration took an important step to aid victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and laid out its position in an immigration appeals court filing. With the new position in place, a woman will be granted permanent residency in the United States if she is able to prove a “well-founded fear of persecution” because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or “membership in a particular social group.”

While this news is promising, applicants will still face hurdles. Victims must prove that their abusers treat them as subordinates and property, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country – with no institutions offering protection. The Department of Homeland Security will judge each case based on its unique facts and the specific threat each applicant faces.

The administration adopted this policy in response to an immigration court filing earlier this year by a Mexican woman, identified in the court papers only by her initials as L.R., who feared her common-law husband would murder her. According to court documents, he held her captive, raped her continuously at gunpoint, stole from her, and tried to burn her alive when she became pregnant. After bearing three children, she fled to California in 2004 and eventually sought asylum. With our government’s new position, women like L.R. will be able to find safety in the United States.

Efforts by our government come at a time when the urgent need to help victims of domestic violence is being launched globally. Last year, the U.N. Secretary-General launched UNiTE to End Violence against Women by appealing to all countries to join forces to eliminate this scourge and recognize the power of the law. One of its five key goals is for all countries to adopt and enforce, by 2015, national laws that address and punish all forms of violence against women.

In addition, two days after the Obama administration laid out its new position, the U.N. issued the Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women designed to assist countries trying to enhance existing or develop new laws to protect women, provide resources for victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

While governmental programs are essential to helping victims of domestic violence, we, as citizens, can do much to help domestic violence victims locally.

What are some ways you can help?

1.) Become a volunteer at or donate to a domestic violence shelter. Learn about shelters in your area.

2.) Raise community awareness, media attention and funds to help victims of domestic violence within your school, church, and neighborhood. There are many ways you can do this -- whether through a walk, a bake sale, a dinner, a blog post or otherwise.

3.) Write to Congress about reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act next year.

4.) Get involved with Maria Shriver’s WE Act program, which educates women about the warning signs of domestic violence.

5.) Help the children of domestic violence victims -- who may otherwise grow up thinking that violence is a normal way of life -- by becoming a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate).

6.) Find other volunteer opportunities in your community.

Collectively, and individually, we can help put an end to domestic violence, here and abroad.

Basia Christ is the owner of Marketive, Director of Marketing for Competent Care Home Health Nursing in Costa Mesa, author of The Heroine’s Journey, and Chair of Communications for Sophia 2010.

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My Grandmother's Lesson: Courage

  • Family and Friend
  • Work and Money

07/27/09 | Angella M. Nazarian, Author | 30 Comments

Nazarian Angella Blog 200x400
Angella M. Nazarian, Author

I remember the first time I went to New York to pitch my book to a prospective publisher. I stood on the busy sidewalk two blocks from the office, tears streaming down my face, a scrap of paper clutched in my right hand. It was a chilly spring day and I’d slipped on the stylish 70’s black overcoat that was a keepsake from my maternal grandmother who had passed away eight years earlier. When I put my hands in its deep pockets to ward off the icy air, I discovered they weren’t empty. I pulled out a handkerchief, a small piece of the candy she always used to stash away, a note she had scribbled to herself. In her familiar quivering hand she’d written two words: Mint. Apricots. It was a grocery list. That’s when the tears came.

It took me back to the day, soon after her passing at the age of 84, when we’d gone to clean out her apartment. I’d asked my mother if I could keep two pieces of her clothing: the tailored black overcoat, and the green and burgundy checkered dress that she often wore to Friday night Shabbat dinners. She had been known as an impeccable dresser. She was petite like me and very spiritual. But the similarities stopped there -- or that’s what I thought at the time.

My grandmother was raised in a deeply patriarchal Iranian culture, where women were expected to be supportive wives and devoted mothers only. Having influence beyond the sphere of family life was uncommon and looked down upon. My grandmother rarely spoke up in front of people, and sat in what I jokingly called, “the Siberia,” or most peripheral corner of our family gatherings. Even so, she was regarded as a wise woman. If she were asked for her opinion in front of others, she would deflect the attention, giving elusive answers. “Only God knows,” she often replied.

Her behavior felt too passive to me, as if she could not break out of the feeling of being invisible. I had had a vastly different experience than she did. I immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eleven, right at the start of the Iranian Revolution. During my first five and a half years here, my parents were stuck in Iran, so I lived with my older siblings. This early experience encouraged me to be self-sufficient, determined, and independent, while being raised in the U.S. afforded me opportunities the women of past generations simply didn’t have.

I am the first woman in my family who not only graduated college, but who also went on to graduate school. In our traditional culture, it is not expected that women will work outside of the home, especially if there is no financial need. I worked because I wanted to, and much to my family’s surprise, continued teaching part-time at the university until four years ago, when I left to work on a memoir. It was when I started writing about our family experience of escape, exile, and our eventual adjustment in the U.S. that the old notions of self-censorship and self-repression surfaced in my life. Who would care about what I have to say? I wondered, finding it hard to believe that others would even be interested in my experiences. That’s when I realized that my grandmother and I had more in common than I originally thought.

But the similarity didn’t stop there. When she was forty years old and her children were grown, my grandmother, unhappy about her minimal education, asked my grandfather to get her a tutor. He did, and she worked diligently for years on her reading and writing, until she felt confident enough to write correspondence and reach out to others. She had a real zest for learning that seemed to grow and flourish. In her 80s, she hired a tutor who visited her twice a week to work on her Hebrew.

On that day in New York, wearing my grandmother’s overcoat, I felt fully embraced by her presence. As I walked toward my meeting, I somehow knew I was carrying her essence -- all her dreams, joys, loyalties, denials, doubts, and disappointments -- within me. It was astonishing to think that my grandmother began to fully read and write at the same age as I was hoping to publish a book. Mint, apricots, it meant so much to her to be able to write those words, just as it means so much to me to write about her. I knew then that others would be interested in her story, our story, and that maybe she wasn’t so invisible after all. That’s when I realized that writing our family memoir not only impacts future generations, it also has the power to bring honor and heal the unfulfilled dreams of women of generations past.

Angella M. Nazarian teaches psychology in local universities and facilitates adult personal development seminars for women. Her writing and poetry have appeared in the Hufffington Post, MO+TH and Milllenium Literary Journal. Her new book, Life as a Visitor, is due to be released in Oct. of 2009 by Assouline Publishers.

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Getting a Grip

  • Life Balance
  • Health and Fitness

07/20/09 | Monica Seles, Author & Former Tennis Champ | 9 Comments

Monica Seles Headshot

Who knew that so many people cared about my weight? When I decided to go on the TV show, “Dancing with the Stars” last year, it was the first time I was in the public eye after playing my last tennis match in 2003. So many people started asking, “OH MY GOD, how did you lose all this weight?” Book publishers started calling my agent. They wanted me to tell my story about winning the weight battle. 

Weight is such a big component in so many women’s lives – for stay-at-home moms, athletes, businesswomen. It doesn’t matter who you are. Meanwhile, since leaving tennis, I’d given a lot of talks to women’s organizations about eating disorders and how to keep food from controlling your life. So with all of this media attention, and my own interest in sharing this story, I decided to write a book, Getting a Grip on My Body, My Mind, My Self.

Writing the book was almost like therapy. I’d gone through so much. Looking back at myself in 1999 and 2000 – my stabbing in Hamburg, my father’s illness and then his death, and my subsequent weight issues - I wish I had some women to talk to. I was surrounded by men, who didn’t understand my issues with food. They thought, “What’s the big deal? It’s such a little thing to let have so much control over you.” I felt ashamed. I retreated into myself. 

In tennis, you have to be so strong. You can’t let your opponents see your weakness. And in tennis, eating disorders are rampant. My friends & I would go out for dinner. They’d eat nothing. Then they’d go home and binge on potato chips, brownies -- anything. I know, because I did it too.

My eating issues were wrapped up with an identity struggle, with that question – “What do you want to do in life?” All of us want to make some impact. There are so many choices, but my entire identity was wrapped up in tennis. I’d ask myself, “Will anyone even like me if I don’t play tennis?”

At 30, I realized, I’m tired of lying to myself. I had to make this change with food and my weight; I had to do this for me. 

How did I do it? I started to take care of myself first. I was the typical caretaker – worrying about my mother, my father, my coach. I had to be honest with myself, and

I had to do this – lose the weight -- for myself -- not for my job, my ex-boyfriend, my coach. I had to do it for Monica. When I talk to women, I say – “If you are happy being heavy, that is great.” I wasn’t. I wanted to be healthier.

Finding balance with food – and with myself – came with experience. As I got older, I thought, “Gosh, I travel so much – these European women, these Asian women – they eat all this stuff.” I realized I could do it too and still be in good shape. Since that realization, I’ve never restricted myself. I eat everything. I don’t have to stuff myself with pasta because I know this is not my last chance. I can eat it tomorrow, too.

Back when my trainers would tell me I couldn’t touch pasta and I could eat egg whites only, I would think, “Wouldn’t that pasta be so great?” Pasta became the forbidden food – and I wanted it so badly. In the end – I don’t believe in restrictions. To me, life without a piece of bread or pasta – it’s not worth it.

The lesson – for me – is to really be comfortable with who you are. In my profession I was surrounded by women sized 0. I’m 5’9” and I don’t have to be a size 0. I truly believe that in my 20s I would have understood that, had I had more strong, powerful role models.

One woman who did play that role for me was Billie Jean King. I talked to her for the first time when I played in the Federation Cup in 1996. She was remarkable for her sport, but even more for what she did off the court. She stood up for her beliefs. I was a two-handed forehand and backhand; I was a strong, grunting female. Talking to Billie about it, she would say, “Monica, be who you are.” 

Billie, like others, has done so much for this generation. Hopefully I can give back in my own little way, and keep that giving going.

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How I Became an Architect of Change

  • Architects of Change

07/15/09 | Homaira Hosseini, Founder, BruINTENT | 10 Comments

homaira signs
Students Go to Work for Homeless at BruINTENT Event

The Women’s Conference changed my life.

When I first attended in 2007, I already thought of myself as an Architect of Change, but The Women’s Conference deepened my understanding of the role. It showed me that you don't have to know all the answers; you just have to have the patience to listen, and the desire to help.

In 2008, as a senior at UCLA, I was chosen by my classmates to be Student Body President. I saw it as a way to be of service to my fellow students. Little did I realize that some of them needed help in ways I did not anticipate. But I found out. And I was shocked.

In the second quarter of my senior year, I was approached by several students asking for help. These were not the usual requests for event funding or guest speakers.
This was different. The students were homeless. They were sleeping in offices and classrooms. They went to the gym to take showers, and they ate food from student groups’ events. Many students asked if I could hire them to the student government because they had nothing to eat.

One student, Sabrina Tinsey, was profiled in the Daily Bruin for her struggles with homelessness. She spent much of her junior year going from friend’s house to friend’s house – but it was a never-ending process of looking for shelter. She explained to the Daily Bruin at the time, “Right now I’m in the process of packing all my stuff again and going. I don’t know where I will go. I don’t know where I will stay.”

Why were these students homeless? Many were homeless because their parents had lost their jobs in the recession. Some students were undocumented immigrants, who weren’t eligible for state loans or scholarships (as was the case for Tinsey). For those students who did receive financial aid, they often had to spend all of the aid just to cover school fees. There was nothing left over to pay for housing or food.

The disturbing fact that some of my fellow students were homeless inspired me to do something. I decided to host an event, inviting university students to camp out for one night on the UCLA campus.  We charged each of the 350 students who attended $6, and we called the event BruINTENT. Essentially, we were Bruins in a TENT with the INTENT of helping our community. We signed up attendees to volunteer at soup kitchens; we made bag lunches to distribute on Skid Row; and we invited two homeless students to speak -- to educate the group about the issue of homelessness at UCLA.

We donated the $4000 we raised from the April 16th event to Chrysalis, a homeless shelter off campus, as well as to a private grant set up to help the homeless students. What else came of the event? The school administration vowed to help the homeless students find housing.

With BruINTENT, I wanted to demonstrate to the student body that homelessness is not only a national or urban problem, it is our problem, here on our campus.

Now that I’m leaving UCLA, I look ahead to my next challenges, my next opportunities to effect change, and to pass it on. I’m going to spend next year as a CORO leadership fellow, learning about the public affairs arena and how to translate my ideals into action for improving my community and beyond. And then? A joint degree program in law and public policy. My commitment to architecting change is for life.

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Become a Microlender. Change a Life.

  • Architects of Change

06/9/09 | Premal Shah, President of Kiva | 0 Comments


No two days are alike when you work at Kiva. We come into the office every day, ready to put our heads down and do the work necessary to help facilitate microloans around the globe, never knowing what the day will bring. However, nothing prepared us for the day in March 2008 when we received an unexpected visitor - California First Lady Maria Shriver! Once it had a chance to sink in that the First Lady of California was getting a tour of our office, everyone sat down around the conference table while Maria told us about how she believed that Kiva could play an important role in empowering entrepreneurs right in our own backyard.

She was right. Poverty exists everywhere – even in the richest countries in the world. There was no reason that we couldn’t apply the model that we had built, helping entrepreneurs in need in the developing world, to entrepreneurs here in the United States.

Since its beginning, Kiva has been about making unlikely connections to help alleviate poverty, and Kiva is really proud that the unlikely connection that we made that day with Maria has blossomed into a great partnership with both the First Lady and the Women’s Conference.

Since that day, we’ve been working together, along with microfinance institutions across the United States to make this idea a reality. As Maria reminded us, we can each have a huge impact in the world for as little as a $25 loan, and we’re happy to work together to add the United States to the long list of countries where Kiva lenders can make that difference.  We invite you to help us celebrate the June 10th launch of our domestic microlending program by joining Maria Shriver's Lending Team.  Become a microlender.  Change a life.

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