Last week I had the chance to listen in as two inspiring women — Dorka Keehn and Charity Kenyon — shared their stories of social impact. The real message was the Power of One — how one busy woman learns about issues, funds solutions and, sometimes in the process, creates a movement around an idea.
What I heard from these women resonates at every level in thinking about how to fund your passion.
- Be curious about other people’s stories. How does one person make change? Surprisingly often it happens in an utter dearth of resources. By exploring your curiosity about others who do something amazing, you’re likely to gain a social impact momentum of your own. Dorka shared the story of Judy Bonds, an Appalachian coal mining daughter who won the Goldman Award for her work against destructive mountaintop removal and, in turn, was Dorka’s inspiration for writing ECO AMAZONS: 20 Women Who Are Transforming the World.
- Networks are the tools that turn ideas into impact. This is especially true for women, who often lack connections needed to access and influence decision-makers. Charity’s long-ago support of the League of Women Voters laid the groundwork for her ability to influence access to good, clean, fair food for all through her leadership in the Slow Food Movement, first through her local chapter and, now, as a national governor.
- Childhood experiences lay the groundwork in unexpected ways. Dorka’s dad raised her as a girl who could do anything; seeing so many women who lacked this support and confidence inspired her to found Emerge and Ignite as organizations to encourage women and girl’s political leadership. Charity’s trip to study abroad in Denmark exposed her to the challenges of family farming in a way that was eye-opening. This planted the seed for her work as chair of a new committee for Slow Food, helping foster collaboration on statewide policy issues that find creative ways of meeting the challenges of small rural nonprofits.
Dorka Keehn and Charity Kenyon are two amazing women. Yet their message involved a beautiful simplicity of focus and action. Their journeys started in their own homes and backyards, and they hit their stride during the busiest times of their lives.
And neither story is about women, per se. Dorka shared a critical lesson learned by Emerge in the early days: “Gender is secondary to the issue. At Emerge, we learned that having more women in political office wasn’t a concern for most people, but the impact of these elected women’s unique communication style and approach to leadership was highly effective.” Sometimes isn’t not even about what we do, but the way we do it.
Charity saw the magnificent Great Central Valley of California and the world’s most productive farmland disappearing under subdivisions. Perhaps her career as a First Amendment, environmental and appellate law attorney shaped her passion. She asked around her own community: What organization addresses this issue? Restarting the local Sacramento Chapter of the Slow Food Movement led her to deep involvement in their work across the US and the globe — from her backyard of Sacramento (Well, actually, Galt. I couldn’t resist the reference, knowing Ayn Rand’s book will become a film this year.) to the 1,000 Gardens in Africa project.
Dorka’s “other life” is all about art: as an award-winning conceptual artist, avid speaker on art in the public sphere, writer of EcoAmazons and the recent article for San Francisco Magazine on The Philanthropists: Eleven Women Who Exemplify the Power, Economic and Otherwise, of Social Entrepreneurship. She works in diverse mediums including radio, film, and sculpture — and women’s leadership.
Interesting that both women, from their unique paths, have developed a shared passion for environmental sustainability. So what’s next for these women?
Charity is enjoying retirement with her husband, Mike Eaton, on their 5-acre Kingbird Farms, a WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), site and has hosted some 85 young farmers from around the world at their home.
Dorka’s interests have expanded beyond women-focused issues to the issues themselves. She sees the opportunity for creativity and consciousness to impact our world, and to focus on how we approach and engage around the larger concerns that affect us all.
Stay tuned. More to come from these Catalytic Women.