Defying Expectations

Last month my organization, Global Press Institute (GPI), had the honor of being showcased at a Catalytic Women event on women’s economic empowerment. Something that Melanie said to the audience that night really struck me: everyone in the room could do something to make a difference. Everyone – no matter what your level of income or wealth – could be a philanthropist. sample-image-blogWhat really resonated with me about this message was its fundamental similarity to a lesson I learned in Nepal ten years ago.

After a few weeks in the country as a foreign correspondent, I realized I was the wrong person to be covering the Nepali civil war. I had just two things that “qualified” me to report on this country I knew so little about: a Master’s degree in journalism and a credible news platform. Yet the local women around me had everything else that I lacked in order to tell important, powerful stories: access, language, context, and trust.

When I met Pratima, the community matriarch of a small village in Eastern Nepal, I handed her my pen and asked her to write the story of her community. That moment was not only the birth of GPI, an organization dedicated to training and employing women in the developing world to report on their local communities. It was also an inspiring life lesson about how the roles we have come to expect for ourselves are often dramatically and silently dictated by the force of history – in other words, by the way things have been.

Isn’t it obvious that a local woman with knowledge of her community would be better poised to report on it than a foreigner parachuted in for a few weeks? And yet the entire model of international journalism has been built around the use of foreign correspondents.

Likewise, it is obvious that we do not need high-paying jobs or sizable fortunes in order to be thoughtful, generous, and impactful givers. Just because we have always thought of philanthropy as the purview of the wealthy doesn’t preclude us from making a difference with our resources.

If you wonder whether this is really possible, consider that each GPI news story (25% of which lead to demonstrable social impact, such as changing laws) costs on average between $100 and $200 to produce. We and other organizations are able to use modest donations to create significant impact on the world.

The lesson here is that we can access certain roles and opportunities in life, even if that means bucking the way things have traditionally been done. After all, if a former sex worker, or a member of the Dalit (“untouchable”) caste, or a woman with a fourth grade education, can become an award-winning professional journalist, then each of us can, in our own ways, become philanthropists.

cmhheadshotCristi Hegranes landed her dream job as an international journalist in Nepal, but it only took her two weeks to realize she was all wrong for the job. “Local women had everything I didn’t,” she said, “except access to a major publishing outlet.” She created the Global Press Institute to train and employ women to write quality investigative, professional features. Currently, Cristi manages 26 news bureaus and employs 135 women, and she’s building revenue by distributing their stories through such outlets as National Public Radio and Reuters. Cristi talks about Rwandan reporters Ritha Bumwe, whose article on sexual predators has influenced new legislation there. Here with Cristi is her first Sri Lankan employee (soon after their 2006 launch) and the embodiment of her ambition—Manori of Sri Lanka, who just got promoted from reporter to regional editor for Asia. “We’ve asked, and 98% of the women who’ve been through our training program report feeling empowered as a result.” And the percentage employed by GPI?—100. 


Want to Build Your Startup Skills? Pitch and Pitch In

If you’re looking to develop your startup leadership skills, try volunteering for a non-profit or attending a pitch conference. 


Having spent most of my career in the corporate and nonprofit worlds, I can tell you that there isn’t much reward for risk-taking. Two of the smartest things I ever did to build my leadership were: go to a pitch conference and volunteer.

Six months ago, I attended Launch. It changed my perspective on everything about my work. Specifically, it made me more focused on profitability and more fearless about playing with the boys. (Sorry to admit it, but seeing them get up there and struggle with pitches made it seem a lot more accessible to someone like me, a working woman new to startup culture.)

Last weekend, I got to walk the talk. I pitched an idea at SF Startup Weekend Women’s Edition. Out of 41 pitches and 14 finalists, our team came in third (with a product to offer impact investing to young professionals). The experience was crazy and awesome – totally out of my comfort zone. I went into it not really knowing anything about the process; at Launch I’d only seen the final result of what happens when you join a team of strangers for 36 hours to make a dream tangible.

What was so special about this Startup Weekend? For one, it focused on women entrepreneurs. And, it created a space where we could be in the majority, doing something that we do so well naturally – collaborate and problem-solve. It also made me think about another ecosystem that has been central to my career success: nonprofits.

Nonprofits offer a safe place for women to build leadership skills. The U.S. Dept. of Labor says that in 2012, “women continued to volunteer at a higher rate than did men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics.”

Let’s face it, we like to roll up our sleeves, get involved, and give back. Yet there’s another, more personal, reason for women to volunteer – it builds leadership skills that can launch our careers, especially in male-dominated professions.

No one tries to solve big problems on limited resources like a nonprofit. Volunteering – especially on a committee or board – is a great training ground for public speaking, budgeting, project management, and sales and relationship building (skills key to fundraising). Points of Light Foundation (which also has a Civic Incubator – how cool is that?) and VolunteerMatch list thousands of opportunities to get involved.

Women bring unique skills to the table. We knew that even before Lean In. If you’re not getting the leadership opportunities you want at work, get them by volunteering. And then bring them back to your company.

Your success may depend on it.

By Melanie Hamburger (CEO & Founder, Catalytic Women)


This article was originally posted on Women 2.0 on September 20, 2013.

Volunteering. It’s never too early to start

What’s the best age to start piano lessons? How about gymnastics or soccer? If you’ve seen toddlers meandering around a soccer field, staring at the sky, you know that some parents think it’s never too early to begin.

volunteeringAs parents and role models, we want to expose our children to all sorts of enriching experiences, and one of the most rewarding is volunteering. There are three powerful reasons I think middle school is an ideal time to introduce kids to the concept of serving others.

Volunteering is an excellent way for middle-school students to learn about their community and themselves. They are mature enough to understand the concept of civic responsibility, the value of helping less fortunate people and the significance of donating time, money and service.

Second, adolescence is typically a time of an intense focus on oneself and peers. It’s a challenging time of self-discovery. Volunteering eases that relentless inward glare by encouraging tweens and teens to connect with people of different ages, experiences, backgrounds and values.

Finally, a solid foundation of volunteer experience that begins in middle school shapes a young volunteer’s view of the world and amazes college admissions officers. One important way to tell a student’s story in an interview or college application is through lessons learned in volunteering and community service.

Jeannie Burlowski (, an expert advisor on college applications that stand out from the pack, offers vital advice about how to approach middle school: “Begin early to create the long record of service and leadership so important for future scholarship applications.” She says the middle school years are not too early to begin keeping a written record of community service hours. If you Google for “community service forms”, you will find dozens of links to record-keeping forms.

And remember that volunteering as a family is also a terrific way to learn about organizations in your community and make them part of your family charitable giving strategy. That strategy can be as simple as a change jar in the kitchen where everyone drops spare coins and bills that are regularly donated to the local homeless shelter.

Here are four on the San Francisco Peninsula that offer volunteer opportunities geared specifically for kids:

The Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto is planning its seventh annual Mitzvah Day (to take place on Martin Luther King Day, January 20, 2014). If you have suggestions or want to get involved, please contact Luba Palant at (650) 223-8656 or

My New Red Shoes has a mission all kids can relate to: to provide new clothing and back-to-school shoes for low-income kids. The Burlingame-based non-profit offers a number of service events centered on families, including kids as young as four years old:

Home & Hope (formerly Interfaith Hospitality Network) provides homeless families with temporary housing at local churches and synagogues. Families can volunteer to cook and serve dinner at the host site, play with the younger guests and even babysit. Find out more at

There With Care provides fundamental support services to families and children facing critical illness during medical crisis. Volunteer opportunities range from visiting children in the hospital to sorting in-kind donations at the TWC office in Menlo Park. Learn more at

I’d love to hear about how you encourage your children of all ages to volunteer and take part in improving their community. What volunteer work is meaningful to your family, and how do your kids participate?

It’s never too early to start.

070d8d0Emilie Goldman began her career in personal finance in 1993 as an investment analyst. In 2003, she earned the CFP® designation from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. Emilie was a partner with Blue Oak Capital in Palo Alto, chief wealth management officer with Sand Hill Advisors in Palo Alto, and a portfolio manager with Hutchinson Capital in Larkspur, CO. She holds an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and received her undergraduate degree in finance and marketing from the University of Denver. She is a Certified Financial Planner TM professional and a Chartered Financial Analyst. She is a member of the CFA Institute, the Securities Analysts of San Francisco, and the Financial Planning Association.


From a Man’s Perspective: “Catalytic Women Opened My Eyes”

A few months ago, I posed a question to the Catalytic Women LinkedIn forum: What would you tell your friend or colleague about Catalytic Women? Below is the response from a man’s perspective, thanks to guest blogger Eugene Hung.

Here’s what I’d say: Catalytic Women has helped to open my eyes.

I feel sheepish in admitting it, but I have to ‘fess up here. While I’ve been an egalitarian for a long time when it comes to gender issues, supporting girls and women didn’t become a special concern of mine until I became a dad to two daughters. It’s taken on extra intensity in the last year and a half in particular, as a byproduct of my extensive blogging about parenting. It’s during this time that I’ve finally come to see some truths that may be self-evident to most of you, but which were not so clear to me. Interacting with women like you has helped to open my eyes to these truths. I’m talking about things like:

  • There is systemic, mostly subtle but sometimes still overt, suppression of the advancement of women in many vocations and fields of study.
  • Because of this systemic injustice, women generally have to work harder than men to have their efforts and abilities both noticed and appreciated.
  • Women leaders generally get scrutinized and criticized more than their male counterparts.
  • We’re several hundred years away from seeing salary parity, government representational parity, etc., between the sexes.

Catalytic Women has also opened my eyes to greater hope. After all, it takes resources to confront the entrenched injustices of the world. Otherwise, good intentions remain just that – good intentions. Women may know this better than anyone.

So I gain hope, even as I see the fashion and media elites use their deep pockets to impose their definitions of beauty on whole societies. I gain hope, even when I hear how powerful interests, and wealthy seekers of perverted pleasures traffic thousands and thousands of girls and women. I gain hope, even when the news reminds me that extremists in many lands enforce their oppressive views of girls and women via terror and violence. Catalytic Women gives me hope, because you have resources in abundance – financial, intellectual, relational, and spiritual. And you are determined to make your resources count by taking on these and other systemic injustices. You are not just a movement of women who have good intentions; you are women who care and can do something about the crap in our world.

Perhaps what Catalytic Women has most opened my eyes to is the great number of women whose global philanthropic work is overlooked. Until I encountered Catalytic Women and other women like you, I didn’t realize that more media attention is given to men who lead philanthropic and other social justice efforts, than to women. As I think about it now, it hits me that in my own years of partial reliance on the funding of others to advance my own charitable work, that most of my donors were – you guessed it – women.

So many of you have been doing so much to help so many people … not for the glory, but because it’s right and compassionate.  More power to you!

Eugene HungEugene Hung is a writer and blogger whose work can be read at, and

It’s Only Natural


Editor’s Note: A Catalytic Women member shares her thoughts on altruism and skills where women are “natural” leaders. Enjoy!/MH

Chances are you’ve all heard and even embraced as true, a belief in the “survival of the fittest.” What would you think about the theory that humankind’s greatest strength (and indeed survival) is not dependent on one’s individual strength or size, but instead on one’s ability to cooperate, connect and share?

In How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life), (2011), author Dov Seidman cites the work of Dr. Richard Joyce, a professor at the Australian National University and author of The Evolution of Morality. Joyce explains that our morality – defined as the capacity to conceive of social behavior in terms of values – germinated in our earliest caveman and cavewoman ancestors. A caveman who embraced the benefit-of-the-group model not only survived, but thrived as he shared harvests and shelters, cooperating and assisting others. His self-sacrifice for the benefit of the whole engendered trust, prompting others in his tribe to reciprocate.

This altruistic caveman also gained a reproductive advantage: cavewomen, knowing a good thing when they saw it, wanted him for a mate. The result? The propagation of cavebabies imbued with these cooperating, connecting, sharing genes. And biology was not all that this open-armed caveman had in his favor; he also had influence over others who saw and wanted what he had. Those who did as he did received similar rewards including, offspring after offspring (both male and female) “throughout the eons” who were encoded with those same altruistic values.

Tribes, on the other hand, that embraced the benefit-of-the-individual model, did not cooperate, share, or form any sort of organized, cohesive society. As a result, these self-serving individuals and their tribes suffered starvation, exposure to deadly elements, and ultimate elimination.

So what does all this have to do with our lives today? Everything, I’d say.

As mammals and as social beings, we are dependent on others, physically, mentally, and emotionally from the moment we are born. Seidman concludes that “natural altruistism” – as opposed to self-interest – is just that: natural. Given the downturn in the world’s economy, loss of jobs, homes and savings, we may be tempted to curl into ourselves, determined to protect all that we have only to find that that choice doesn’t make us or anyone else feel any better. Why? Because it isn’t natural. If our genes have anything to say about it, there is an alternative: seeking others with whom we align to share our gifts, our abilities and our resources. It’s a natural win-win.

 Untitled2Catalytic Women member, Dana Whitaker, enjoys working with seasoned and emerging leaders and is author of Transforming Lives $40 at a Time, Women + Microfinance: Upending the Status Quo. More about Dana at