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. 

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Kirby Rosplock on the Power of Women

Kirby.Mel.Wendi.2012

This month, I had the great pleasure of hearing expert Kirby Rosplock speak on The Power of Women: Our Global Economic Influence—at a Catalytic Women forum on the growing influence women have on global wealth. Kirby address the big questions, like As a woman, how do I engage, empower and inspire myself and others? How do I lead a fulfilled and productive life with wealth?

There is unprecedented emphasis on the global impact brought about by the power of women. Today, over one billion women participate in the workforce worldwide and, within the next 10 years, women will control 2/3 of the consumer wealth in the U.S. Over the next few years, women will spend an incremental $5 trillion or more on goods and services – a sum that is larger than the emerging markets of China and India combined. Representing 51% of the global population, women are now more than ever poised for leadership and are uniquely positioned to influence change … in themselves as well as others.

Dr. Kirby Rosplock discussed the growing influence women have on global wealth and giving, shedding light on gender differences in the perception and knowledge of wealth. Kirby’s engaged and interactive conversation with Catalytic Women made clear how women approach wealth management, legacy and philanthropic intentions, and the important role women play in our global economies and communities.

As Director of Research and Development in the Innovation and Learning Center of GenSpring Family Offices, Kirby oversees the development of GenSpring’s Wealth Management Process and directs corporate research efforts. In 2006, she completed GenSpring’s Women & Wealth Study involving over 100 affluent women from across the country whose combined net worth exceeded $2 billion. The study explored women’s approach to managing their wealth, involvement, awareness, decision making, attitudes, values and practices for wealth preservation, as well as wealth transfer intentions. The next year she led a follow-on study with affluent men to learn the differences and similarities of their views, attitudes, involvement and practices around wealth. And in 2008, she spearheaded the Alignment Study, comparing and contrasting men’s and women’s different approaches to wealth along with their similarities. She recently led an international study exploring the relationships among family business owners and their advisors.

Kirby is a popular speaker on topics related to family wealth. She has presented at the Women and Wealth Forum, Family Firm Institute, Family Office Exchange, Institute for Private Investors, UW-Madison’s Family Business Center, Family Wealth Alliance, Family Office Symposium, Family Enterprise Research Conference, Family Capital, International Family Enterprise Research Association, and at GenSpring’s Women’s Retreat and Family Symposium. She has been interviewed by Robert Frank, author ofRichistan, and Sean Cole of NPR’s Marketplace, and has been featured in Wealth Manager Magazine. Kirby has authored articles, white papers, scholarly writings and book chapters on women, families and wealth, including a doctoral dissertation on “Women’s Interest, Attitudes and Involvement with their Wealth.”

One thing I love about Kirby is that she walks the talk. Before joining GenSpring in 2004, she was in management consulting as a business consultant, coach and facilitator to entrepreneurs, affluent families, family offices and family businesses. She has helped manage private equity funds as a licensed broker-dealer. But here’s what really gives her uniquely valuable perspective on these issues. Having grown up in a large, complex, affluent family with multiple family businesses, her personal experiences compliment her professional expertise. She is a 4th generation member of a male-dominated family business and is a trustee of her family’s foundation. It hasn’t been easy for her to get there and it’s inspiring to hear her story.

Let me know if you’d like to know more about Kirby’s journey and expertise—I’m happy to introduce you to one of my very favorite catalytic women.