TURNING YOUR PASSION INTO PRACTICE
A Discussion at the 2006 Global Philanthropists Circle Annual Meeting, October 12 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City
Zainab Salbi, Founder & CEO, Women for Women International (Video highlights)
Blaise Judja-Sato, Founder & President, Village Reach (Video highlights)
|Facilitator:||Peggy Dulany, Founder & Chair, The Synergos Institute (Video highlights)|
PEGGY DULANY: I'd like to say welcome to those who've been with us before, and a special welcome to those who haven't been with us before. My name is Peggy Dulany, and I'm sure you'll have a lot of opportunity during the day to get to meet people that you haven't met in the past, and renew acquaintances for those who have been here with people that you've already met. We have an amazing lineup for today, both of opportunities for one-on-one or small group interactions, and also discussions with both plenary speakers and in the small group. I'd like invite Zainab and Blaise to come up to the podium and we'll begin right away. Yes? Okay. And by the way, I should apologize in advance that I've just been in Bhutan in India and got some kind of a bronchial problem. So if my voice starts to fade, please do remind me.
Zainab Salbi and Blaise Judja-Sato are going to be our first plenary participants, and their bios are in your packets so I'm not going to talk about their bios at all. The only thing I wanted to say is that from my own experience, leading from the heart, i.e., one's passion, is almost the best assurance that what one is doing, whether philanthropically or in other parts of your life, will have the energy, the authenticity, and the passion that is much more likely to lead to concrete results. These are two people not lacking in passion, authenticity, integrity, and I'm sure that will come out during the discussion.
We're going to give each of them a chance to say something about -- I'm warning you now what this is about -- about what led you to the passion? And I'm talking about what inside as well as what outside. What was it that inspired you to do what you're doing, first, from the inside, and then we'll take it to the outside? How did the passion that you both feel and the commitment lead to the actual initiatives that you're taking? Because I think that's often, for those of us who simply do things and don't necessarily have the opportunity to reflect on how we got to where we're going, it's worth stepping back and really reflecting on, well, what was the origin, where did this come from, and then how did I connect that to what it is that I'm doing?
After they have a chance to talk and you have a chance to ask them questions, then at each table we'll have a similar discussion. So all of you might be reflecting as you hear them speak about what your own original passions are, or have been, or are becoming, and how you either are or are planning to connect those two initiatives on the outside. So I don't want to take any more time in introductory comments, and I'm going to ask Zainab to begin.
ZAINAB SALBI: Thank you. It's such an honor and privilege to be here. With the internal passion -- I'm originally from Iraq, I grew up in Iraq, and I always thought my life was normal until someone told me that it's not. I grew up knowing Saddam Hussein very well. My father was his pilot, and my family were chosen to be his friends. And when Saddam Hussein asks you to be his friends you cannot say no. To say no would be to be killed. So my whole life was about how to, as my mother told me, smile when he smiles, cry when he cries, be serious when he was serious. And it was all about how do you control your emotions, how do you not think it out loud? My mother used to tell me cast your eyes down when you look at him if you're thinking about something bad because he knows how to read eyes.
But then you also grew up -- part of the resistance becomes how to keep -- and I really give it the internal passion, I give the credit to my mother, because how she infused small things in me and kept on reinforcing it in small ways, resistance became in small ways. Resistance became whenever she saw a poor person coming in and she would talk to me a lot about how I need to give, I need to give. And as a child, she would put money in my hands, like you need to go give.
As a woman, since I was young my mother would tell me about what women go through -- the oppressions women go through, the silence that women... I remember she would shake me and she said, like, never, never allow anybody to abuse you or to treat you wrongly or to talk with you in the wrong way. And I just didn't understand why my mother would do that. Like, I was okay. But she was very forceful about that -- she was like, you have to do that, you have to do that.
And I remember at the age of 15, I went and told my mother that when I grow up I want to help all women. And it was a turning point in my life because I remember that moment so well. I was in the car, she was driving, I remember the sky, everything. And she looked at me and she said, you can do it. And that was that belief that my mother gave me in myself. So the internal one is growing up seeing injustice in front of me. Going to school and talking to my classmates about how their fathers were killed and how there were public executions in the street. And then at night I would go to Saddam's palaces and party with his daughters, and be able -- and know that it's too dangerous for me to talk about it. And that constant struggle between seeing injustice in the daytime -- my aunt would take me to the middle of the pool and would whisper all the things that Saddam was doing against women and against men, as a way to keep on reminding me that this is what's happening, don't forget who you are, don't forget where you are. So part of the internal passion is not being able to act, or say, or express my feelings as someone who grew up so close to Saddam Hussein and as someone who constantly heard about the injustice as I was growing up. But I was too close to power to express it.
I then found myself in America, and that's a long story. It's called Between Two Worlds. My first book is my memoir about growing up in Iraq. And it was my first time to hear about the war in Bosnia. And it was my first time to hear about other parts of the world. I traveled around the world when I was a kid, but it was my first time to really allow myself to think politically. And there were rape camps in Bosnia, and there were concentration camps in Bosnia, and I was 23 years old at the time and I had to repeat my education in America. And it was my first time to learn about the Holocaust. So in many ways I had the -- just in a way a child's way of logic is like, okay, people said the Holocaust was bad and we didn't know anything about it, and that's why we didn't do anything. But now there are concentration camps and there are rape camps, and we know about it, and we should do something about it. It was just adding one plus one should equal two, and why aren't we doing something about it?
So we started again with that innocence of, well, there is injustice and I'm now in America and I can act. There is no more Saddam in my life to hold me back from acting. And so I just wanted to do something. I had a small idea of sponsoring women survivors of rape, and it's a long story but I was connected to the Unitarian Church, who said we will give you a chance to support you for one year. And in that one year you have to go ahead and start the organization and register it and all of these things, and then you're on your own. And that was the second part of the passion. You don't need to do much to be inspired by the women you supposedly are helping. It has been a journey of lessons from the first trip Croatia, when I was intending to only help rape victims, because that's what we hear about here, and the first lesson was victim-hoods come in all kinds of shapes and you don't have to be raped in order to be a victim.
The woman who helped me learn that was a middle-aged woman with two children. And she was telling me about how she escaped from her village in the forest, and she kept on turning around and seeing her house being burnt, and she slept two nights in the forest with her two sons. And as she was telling me that she was shaking and crying, and that was the moment in which I realized who am I to say, I can only give you help because you've been raped, but I'm not going to give you help because your house has been burned? And who am I to judge who is a victim and who's not?
So it has been a series of learning from the women that I have been helping -- supposedly helping. The biggest one is the notion of courage. I don't think -- I work with women, Women for Women International works with women survivors of wars, and we focus on helping them move from victims to survivors, to active citizens. And often when we talk about women survivors of wars we talk about them only as victims, and we don't talk about them as incredible, courageous, resilient women. One of the things that inspired me to write my own story was a woman who was 55-years old in the Congo when I met her. Illiterate, was raped, her nine-year old daughter was raped, her 20-year old daughter was raped, her 23-year old daughter was raped -- all in front of her. And after she was describing her story, she said, I've never told anybody but you my story. And I told her, what do you want me to do with it -- should I keep it a secret or should I go ahead and tell the whole world about it, as I usually do? And so she looks at me, and here's an illiterate woman, and she said, if I can tell the whole world about my story and that would have other women -- stop other women from facing what I faced, I would. But I can't. You go ahead and tell the world, just not the neighbors.
And that was really another turning point in my life. Because I don't think we give the notion of courage credit. And if anything, these women survivors of war helped me to learn courage. That was the moment -- up until then I had kept my secrets, my story with Saddam and with my family knowing Saddam a secret, and I vowed never to tell it to anybody. And for all I know I could've gone the rest of my life without telling anything to anybody. And that woman talking that you have to break one's silence, that only when we break that silence can we actually break that cycle of vicious violence, and injustice, and oppression. So the external part of what helped me going -- that passion, is really the women that I work with. One of the things that I've learned in the process is war is like a flashlight on humanity. It shows you the worst of humanity and it shows you the best of humanity. And I just had the privilege of seeing both, and I think it is a privilege because you deal with life and with death on every single day. And it teaches you to appreciate and love life much more, because death can come at any moment.
So when I go to Congo and I see the Congolese women dancing, who am I not to dance? And when I go to Rwanda and I meet Beatrice, who seven of her children died on top of her, and she ended up adopting five children and taking them all to school, and going and working, and building a small home with them. And with a smile she sits in front of me and she says, thank you. Who am I not to smile? And that smile becomes some of the act of resilience and the act of courage.
So my new book actually is called The Other Side of War, and it's all stories -- I had to do my own homework of telling my own story, to go to do the other homework of telling -- of helping other women tell their stories, just because I have that privilege of being able to live in America, and knowing a publisher, and speaking English. And it's all about war from the women's side, from the women's perspective. I think we discuss war from only a frontline discussion and we don't discuss it from a back line discussion. We discuss it from the troops, and the weapons, and the politics, and the borders, and what we don't discuss is the food, and the water, and the electricity, and the education. And these are all part of the reality of war, and these are some of the things that women deal with, and these are the long-term impacts of war.
So my whole mission with Women for Women International is to get these women's voices out there. We need to hear women's voices, not only for women's sake but also for the larger discussion of how we build stronger economies, stronger democracies, stronger nations. I really believe stronger women do lead to stronger nations. I'll speak just a little bit about what Women for Women International does. We connect women from all over the world with women survivors of wars. We ask each sponsor to send $27 a month along with a letter to start a communication link between the two women. If anything made me believe that the individual can make a difference it's the story of this organization. I started it when I was 23-years old. I had nothing. And over 13 years we have reached 73,000 women directly, impacted 200,000 family members, distributed $27 million. As I'm speaking with you today, we have nine offices and we're working with more than 30,000 women. And that started with nothing. The sponsorship program is only one part of it.
Once the woman receives the aid and the letters, as she gets into what I call safe haven for women -- it's schools for adult women basically, who war has taken everything from their lives. And they regroup them 20 women at a time, and these women start meeting every other week for a whole year and they go through two kinds of training. One about women's rights and women's role in economy, society, politics, and health. And the other one is about business training. We do market assessments, we try to see what is the local economy spending their money on, and we teach women vocational skills to address market needs. At the end of the year, they graduate and that's when we go into the active citizen stage where we help them get jobs. Whether it's running for a mayor, or becoming the health expert in their village, or getting a loan and starting a micro-credit business or whatever. Cooperatives and all of these things, or selling their products in America.
So it's a small story, but it's kept me going. At the beginning it was my own personal anger at injustice and not being able to do something about it. And today it is about the anger that the injustice is all over us, facing us everyday, and there are brilliant people out there who are doing a lot of things about getting their voices out there, and that is particularly women. Because women's voices are not at the negotiating tables. And I feel that for the longest time when we talked about women, we talked about women's rights for our own merit. I think now besides our own merits we deserve equality and justice because we are equal citizens, but we also -- there are pragmatic reasons why women need to be at the negotiating table. Women, in my opinion, are like a bellwether for the society. They're like kitchen door to the society. Violence often starts with women, and progress often starts with women, but we still look at women as a marginalized issue. We still look at them as just -- oh. When the Taliban committed their violence against women it was just -- oh, it's just their culture, it's just their religion and all of that. Where eventually everyone was haunted by that violence, including here in America.
So rather than seeing violence against women as a marginalized issue, I see it as a major national issue that is an indicator for the direction of that country. And that is why we need to get women at the negotiating tables, both to protect their rights as well as to protect the directions of the nation. So that's the story, and that's what keeps me inside inspired and externally inspired.
DULANY: Thank you very much, Zainab, and also thank you for modeling what it is to look inside and find the courage to tell what's inside, and then to translate that into action that's really impactful. So I'm going to turn it immediately over to Blaise so we have some time at the end for a group discussion before we turn to the table discussions. Blaise.
BLAISE JUDJA-SATO: Thank you, Peggy. Good morning, everybody. I'm quite impressed by your story and it's very difficult to follow you. I have no books written. I'm just a country boy from Africa. I was born in Cameroon in a very large family. I can just reassure you that in our family women were at the table, and my mother was making the decisions. And so growing up in Cameroon there was no discussion about... Pardon? No, my mother was making all the decisions in our house and she still makes the decisions. Growing up in Cameroon we had a school system that called for three months of vacation in the summer. And my mother had decided that every summer we will spend one month in the capital city where we lived, to catch up on school and get better, and then two months in the village. So we can appreciate the quality of life of our siblings, our nephews, our cousins, who were not fortunate enough, as we were, to live in the city.
So we were living like normal folks in the village. Waking up in the morning at five, going to fetch the water, taking the animals out -- the goat, and moving to the farm, working the farm, and then going back with the wood on the head, and fetching the water for the shower in the evening. Just normal life. And we were living like this for two months a year. And at the time I was very annoyed at my mother, of course, and my parents, because I much rather wanted to be in Yaounde, the capital city of Cameroon, and play soccer, 'cause I enjoyed playing soccer a lot. But only later did I realize what she was actually trying to do. She was trying to make us appreciate that we were fortunate, and that we constantly had to remember that there were people around us -- my father had four siblings, and there was one out of four chances that I could've been born in the village like these other guys and live like them. So my parents wanted us to stay in touch with the reality in the village.
And the other thing that I remember growing up in Cameroon was our house was always full of people. We had at least two or three nephews or cousins living with us, and they were treated exactly like us. Dressed like us. No one from the outside could tell that they were not our brothers and sisters. They were just part of the family. And our house at lunchtime was also usually very full, and that annoyed us because we couldn't eat just by ourselves. There were people timing their visit to our house, making sure that they'd come at 11:45 because they'd know that at 12:30 lunch would be served. And my mother made a point to serve lunch. And usually these folks were sitting at the table and we were back in the kitchen fighting for the leftovers. So those small stories I think over time made us realize that our parents were very aware of what they had -- they were very fortunate to have been able to move from the village to the city. Have some paying jobs -- they were civil servants, normal people.
My mother was a kindergarten teacher. And one of the things that she was forcing us to do, especially me, was coming back from school I had to come to her classroom to help her keep the kids organized. Because her kindergarten was more than just kindergarten, it was more like a daycare. The children's parents knew that my mother was really caring, and that she would take good care of their children. So they would come, drop their kids in the morning seven o'clock, and then just come and pick them up at seven, whereas school hours were eight o'clock to five p.m. So my mother made sure that I was there to help her take care of the kids. And the good thing for me was that by doing that during the week I was buying time off to play soccer on the weekend, and I knew that if I wasn't doing it I would not be able to do what I enjoyed most.
And over time I realized that maybe my mother and my father, of course, just wanted us to be aware, and that's exactly what happened. Over time I managed to get to Europe to go to engineering school, and then to the US to go to business school, and I forgot about the past. For me it was just the way I grew up and I moved on with my life. Until in 2000, when there were some terrible floods in Mozambique and Peggy and I talked about it, and she said, you should probably go help them figure out how they could organize the relief that we mobilized in the US and make sure that they reach the people with the goods that we got here.
So I went to Mozambique initially to spend a week. I ended up spending three weeks there helping our local partner, Community Development Foundation, and was very disturbed by what I experienced there. I was surprised to see that things were getting into the country but they were stuck at the airport. Despite all the efforts of the South African Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the US Air Force, they were still not reaching the people. So every morning during my stay we would go to the airport, jump on one of the helicopters and then fly into the remote areas and spend a couple of days there distributing the goods. And I was very disturbed by what I experienced. People were dying despite the availability of resources in the capital city. And I came back to the US and talked to Peggy -- poor Peggy. I said, you know, really I was disturbed by what I saw there and I think we need to do something to change this. She told me, if you have an idea I will support you.
So I started talking to people, and developed a model for a logistic system to make sure that critical supply will get to people wherever they are. And I drafted the first business plan, sent it to Peggy, she checked it out and asked me some tough questions, and I prepared the second draft. And once we were ready, I went to my boss at the telecommunication company and told him that I think it's time for me to move on. He said, sure, I'll support you and provided some seed money, some infrastructure for me to get going. And I went back to Mozambique, I talked to the government and they agreed to gives us a chance to pilot our idea. And the idea was quite simple, a bit naïve at times. It was simply to say that the government is good at developing policy and taking care of people, but there are some actions that we should do so that we can enable the government to do more and better -- reach more people.
So the idea was to have a contract, an outsourcing contract with the government so that they will allow us to supply the clinics with vaccines and other critical medicine. Unfortunately, during the execution phase we discovered that it was much more complicated than that. It wasn't just making sure that the supplies were getting to people -- it involved actually addressing some of the political aspects of the landscape. I don't want to go into the details -- we have a dedicated session in the afternoon about the details of the model -- but what was happening in Mozambique only later did I realize was that the seeds that my parents had planted throughout the years growing up in Cameroon had just germinated, and they came out of the ground because the conditions were right. I saw what we will call social injustice -- people dying for no reason. I remember seeing through their eyes, my time spent in the villages in Cameroon, growing up and going to the farm -- I saw the families. I was very impressed by their pride. They had lost almost everything. Despite that, they were treating us very well. So it was very touching and emotional.
So it's difficult for me to really articulate what was the internal passion and when it started, whatever. But just looking back at how I grew up, I am convinced that what my parents did helped me become what I am now and provides the foundation for the work that I'm doing. Because it's very difficult to do what we do. I'm sure Peggy and Gina know about it, and they've been doing it much longer than I do. It's very difficult, it requires time, and it's frustrating. And at times you have doubts, you feel lonely. So the only thing you can rely on is your foundation -- basic fundamental values that you have in you. And my parents gave me those values. I mean, you have to care about people, you have to work very hard, you have to be honest. And very recently my mother showed another dimension of the value that she has given us -- it's fortitude. We have to have the strength to face very difficult conditions. Our father just had a stroke and he's paralyzed. And my mother went from being a school teacher to being a nurse. Now she's taking care of our father.
So looking at them provides us the values that drive us. And one thing that I think we should give credit to, people like us, it's not just us or our family, it's the network of friends that we have, being able to count on Peggy -- call her and say, I need help -- financially I need help to be connected, I have an idea. Or being able to call Juliet at the Flora Foundation and say, "Hey, Juliet, I just came back from Mozambique. It looks like in addition to the supply side there's a need for maybe a training component in our program. The health workers are determined, they over-work, but they need help. Is there a way for us to do something?" So she flew to Mozambique with me, she spent ten days, we visited clinics, came back and we got a small grant from -- not a small grant -- we got a grant from the Flora Foundation to develop a training program to build a capacity of health workers to face the challenges that they have. So of course it's an internal passion, but I think it's also the external environment -- the fortune that we have through our friends and family around us to support us and to guide us. Thank you.
DULANY: So I just wanted to emphasize a couple of things that were said here before opening the floor. One that Zainab said impressed me as very true and really important, because our own passion and our own experience may be different from the groups that we want to serve. And so the notion of learning from those with whom we interact strikes me as a really important one. And it's a tricky thing, because in many societies people who are in the position to be philanthropists end up becoming isolated, whether for security reasons or other kind of reasons, from the very groups that they want to interact with.
So finding the opportunity to be able to interact not only in a grant-making way, although that obviously has critical importance, but in a learning way. That is to say learning from those with whom we want to work, in my view, is a very important key to being able to help effectively rather than imagining something in our own head and assuming that that would be useful to the people that we want to work with.
A second thing that struck me -- both of you talked about the importance of your parents and the role that your parents played. Not everybody has parents who are role models in that same way. So I just wanted to say that -- and, by the way, I'll just say from my own experience, my mother, who was an amazing person, was also a very complicated person. So for many years I didn't see her as a role model. And yet I realize now that there were some values inside that, in fact, I did absorb. And my son -- one time I was in a very frenetic stage, overworking and all of this and he saw me being very anxious. He was 14, and I said, "Now, Michael, I hope you're not going to emulate this." He said, "It's too late, Mom."
And my only hope is that he will emulate not just the freneticism and anxiety but maybe some of the values will have sunk in. But I just wanted to say that it's a huge privilege when one does have parents with those values that we absorb unconsciously or consciously. But that leads me to the third point, which is even in those cases where that might not be the case, the network of people, being open to learn from those we want to help, but also to other people doing things we admire can be a tremendous source of support and energy.
So with that I wanted to open it to discussion from the floor. We don't have too much time, so what I thought I would do is take three or four comments and/or questions and then refer it back to Blaise and Zainab. Please, Michael. And do we want to...?
MICHAEL VON STUMM: Michael Von Stumm. Zainab, my question is actually, living in the United States and being born in Iraq, don't you feel torn inside yourself somehow?
BOB DUNN: So because there are so many philanthropists in the room, I thought it would be interesting to ask how philanthropists have engaged with each of you in a way that you especially appreciate, and whether, though well-intentioned, you find yourself encountering behavior in philanthropists that makes it more difficult for you to do you work?
MARIANNE GIMON: You guys have both incredible stories and have achieved so much and, you know, are seemingly at the top of your game. And I was wondering sort of what your visions are for the future and sort of some of your challenges that you face and what you're still working on?
SIMON ROOSEVELT: Good morning. Thank you for sharing those stories. I wonder if one or the other or both of you could identify the tipping point as it were that brought you from doing what you were doing in the professional world to making the change to switch over to what you're doing now? Thank you.
DULANY: So that sounds like a good beginning.
JUDJA-SATO: I don't think you -- I'll speak for myself -- I don't think you can really identify the point in time when it happens. You just feel -- I don't think you can identify a point in time when that thing happens. It's just a mix of events, and then suddenly you realize that for what you want to do to happen you have to get actively involved. You can't just talk about things, you have to lead, you have to serve, and therefore inspire more people to join you if you want to create a movement that you have the idea of.
In my case it was probably coming back from Mozambique and realizing that for the past ten years I've been doing business and talking about creating an opportunity for people in remote areas, and etc., etc., but to remain in a business development, creating -- setting up joint ventures, it was not really being on the ground and touching the customer. So that opportunity of starting something where I would be in charge of, I will really see the impact, I will develop faster as a person. It happened when I came back from Mozambique and after talking to the network of people to validate what I wanted to do was actually physical.
SALBI: I guess the tipping point for me was meeting Iesha. And Iesha was a rape survivor in Bosnia and was imprisoned in a rape camp for nine months, and they did not release her until she was eight months pregnant. And that was my first trip to Croatia and that's when I met her, and that was the first meeting the first morning. And she was telling me her story and crying and crying, and crying, but she was also telling me that she actually came to the United States -- a group brought her to the United States to testify in front of the Congress about the rape camps, and then sent her back the next day. And she was saying -- she was just shocked that she had only one set of clothes on and no one asked her if she wants, you know, something -- no one asked her if she wants to go to the doctor 'cause she lost her child after two months just for health complications. No one asked her if she wants to rest. And just that moment, it ties into the good intentions, but sometimes not being sensitive about these small things, I can see how a lot of groups here would just come -- if they wanted me to testify, I would go just to the Hill and I'd go back home.
Iesha was a different case. And how we are sensitive about these small things, you know. The things, in my opinion, that make a difference in life are the small things, not only the big things. And that was the turning point. That was for me the time in which I went and dropped my job and said, this is what I'm going to focus all my life on. And that was the point -- it's about how I have to hear what they have to say. It's constantly a humbling experience for me to go with my college degree and, you know, with my books and all of these things, and then you go and you think that you know it all, and it's constantly humbling how you -- it's reminding over and over, and over again I don't know it, or we don't know it. Half of the solution is there. People know what they want. And half of the solution is with us because we have the privilege of reading a lot and sharing different world experiences, and having the resources. And the solution has to be in the middle of how we can hear them and what they have to say, and how do we share with them what we have to say? And I feel often in the development world it's missing. We go with a sense of entitlement. I studied at such-and-such, a degree in whatever, and I know it. I often feel, for me, I can only speak about myself, it has been a completely humbling process. Constantly humbling and realizing I have to go back.
To pick up some of the other questions, I suppose -- Peggy, I have to comment about what you said about parents, because for the longest time I was very angry at my parents and I feel very emotional about it. Because my father was a pilot, and I felt why doesn't he just get us out? You know, he knows how to fly planes, we came to America a million times as he was getting training for another plane, another plane -- and I did not see them as my role models for the longest time. I was angry at them, I was betrayed by them -- I felt betrayed by them. And in the process of writing the book I realized -- I'm a big Rumi fan, and Rumi's a 13th Century Sufi poet. And my favorite poem is about the three fish in a pond. And forgive me for just telling this really quickly. A smart fish, half smart-half stupid fish, and a stupid fish. And they saw the fisherman coming, and the smart fish said, "I'm going to go -- I'm going to take the journey to the ocean, and I know it's going to be hard but I'm just going to do it and I'm not going to tell these other fish because they will hold me back." So it went and it struggled and all of that, and made it to the ocean.
And the half stupid-half smart fish said, "Alas, my guide has already gone" so when the fisherman came it floated itself and pretended it was dead. And the fisherman picked it up and said, "Ah, the best fish is dead" and they threw it to the shore, but it made its way back to the pond. And the stupid fish kept on flashing 'cause it was so nervous, and it was caught and in the frying pan. He said, "The next life I will be like the smart fish and go to the ocean."
And for the longest time I thought my parents were the half smart-half stupid fish and that I was the smart fish. And it has been a very humbling experience to realize we all have smart fish moments, and we all have half stupid-half smart fish moments, and we all have sometimes stupid fish moments. And it took me the process really of looking inside and writing my book and realizing there are lots of times in which I did not appreciate -- I was angry at my parents for their lack of courage. But that was their courage for that moment. So it's been a good learning process.
How I feel about Iraq is heartbreaking. Iraq is disintegrating in front of all of us, and I feel very strongly about it. This is a very complex question for me. I don't want to be confining myself to only Iraq. I really care about the Congo as much as I care about Iraq, and I love Bosnia as much as I love Iraq. And I feel often, as some Iraq people -- Iraqis, and Arabs, and so many parts of the world ask me, why don't you just do work on Iraq? And why do I only have to do work on Iraq? I care about that other part of the world as much as I care about my own country. So that's one thing to set the framework.
I also feel that my role in -- we have a big office in Iraq, we constantly work in Iraq. My local staff are my biggest inspiration because every time I want to close the office because it's so, so dangerous, they come back and they said, no way. This is our life, this is our struggle. By going and providing development to the people is our resistance to the fighting that is happening.
So part of it for me is to share the voice of what I think we should do about Iraq. I mean, I think part of the issue is when we discuss Iraq we discuss it again only from a troops discussion, only from a frontline discussion. And that is part of the discussion, and that's rightly so from an American perspective, considering how many of our troops are there. But I think from a development perspective and from an Iraqi perspective, and from someone who actually goes there and speaks with the people in the smallest alleys, in the smallest houses -- people are asking for electricity, and jobs, and good schools, and health. And this is how people interpret peace in their lives. Peace means my life is going to get better. It doesn't mean a signing of a peace agreement. For individuals, for citizens. And we're missing something from this debate in here. We keep on talking about it from only a troop's perspective, and not from a development perspective. And there's a lot of questions of how do we do it in terms of security? I have some thoughts on that. Trust Iraqis perhaps to do some of the solutions.
But my role here is to constantly share what I hear from the Iraqi women particularly about what they have to say, and constantly make sure that we have enough resources to do development over there in the midst of the most insecure country I have ever worked in.
JUDJA-SATO: I have two questions. The first one about being on top of the game, and the second one, the role of philanthropist. I think what's fascinating about this game is that you really are never on top of it. You learn everyday. To give you a specific example about us. We were very arrogant and we started in 2000, we have 170 clinics serving 3 million people in Northern Mozambique, so I feel that we knew almost everything that we had to do. We combined public and private activities, etc., and then suddenly my father had a stroke and I went to Cameroon to take care of him, and I discovered something that we actually never talk about in VillageReach, it's urban poverty. And for a long time we've been assuming that by doing everything we're doing in rural areas we will be solving -- saving the world. But the truth is that now people with higher aspirations are moving away from the villages into the urban areas, and ending into the slums, and the poverty level in urban slums is as bad as in the rural areas. Something that our model totally missed.
So it is always something that we learn as we do our work. And everyday we challenge, and if you're able enough to recognize your limit you can only get better. Our hope is that the model that we're developing in Mozambique will be refined and replicated in several countries. We have a grant from the Skoll Foundation to take it to two -- three countries by 2008, and we hope that we'll take it to many more countries after that. But it's critical for efforts that we're involved in to succeed -- to have a new kind of philanthropists. And we've been fortunate to encounter several of them, to use a pompous term, enlightened philanthropists is what we need now. People who are patient, people who understand that paradigm. We just have ideas and we will be making mistakes. We've tried to figure it out, we're doing our best, but it's likely that we will fail sometimes. So we want philanthropists who are not simply providing the funding, but are helping us build our own capacity, are connecting us, and they are pushing us to the limit. That's why a forum like GPC is also very interesting for us. We develop true dialogue by exchanging ideas, by talking about what we're doing, and getting feedback from you -- your areas of interest, but also trying to see how we can connect seemingly non-connected areas.
So a new philanthropist is needed, as far I can tell, for an effort like ours to succeed. We also think -- I also think that philanthropists with more of a business mindset are going to be critical as we set up more and more social enterprise. Bill here at the table has been the leader in his field with his organization, Ashoka. And there are a lot of Ashoka fellows around the world, and there are a lot of entrepreneurs waiting around the world, and we have to find a way to get them involved. And to get them involved is not necessarily through a pure, nonprofit model -- there might be a way for us to fulfill our promise, our purpose, by combining business and nonprofit. And the benefit of that is that it helps create jobs, helps create -- increase the level of living and standard of living in those countries. But it requires a totally different kind of philanthropist.
In our case, we had as a purpose to insure that the clinics never run out of vaccine and critical supplies. So for most donors that's a healthcare program. But to achieve that goal we had to build the infrastructure around it. We need to set up our own transportation company, we had to set up our own energy company. And the energy company is becoming one of the leading parts of our model. We need to have philanthropists who understand that. We just didn't do that because we wanted to become tycoons or something, but because it was critical in fulfilling our promise. So the type of philanthropist that's patient, that's aware, that's willing to take risks, that allows us to color out of the lines and see a bigger picture than what the small, narrow purpose is, is critical for the success of our work.
SALBI: I have a short comment on that, actually. 'Cause I started the opposite -- I started with nothing and then it kept on growing. And there have been many, many people in my life who helped take that simple idea and that simple intention and help me take it to scale. So I love the philanthropists who also bring their business mind to the table. One of the turning points in the organization was when one of our major donors said, I'm going to give you a half a million and I want you to invest it in direct mail, and I want you to hire a COO, and I want you to hire a more senior staff. And that has been a turning point in the organization. It took us -- when he gave us that we were about $2 million -- about $4 million, that was five years ago and now we are an $18 million organization. And I directly attribute a lot of it to how he was able to take us to scale.
So there are lots of times in which we have opportunities. Women for Women has been featured on Oprah, for example, seven times. And every time we get on Oprah we have thousands, and thousands, and thousands of women wanting to sponsor. But that also entails capacity, and oh, my God, do we have enough money just to observe the capacity that will generate more money. And there have always been the philanthropists who we call and we have the privilege of having this relationship. And in that moment I have that opportunity I really need help to open my capacity -- to open the organization's capacity so we can absorb more. And because of a few of these philanthropists we've been able on one Oprah show to raise $5 million. Just by being able to actually -- for someone internal to give us some money, to hire more staff and to get more -- to just open up our capacity.
So there have been lots of -- now we're talking to philanthropists and business people about how do we do advertising? If we are getting all these responses, how do we look into different business models from the advertising to the marketing, to communication, to strategic planning, to the business planning? How do we look into these models? Because I believe nonprofits should be run as for-profit, except our profit is not for us, it's for the people that we're working. But the ethics of the running of the organization should never be relaxed just because we're nonprofit. We should have the same, if not stronger rules to regulate us to make sure -- because that money is for the people.
So we have a lot of the philanthropists who actually have helped us open... I don't have a bad experience as much as good experiences of people seeing an opportunity and helping us capture it. And I only hope more and more of these experiences will come.
JUDJA-SATO: There are bad experiences and you know that. There are donors who are narrow-minded, donors who only want you to fulfill what you put in the grant proposal, and donors who do not understand that when you write the grant proposal -- between the time you wrote the grant proposal, you answer all the question, by the time you're executing, things have changed. So it's very important that donors understand that -- because we're well-intended in what we do, we ethical managers. But the reality of the opportunity changes, evolves, and we should have the flexibility to execute -- and within a timeframe, some constraints. But we need to have some flexibility for the success to be sustainable.
DULANY: So that feels to me to be enough food for thought to take it back to our tables and have the chance to discuss among ourselves whether to say how we've translated our own passion into some kind of an activity or to raise questions about, well, I'm here, but I'm thinking about a next step and I'd like your advice, meaning the rest of the table, as to how I can go there. Thank you.
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