by Katharine Daniels
Executive Editor, The WIP
In advance of International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world on March 8, The WIP is reposting this interview from last March with Anne Firth Murray, founder of The Global Fund for Women and transformative figure at the heart of the global women’s movement. –Ed.
Just when it feels like things are completely falling apart, the slightest shift may occur and what at one time appeared to be falling apart is really falling together. After reading Anne Firth Murray, my experience with the world falling together has been two-fold. For me personally, her insights into leading and managing for positive change are profound. For me globally, her understanding of our interconnectedness and the role of the feminine perspective are exactly where I see the solution to the many challenges we face at this time in our history. Anne Firth Murray’s message is what the world needs for both direction and hope.
What we do in our work is important, but the way we do our work is transformative. This is Anne Firth Murray’s mantra. It is a principle she articulates and demonstrates in both her books, Paradigm Found: Leading and Managing for Positive Change and From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice. And, it is a point she made certain to emphasize when I had the special opportunity to interview her in her Menlo Park home earlier this year.
Anne Firth Murray’s mantra guided her in building The Global Fund for Women, which she co-founded in 1987, and in developing courses as a professor at Stanford University. It is a distinctly feminine, profound, and transformative perspective with major implications for creating lasting change around the globe. As I drove home from my interview with Firth Murray, I began thinking how The Global Fund for Women is not just a model for a successful women’s funding organization but a model for society at large. Imagine how different this world will be when business and government share Firth Murray’s leadership and management values and principles. Imagine if social relationships are organized “in such as way that we all gain rather than some losing in order for others to ‘win’.” Or, imagine if “reaching out across differences with mutual respect and compassion [is] a matter of course.”Firth Murray’s vision for The Global Fund was “to strengthen women around the world, to change the way they were being seen and the way they saw themselves, and to do this by getting money into women's hands so that they could carry out their own programs.” She and her colleagues set out to do this in a way that was pluralistic and empowering. They built their organization listening to the women with whom they worked. They empowered grantees by not only putting money into their organizations but also giving them the freedom to decide what they needed to do with that money. “The less direction a funder imposes,” Firth Murray writes in Paradigm Found, “the more free and empowered the grantee is, and the more effective she can be.” It was through understandings such as these that Firth Murray and her colleagues were able to make The Global Fund for Women so effective.
In January I published an interview with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn about their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity Worldwide. Like so many others, I am inspired by the passion they are igniting for the Global Women’s Movement. So many of their followers, both women and men, were unaware of the abuses women around the world face and the opportunity their emancipation provides. In From Outrage to Courage Anne Firth Murray also reviews the dire and devastating abuses women face around the globe. Her analysis, however, of human rights abuses goes beyond the issues and success stories. In our conversation Firth Murray emphasized the need to change the belief system that condones our violent and repressive ways. For Firth Murray the root to fundamental change is to fund processes, not issues - processes like community development, community strengthening, and encouraging shared leadership.After reading Anne Firth Murray’s books I believe it is Firth Murray who truly should be applauded as the transformative figure at the heart of the global women’s movement. Her work articulates and exemplifies why and how emancipating women around the world can create the more peaceful world we so desperately need. Her leadership exemplifies a way of conducting business that in her words, “seems to belong to less harsh, less violent, more graceful, and more loving times, and it needs to be rediscovered.” For Firth Murray, leadership is “not about gaining power for one's own benefit but about being a vehicle to improve the world.” She cites the feminine attributes of shared responsibility, cooperation, inclusiveness, and caring as qualities essential to transformational leadership.
Reflecting on Anne Firth Murray’s work in the context of the Haitian crisis - a country that has not only been destabilized by the earthquake but also must now must be rebuilt from the ground up, we have an opportunity to implement these ideas and solutions. What if the largest providers of aid - not only women’s funding networks – but big donors like the United States gave money to Haiti in the pragmatic and valuable way Firth Murray prescribes? As both her books demonstrate – women “are a vastly untapped resource for positive global transformation.” Can providing Firth Murray’s kind of aid and leadership allow Haiti to become a thriving, sustainable, beautiful, and peaceful country – a model for 21st Century recovery?
Today, Firth Murray will tell you she is committed to “love.” She uses ‘love’ to mean a way of doing things that will transform – like teaching students how love can be a force for social justice. When asked by a colleague what she would do if she could only do one thing, she responded that it would be strengthening community. “People feeling that they are connected. That they are part of a group.” And, she will also tell you, “perfect flawless connection is love.”