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TEDWomen 2017

Musimbi Kanyoro: To solve the world's biggest problems, invest in women and girls

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As CEO of the Global Fund for Women, Musimbi Kanyoro works to support women and their ideas so they can expand and grow. She introduces us to the Maragoli concept of "isirika" -- a pragmatic way of life that embraces the mutual responsibility to care for one another -- something she sees women practicing all over the world. And she calls for those who have more to give more to people working to improve their communities. "Imagine what it would look like if you embraced isirika and made it your default," Kanyoro says. "What could we achieve for each other? For humanity?" Let's find out -- together.

- Women's rights activist
Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro is globally recognized for her leadership of organizations and initiatives that advance health, development, human rights and philanthropy for communities, specifically for women and girls. Full bio

My mother was a philanthropist.
00:13
And now I know you're asking --
00:17
let me give you the answer:
yes, a little bit like Melinda Gates --
00:19
(Laughter)
00:22
but with a lot less money.
00:24
(Laughter)
00:25
She carried out her philanthropy
in our community
00:28
through a practice we call, "isirika."
00:32
She supported the education
of scores of children
00:36
and invited many
to live with us in our home
00:41
in order to access schools.
00:44
She mobilized resources
for building the local health clinic
00:46
and the maternity wing
is named in memory of her.
00:51
But most important,
00:57
she was endeared by the community
for her organizing skills,
00:59
because she organized the community,
01:05
and specifically women,
01:08
to find solutions
01:10
to anything that was needed.
01:12
She did all of this through isirika.
01:15
Let me repeat that word for you again:
01:19
isirika.
01:21
Now it's your turn. Say it with me.
01:22
(Audience) Isirika.
01:24
Musimbi Kanyoro: Thank you.
01:26
That word is in my language, Maragoli,
01:27
spoken in western Kenya,
01:30
and now you speak my language.
01:32
(Laughter)
01:34
So, isirika is a pragmatic way of life
01:35
that embraces charity,
01:41
services
01:44
and philanthropy all together.
01:45
The essence of isirika
01:49
is to make it clear to everybody
01:52
that you're your sister's keeper --
01:56
and yes,
01:58
you're your brother's keeper.
01:59
Mutual responsibility
for caring for one another.
02:03
A literal, simple English translation
would be equal generosity,
02:09
but the deep philosophical meaning
02:14
is caring, together, for one another.
02:17
So how does isirika really happen?
02:22
I grew up in a farming community
02:26
in western Kenya.
02:31
I remember vividly the many times
02:34
that neighbors would go
to a neighbor's home --
02:37
a sick neighbor's home --
02:40
and harvest their crop for them.
02:42
I tagged alongside with my mother
to community events
02:45
and to women's events,
02:50
and had the conversation
about vaccinations in school,
02:52
building the health center
02:57
and really big things --
02:58
renewing seeds for the next
planting season.
03:00
And often, the community
would come together
03:04
to contribute money
to send a neighbor's child to school --
03:07
not only in the country
03:12
but to universities abroad as well.
03:15
And so we have a surgeon.
03:18
The first surgeon in my country
came from that rural village.
03:20
(Applause)
03:24
So ...
03:28
what isirika did was to be inclusive.
03:30
We as children would stand
alongside the adults
03:34
and give our contributions of money,
03:38
and our names were inscripted
in the community book
03:40
just like every adult.
03:44
And then I grew up,
03:47
went to universities
back at home and abroad,
03:49
obtained a few degrees here and there,
03:53
became organized
03:56
and took up international jobs,
03:58
working in development,
04:01
humanitarian work
04:03
and philanthropy.
04:05
And very soon,
04:07
isirika began to become small.
04:10
It dissipated
04:14
and then just disappeared.
04:15
In each place,
04:18
I gained a new vocabulary.
04:19
The vocabulary of donors and recipients.
04:21
The vocabulary of measuring impact,
04:25
return on investment ...
04:30
projects and programs.
04:33
Communities such as my childhood community
04:36
became referred to
as "poor, vulnerable populations."
04:39
Those are the communities
of which literature speaks about
04:45
as living on less than a dollar a day,
04:49
and they become the targets
for poverty eradication programs.
04:53
And by the way,
04:57
they are the targets of our first
04:58
United Nations'
sustainable development goal.
05:01
Now, I'm really interested
05:07
that we find solutions to poverty
05:10
and to the world's other many big problems
05:13
because they do exist.
05:16
I however think
that we could do a better job,
05:18
and we could do a better job
by embracing isirika.
05:22
So let me tell you how.
05:26
First, isirika affirms common humanity.
05:28
For whatever that you do,
05:33
you begin from the premise
that you're human together.
05:35
When you begin that you're human together,
05:40
you see each other differently.
05:42
You don't see a refugee first
05:45
and you don't see a woman first
05:48
and you don't see
a person with disability first.
05:51
You see a human being first.
05:54
That is the essence
of seeing a person first.
05:57
And when you do that,
06:00
you value their ideas,
06:02
you value their contribution --
06:05
small or big.
06:06
And you value what
they bring to the table.
06:09
That is the essence of isirika.
06:12
I just want to imagine
what it would look like
06:17
if everyone in this room --
06:21
a medical doctor, a parent,
06:23
a lawyer, a philanthropist,
06:25
whatever you are --
06:28
if you embraced isirika
06:30
and made it your default.
06:33
What could we achieve for each other?
06:36
What could we achieve for humanity?
06:39
What could we achieve for peace issues?
06:42
What could we achieve for medical science?
06:46
Let me give you a couple of hints,
06:51
because I'm going to ask you
to accompany me
06:53
in this process of rebuilding
and reclaiming isirika with me.
06:57
First, you have to have faith
07:04
that we are one humanity,
07:08
we have one planet
07:10
and we don't have two choices about that.
07:12
So there's not going to be a wall
that is high enough
07:14
to separate humanity.
07:18
So give up the walls.
07:19
Give them up.
07:21
(Applause)
07:23
And we don't have a planet B to go to.
07:24
So that's really important.
07:28
Make that clear;
07:30
move onto the next stage.
07:31
The second stage: remember,
07:33
in isirika, every idea counts.
07:36
Bridges have big posters
07:40
and they have nails.
07:43
Every idea counts --
07:46
small or big counts.
07:48
And third,
07:51
isirika affirms
07:52
that those who have more
really enjoy the privilege of giving more.
07:54
It is a privilege to give more.
07:59
(Applause)
08:02
And this is the time
for women to give more for women.
08:04
It is the time to give more for women.
08:09
Our parents, when they brought in
other children to live with us,
08:13
they didn't ask our permission.
08:18
They made it clear
that they had a responsibility
08:21
because they had gone to school
08:24
and they had an earning.
08:26
And they made it clear
that we should understand
08:29
that their prosperity
was not our entitlement,
08:31
and I think that's good
wisdom from isirika.
08:36
We could use that wisdom today,
I think, in every culture,
08:39
in every place,
08:43
passing to the next generation
what we could do together.
08:45
I have,
08:51
over the years,
08:53
encountered isirika in many places,
08:55
but what gives me really the passion today
08:59
to embrace isirika
09:02
is the work that I do
with women all over the world
09:04
through the Global Fund for Women,
09:07
though women's funds
09:10
and through women's movements globally.
09:11
If you work with women,
09:14
you change every day
09:16
because you experience them living
isirika together in what they do.
09:18
In the work that I do,
09:25
we trust women leaders and their ideas.
09:26
And we support them with funding
so that they can expand,
09:31
they can grow
09:36
and they can thrive
within their own communities.
09:37
A woman in 1990 came
to the Global Fund with a big idea --
09:42
a woman from Mexico
by the name of Lucero González.
09:47
She wanted to begin a fund
that would support a movement
09:51
that would be rooted
in the communities in Mexico.
09:56
And she received a grant
of 7,500 US dollars.
09:59
Today, 25 years later,
10:06
Semillas, the name of the fund,
10:10
has raised and spent,
10:13
within the community,
10:15
17.8 million dollars.
10:17
(Applause)
10:20
They have impacted
over two million people,
10:23
and they work with a group
of 600,000 women in Mexico.
10:30
During the recent earthquake,
10:36
they were so well rooted
10:41
that they could quickly assess
within the community and with others,
10:43
what were the short-term needs
and what were the long-term needs.
10:48
And I tell you,
10:52
long after the lights
have gone off Mexico,
10:54
Semillas will be there
10:57
with the communities, with the women,
11:00
for a very long time.
11:02
And that's what I'm talking about:
11:04
when we are able to support
the ideas of communities
11:07
that are rooted within their own setting.
11:11
Thirty years ago,
11:15
there was very little funding
that went directly to women's hands
11:18
in their communities.
11:23
Today we celebrate 168 women's funds
11:25
all over the world,
11:31
100 of which are in this country.
11:32
And they support --
11:36
(Applause)
11:38
they support grassroots
women's organizations --
11:39
community organizations
under the leadership of girls and women,
11:44
and together we have been able,
11:49
collectively,
11:51
to give a billion dollars
to women and girls-led organizations.
11:53
(Applause)
11:58
But the challenge begins today.
12:03
The challenge begins today
12:07
because we see women everywhere
organizing as isirika,
12:09
including women
organizing as isirika in TED.
12:15
Because isirika is the evergreen wisdom
that lives in communities.
12:20
You find it in indigenous communities,
12:26
in rural communities.
12:29
And what it really ingrains in people
12:31
is that ability to trust
12:36
and to move the agenda ahead.
12:39
So, three things that I have learned
that I want to share with you
12:43
through my work.
12:46
One: if you want to solve
the world's biggest problems,
12:48
invest in women and girls.
12:54
(Applause)
12:57
Not only do they expand the investment,
13:03
but they care for everyone
in the community.
13:06
Not only their needs
but the needs of their children,
13:08
the needs of the rest of the community,
13:12
the needs of the elderly,
13:14
and most important,
13:16
they protect themselves --
13:18
which is really important --
13:21
and they protect their communities.
13:23
Women who know how to protect themselves
13:26
know what it means to make a difference.
13:29
And the second reason that I'm asking
you to invest in women and girls
13:32
is because this is the smartest
thing you could ever do
13:36
at this particular time.
13:40
And if we are going to have
13:42
over 350 trillion dollars
13:45
by 2030,
13:49
those dollars need to be
in the hands of women.
13:51
And so I grew up with isirika.
13:54
My mother was isirika.
13:58
She was not a project or a program.
14:00
And now, I pass that to you.
14:03
That you will be able
to share this with your families,
14:05
with your friends
14:09
and with your community,
14:10
and embrace isirika as a way of living --
14:12
as a pragmatic way of living.
14:16
Thank you.
14:19
(Applause)
14:20
Thank you.
14:22
(Applause)
14:23
Thank you.
14:24
(Applause)
14:26

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About the speaker:

Musimbi Kanyoro - Women's rights activist
Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro is globally recognized for her leadership of organizations and initiatives that advance health, development, human rights and philanthropy for communities, specifically for women and girls.

Why you should listen

Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro is president and CEO of Global Fund for Women, one of the world’s leading publicly-supported foundations for gender equality. During her time at the Global Fund for Women, Kanyoro has seen the organization award nearly $150 million in grantmaking.

Before joining Global Fund for Women, she was Director for Population and Reproductive Health at David and Lucile Packard Foundation, managing a $30 million grantmaking portfolio. She has written and published extensively on matters affecting the lives of women and children. She was a visiting scholar at Harvard; in 2015, Forbes  named her one of 10 women “power brands” working for gender equality.

More profile about the speaker
Musimbi Kanyoro | Speaker | TED.com