Half the Sky
For nearly a century, March 8th has been recognized around the world as International Women’s Day. I plan to mark the occasion by celebrating the strong, intelligent, caring and joyous women that I am proud to have as family and friends. But I also challenge myself and everyone to go one step further: Use today to take an action in support of equal rights for women and girls.
- Educate Yourself: Read Half the Sky. Check out the Girl Up video to see the mind-bogglingly awful choices faced by millions of women the world over on a daily basis. Learn about the United Nation’s take on how empowering women may be a step towards peace. Anything to get smarter about the realities faced by women and girls around the world.
- Support an Organization that Targets Aid to Women and Girls: Make a donation to a group that helps stop gender violence in the developing world. Volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter. Take on a mentor role for a young girl in your community. The possibilities are endless, but the key is to do something positive today to impact a woman or girl tomorrow.
- Remember Your Inner Girl: Most of us grew up with parents, teachers and coaches telling us we can be anything we want to be. I bet Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow has an adult or two to thank for encouraging her to pursue a career and a life not typically seen as one for a woman. By remembering that girl who thought anything was possible on a daily basis, you won’t need an annual event like International Women’s Day to remind you that millions of women and girls out there need our help to protect and enhance their human rights.
When the lights went on in the theater after Half the Sky Live, I felt the same way I had when I closed my copy of Nick Kristof’s book – overwhelmed. With so many seemingly insurmountable challenges facing women in the developing world – from inadequate maternal care and lack of access to financial services to harrowing traditions like bride abduction – how do I choose which issue to engage in and which organization to support? What makes one issue more important than another?
Kristof’s advice, offered in a panel discussion during the event, was to be inspired by one story. Then, become passionate about that niche issue, identify the organization that has done the most – or most innovative – work in that space, and get involved.
The onus is on nonprofits to clearly communicate their work and the touch points for individuals who want to share it. Following are suggestions for organizations seeking to do just that:
- Encourage individuals to become experts. Many of the issues described in Half the Sky are almost inconceivable for people to wrap their minds around. Nonprofits need to view channels like their Web site, social media presence and collateral materials as opportunities to make their work more accessible. If individuals can understand and embrace your work, they’re more likely to become your advocates. See Adrienne’s suggestions for storytelling.
- Maintain two-way conversation. Nonprofits need to give supporters a sense of their personality and the progress they’re making – using the social media tool at their disposal. A great example is the effort by Reeta Roy, president and CEO of our MasterCard Foundation client, to share her experiences during a visit to Uganda and Kenya. Reeta sent frequent Tweets, and blogged about the people she met and the impact the Foundation has had on them. This made me – and other supporters – more invested than ever in their work.
- Provide creative opportunities for engagement. It’s not enough to invite supporters to donate, join a mailing list or write a letter to their congressman. Nonprofits need to provide opportunities for deeper engagement. For example, a contest in which the biggest fundraiser earns an on-site visit at the organization, or a live chat that introduces supporters to beneficiaries of your programs. You could also feature stories about passionate advocates on your Web site or organize meet-ups where they discuss the issues that matter to them. The sky’s the limit (no pun intended)!
Last night, Jennifer Kushlis and I attended Half the Sky Live, a multi-city simulcast event featuring stories, music, discussion and film to bring to light the struggles women face around the world. Many of us on the Social Impact team picked up a copy of Half the Sky, by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, when it came out, so Jennie and I were eager to hear insights on the subject from some fantastic women, including Dr. Helene Gayle, Rachel Mayanja, actress Maria Bello and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York.
I particularly identified with Kristof’s commentary on how the media can help raise awareness of an issue that affects millions of women around the world.
It’s a daunting task, and as Kristof pointed out, when a woman dies in childbirth every minute, how do the media convey that one of those minutes is more “newsworthy” than the next? Part of our job as communicators is to help organizations frame information that resonates with media – whether it’s reaching a well-known columnist like Kristof, a women’s magazine or a human rights blog. Below are some guidelines that we use with clients trying to earn media attention in this often-cluttered space:
- Focus on stories, not numbers. Dr. Gayle and Kristof agreed that people often get lost in numbers – when talking with media, focus on one compelling story that resonates with your target audience.
- Know your “ask” for readers. What do you want the news story to focus on? Whether it’s driving donations, spreading a viral video or facilitating conversation (on Twitter or in the comments section), keep this top of mind when crafting your story and your talking points.
- What makes you unique? The human rights and women’s issues media space is crowded. Find one fact that sets you apart from your competitors – whether it’s a popular annual event, your inspiring leadership or a vast on-the-ground presence around the world – and make sure the media know this. Capitalize on your assets and tell a story that highlights these differentiators.
Last night was an inspiring evening (thanks to CARE for organizing!) that left me thinking about new ways to help tell the stories of brave women around the world who are working every day to improve the lives of their sisters, daughters and friends.