Thursday, May 14, 2015

"The Power of Empathy" by Guest Blogger Mimi Borders

As my eyes widened and my jaw dropped I tried to stay calm. Taking a few deep, calming breaths, I walked over with a wide smile and phone in hand. One of my favorite bloggers, body-positive activist Gabi Gregg, was standing right in front of me. We casually talked about societal expectations of beauty and the need for young girls to stake a claim on their own individual beauty ideals. I opened up about my own experience with body image and how my involvement with Girl Scouts enabled me to grow and become more self-confident. I was amazed to meet Gabi, but more astonished to have such an honest conversation with her. This was just one of the many tremendous experiences I had during the 6th annual Women in the World Summit.

Created by Tina Brown Live Media in collaboration with The New York Times, the summit took place at Lincoln Center in New York City over three days. As one of Girl Scouts’ 2014 Young Women of Distinction, I was chosen to both participate as a member of the audience and interview some of the accomplished women who spoke. 

Marquesha Babers, a slam poet from Los Angeles and a member of the Get Lit Players performance troupe, opened the summit by reading her poem “That Girl,” which touches on feelings of inadequacy and the power of self-confidence. Later on during the summit I was able to talk to Marquesha about life and blackness, and to share my poetry with her.

Also that first night, film director Ava DuVeray (Selma), actress Meryl Streep, and Pakistani journalist and documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy shared insights about storytelling and the power of film as a vehicle for promoting political change and consciousness raising regarding social justice issues.

On stage I saw amazing humanitarians who are promoting peace globally through education, governmental negotiation, and technological tools such as social media platforms to transform some of the most war-ravaged parts of our world. Oby Ezekwesili, the founder of the Bring Back Our Girls movement dedicated to rescuing school girls who had been kidnapped by Boko Haram last year in Nigeria, spoke passionately about the ways in which the global community can become organized in response to violence. Her presentation reminded me of the famous Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

In addition to hearing about some of the amazing humanitarian work being done by women around the world, I was also given the opportunity to interview the 2015 Toyota Mothers of Invention honorees. These women included Tina Hovsepian of the nonprofit Cardborigomi, Ting Shih of the global mobile health social enterprise ClickMedix, and Doniece Sandoval of San Francisco nonprofit Lava Mae. They all encouraged young women to not wait for permission to change the world.

Additionally, Doniece Sandoval articulated the importance of empathy and finding peace within oneself before attempting to make a change in the lives of others. She pointed out that the one thing that usually holds women back are the insecurities we hold inside. Once we are able to get past these, we will be able to achieve success.

I was able to talk with other inspiring women at the summit and learn about various initiatives for social change. One of the most interesting women was Tara Roberts, co-founder of GirlTank and a past Toyota Mother of Invention honoree. She and her partner Sejal Hathi created an Internet platform that women around the world can use to connect and network concerning ideas of social enterprise. Roberts’ work is so innovative I was inspired to look more closely into the way technology can enhance my own social impact.

Tavi Gevinson, founder of Rookie, an online magazine for girls, talked about how writing can get us through bad times and the power that words have to change the world. And other notable women spoke, such as Angelina Jolie and Hillary Clinton, whose speeches inspired me to take a stand against injustice in the world and fight sexism by proving through my own life that girls can do anything.

As I left Lincoln Center for the last time after the concluding speeches, one word rang in my head: empathy. Making peace begins with the realization that the pain and violence in another country affects everyone, regardless of where they live. Additionally, the harm that occurs close to home is as detrimental to the idea of justice as the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria. Once empathy is part of the equation, the capacity for change is endless.

National Young Woman of Distinction Mimi Borders is the founder of Girls Run the World: Encouraging Political Activism in Young Women.  As a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis she is majoring in History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  She loves writing poetry and listening to Italian opera, and one day she hopes to find the perfect pair of wedges.