September 12, 2010
Model and Activist Liya Kebede On Inspiring Women Prior to the WIE Symposium, Forbes
posted by SUSAN GUNELIUS, Forbes
On September 20, 2010, Sarah Brown, Global Patron of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and wife of the former UK Prime Minister, will chair the first ever WIE Symposium (Women: Inspiration & Enterprise) in New York City, with co-hosts designer and Urban Zen Founder Donna Karan and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington.
The theme of the event is “Women Inspiring Women” and brings together prominent women from the fields of politics, philanthropy, media, fashion and the arts to inspire and empower the future generation of women leaders, advocates and entrepreneurs.
In the weeks leading up to the event, I had an opportunity to speak with featured WIE Symposium panelist Liya Kebede (model, actress, fashion designer, and activist whose charity, The Liya Kebede Foundation, works toward ensuring maternal health and saving the lives of women and children around the world) about the women that have inspired her and her thoughts for the next generation of women leaders.
Liya, what is the most inspiring piece of advice anyone has ever given to you?
“The most inspiring piece of advice I’ve gotten is simply to persevere. My mom taught me to always keep going no matter what from an early age. When it feels too difficult to push forward, I always remind myself “this too shall pass” and then I redouble my efforts. People will doubt you and put obstacles in your path. I’m constantly hearing that it is too expensive and too complicated to tackle maternal mortal ity, but I refuse to believe it. Our mothers gave us life and love, surely we can figure out a way to save their lives. I don’t listen to people who say my dreams are impossible, I just work to prove them wrong.”
Who inspires you? Who is your role model?
“I am so inspired and energized by the dedicated people I meet through the Liya Kebede Foundation. My commitment is redoubled every time I meet the people in the field who are working to save lives every day with s uch small resources. On my last trip to Ethiopia, I met a young health worker . She spends her days giving basic health care to mothers and families on the front lines of community health. While we were there, she walked to a mother in a remote village to help her deliver her baby safely. Before she came, there was no health care in the village. It is stories like these that keep me working.”
There is a well-known saying, “if I knew then what I know now…”. What do you wish you knew then that you know now, which you’d like to share with the next generation of women?
“There’s a quote I came across from Ben Sweetland that I just love. He said “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” That is something I hope the next generation of women can learn. Helping others isn’t a chore, it is one of the greatest gifts there is. I want to challenge the next generation of women to find a way to give back that inspires and fulfills them and weave it into their daily lives. If the next generation can learn that early on, we have a real chance to change the world.”
The world has changed in the past decade thanks to the tools of the social Web such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter. The world continues to shrink. People are hyper-connected. How do you use the social web and what recommendations would you give to women as they participate in the global conversation?
“Technology is a powerful ally in the fight to save mothers’ lives—both in health care and in advocacy. The Internet, cell phones and social media are opening the door for advocacy for more and more people.
“Once people know about this unbelievable issue, they almost always want to get involved. And what this issue needs – what our mothers need – is voices to speak for them. For example, this year the Obama Administration asked Congress for $700 million in maternal health funding. In these tough economic times, this life-saving funding won’t last if our leaders don’t know that their constituents care.
“We used technology to spread the word and we worked with the Gates Foundation’s Living Proof Project to tell the story of the lives this funding saves. And thousands of women stepped up and wrote to Congress in support. These new technologies give us unprecedented ways to raise awareness and mobilize a new generation of activists. Your voice is more powerful than you think, use it.”
You are an inspiring woman. What do you believe were the primary steps you took or decisions you made during your life that brought you to the place you are today?
“I think the key was taking a leap of faith and pursuing my dreams. Starting out isn’t easy, you have to be willing to fight for what you want. And, if you are dedicated enough and lucky enough to achieve your dreams, I think you have a duty to give back.
“I was lucky enough to have great medical care when I became a mother but as an Ethiopian woman, I know it could have been a different story. For millions of women, giving birth means gambling with their lives. As a mother, my children are the most precious thing in my life. I can’t imagine the heartbreak of not being there for them. I hope that my work can teach my children, and others, that they have the power to make a difference in the world.”
What’s next for you? What inspires you to keep moving forward and pursuing your goals?
“For the Liya Kebede Foundation, we are committed to continuing our work to save mothers’ lives. This fall, we are opening a maternal health clinic in Hawassa, Ethiopia. It will be the first comprehensive maternal health center in the area and it will mean the difference between life and death for many new mothers in the surrounding area. This health center will be the first of many. That is what keeps me going – the knowledge that we know how to save mothers’ lives; we just need to invest in it.
“Beyond the Liya Kebede Foundation, I’m looking forward to exploring some more acting. Last year, I was privileged enough to be part of a wonderful movie called Desert Flower which tells the story of Waris Dirie, a young woman who went from nomad’s daughter to supermodel and international women’s rights activist. It was a great experience, and I can’t wait for Desert Flower to open in the US in February 2011.”
What is the one message or learning that you want women to walk away from the WIE Symposium understanding?
“If nothing else, I want women to understand that they are powerful. If you look back at history, in almost every big moment, in every leap forward, you find ordinary women at the core. We have more ability to make changes in the world than we can imagine if we have the courage to try.”
Liya joins with TOMS and Glamour
Liya featured on giggle.com!
Liya taking a stand for the horn of Afri
Liya speaks at UNICEF breakfast on Women
Liya's call to action for the Horn of Af
Liya Kebede co-hosts launch of the Women
ABC's Be the Change Save a Life Intervie
Liya Makes Mother's Day Video
Liya Visits Awassa Maternal Health Clini
Liya participates in YouTube's World Vie
Support the Liya Kebede Foundation by Bi
Liya's Travel Diary for One Campaign's L
Liya Kebede Foundation Adds Facebook Fan
Liya Kebede Foundation Partners with Cha
TIME Person of the Year Nominations
Model and Activist Liya Kebede On Inspir
Why Protests Aren't What We Should Remem
"Star of Africa", Guardian UK
4,738 Letters for Mothers' Lives and Cou
Open Letter to G8 Leaders
Melinda Gates on Maternal Health Innovat
Liya Kebede in Time 100 Roundtables
Model Citizen: Liya Kebede Gives Back
Liya Kebede on TIME 100 List
Liya calls on Congress to invest in crit
Liya Kebede Named Young Global Leader by
Triple Threat: Supermodel, Entrepreneur
Obama's Budget Invests in Moms
"Redefining Impossible," Huffington Post
Gates Foundation Living Proof
Leaders Demand Action on MDG 5
Women Demand Action to Save Mothers
High Level UN Event for Maternal Health
It Girl, Vogue
"We Need a Global Fund for Moms," Huffin
Giant Magazine's Most Influential People
Liya Addresses UN Forum
Liya meets with Congressional Leaders on
Liya on Plum TV's Giving
Liya on the Today Show
"When Mothers Die," Giving Beast
Liya Joins Huffington Post
Liya Profiled in SOHO House
Liya Receives Orphan Ranger Award
Liya Featured on Al Jazeera's Riz Khan
Liya Speaks at the National Press Club
Deliver Now! Saving 77 Million by 2015
"Liya Rising," Vanity Fair
Liya Featured on CNN's Revealed
LKF Mother's Day Campaign
Liya Receives the Smart Cookie Award
Meeting of Women Parliamentarians
Liya in Marie Claire
Liya on Good Morning America