What I learned from Diane von Furstenberg last Friday.

Last week I attended the Women in the World Summit in NYC. Seriously, if you ever get the chance and have the resources, go to this thing. Over three days I heard at least 30 discussions by amazing people about the good, the bad, and the ugly going on in the world and how women are influencing, managing, leading, blowing up, changing the tide, challenging the status quo, wearing white hats, wearing black hats, and imagining better worlds. Mind-blowing. Enough to make an ordinary mortal like me feel like a slug, as my friend, Rev. Ann Lantz would say -- and yet, encouraged and inspired to go do better, more.

To just name a few:
Leymah Gbowee - 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate (she and six friends started a revolution in Liberia - with $10 - that ended a war)
Dr. Fozie Alvi - Canadian physician working in the middle of the Rohingya genocide and bearing witness to the world
Saru Jayaraman - President & Co-Founder of ROC United, an organization that works for the rights of restaurant workers in this country (seriously - we need to work on this)
Patricia Evngelista - a journalist in the Philippines reporting on the brutal drug policies of Duterte at great personal risk
Sunitha Krishnan - anti-trafficking crusader
Sally Yates - Yep, Sally Yates, everybody! So impressed with her grace, fortitude and integrity.
Bushra Aldukhainah - Area manager of CARE, Yemen. 
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) - talking about working from both sides of the aisle to get stuff done.
Margaret Atwood - Author, letting us know that nothing in a Handmaid's Tale hasn't already happened somewhere in the world.
Madeleine Habib - captain of a cargo ship that routinely rescues immigrants in the Mediterranean
And an amazing panel of journalists from Russia, China, Turkey, and Georgia, moderated by Hillary Clinton, talking about totalitarian governments and how they gain power. Breathtaking.
Along with Misty Copeland, Sophie Trudeau, Maye Musk, students activists, and more, each one with a unique story of being the change some part of the world needs.


So many lessons, so much to ponder, such an incredible reminder of the nonprofit sector's importance in solving the world's great crises (everyone was talking about funding and the need for support), and in each presentation, a call for all of us to take more personal responsibility, to find our place in the resistance, the revolutions, and the solutions.

But in all this heavy conversation, Diane von Furstenberg, as part of a panel talking about reinventing the rules of work for women, said something that was entirely uplifting to me and I thought it might be for you, too, nonprofit colleagues.

She said something like this:

I've always kept a diary and it's really pretty boring. But when I look back through those years, months and days, I was always writing, "This is a turning point." "I'm at a turning point." "Seems like this might be a turning point." It would seem, from my diary, that all I'm doing is turning. Around and around. Like I was going in circles. But look where I ended up. I've never had much of a business plan, but I grew a very successful company, sold it, and started another. All that turning must not have been so bad.

I am a person who has definitely had a lot of turning points, and perhaps you have, too. In nonprofit work it almost seems inevitable. But Diane (she's just stunning) reminded me that our turning, our changing, our starting and stopping and starting again, can have beautiful outcomes, both for us and for the causes, communities, and world we serve. We may not be able to take our cargo ship out to save drowning refugees, but our organizations have important work to do and we have to keep finding inspiration, energy, and passion to keep steering our own ships.

Onward. And if onward means turning, so be it.


Joan Brown