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Need some inspiration? Check this out:

Love as the greatest power, Sharon Salzberg, Holistic Life Foundation, community building in Baltimore, meditation in schools  instead of suspension….

“Homework: say I live you to someone you don’t know!”

Imagine doing that in France!!

xxxxx Aliss

Rha Goddess: Social Justice Artist

Rha Goddess Headshot

Rha Goddess is the author of The Calling, 3 Fundamental Shifts to Stay True, Get Paid and Do Good, now available from St Martin’s Press. See her FaceBook live broadcasts on intergenerational trauma and #BLM 

Interview first published on the Antidote 2018, just as relevant today.

“Taking up the slack left by the Trump administration in the areas of sustainability and business ethics, corporate America has the potential to become a major force for change. Our correspondent Aliss Terrell talks with Rha Goddess, social justice advocate, Hip Hop MC and producer, founder and CEO of Move The Crowd. Rha Goddess is empowering a new generation of conscious entrepreneurs.” 

For three decades, Rha Goddess has focused her skills as a performance artist and activist on issues of racial equality, electoral politics, assistance for inmates returning to society, and juvenile mental health programs. In 2008, she received the Freedom Flame Award from the National Museum of Voting Rights, in Selma, Alabama. She was invited to the White House in 2009 to initiate a national dialogue on civic participation. Also in 2009, she was appointed as a US Cultural Envoy to Rwanda. Nominated by Eve Ensler, Rha was a finalist in the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World program.   

Aliss Terrell: How do you define your work at Move The Crowd?
We are an entrepreneurial training company dedicated to helping people stay true, get paid, and do good. We provide coaching programs, live trainings and online courses that help entrepreneurs find their passion, pursue their purpose, and devise financially profitable strategies that enable them to do the work they love and make a difference in the world.
We lead a nine-month coaching and mentoring training called the True Paid Good Academy and another course for creatives. These are robust, multi-faceted programs with holistic engagement, taking people at different stages of the entrepreneurial cycle, from ideation to strategy, for viability, sustainability, and profitability.

Where do the trainings take place?
We are based in New Jersey and do a significant amount of our programming in the New York Metro area.  However, as our movement grows, we also engage with communities in other parts of the country.  The True Paid Good Academy is a virtual academy.  Eighty-five percent of the programming happens online.  Once a year, we hold our True Paid Good Summit in Manhattan, where all of our current members and alumni gather.

Who are Move The Crowd’s entrepreneurs?
They are purpose-driven artists, healers, teachers, leaders and change-makers, people who are deeply passionate about making a difference in the world, and just as adamant about creating sustainable and profitable strategies to do so.  They come from all walks of life and operate in various industries. Their products are primarily information- or service-based. All of them see their work as influencing and shifting culture, and we define culture as attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, lexicon and behavior, around any pressing social issue.

What particular projects are these entrepreneurs developing with Move The Crowd?
The entrepreneurs we serve have a wide array of areas and issues. Whether it’s young girls and STEM, gender parity in the boardroom, healing trauma through yoga, transforming implicit bias and mindfulness with physicians, or authentic story telling with the next generation of world leaders, our entrepreneurs’ ultimate aim is to change the way we treat ourselves and each other and to create a world where more people can thrive and prosper.
Examples of our members and alumni include Gabrielle Bernstein, NY Times bestselling author and Oprah-branded Thought Leader; Reshma Saujani, NY Times bestselling author, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code; Claudia Chan, founder and CEO of S.H.E. Summit; Heather Box, founder and CEO of The Million Person Project, to name just a few.

What social issues are you currently focusing on through Move The Crowd?
We are deeply concerned about the current state of leadership, considering the most vulnerable populations and communities within the USA and beyond.  We are interested in helping to develop more empowered citizens, people who aspire to make their own brand of contribution and are willing to develop the internal and external capacity necessary to make that contribution.  We believe this is where genuine, transformative leadership is headed, back into the hands of everyday people who are passionate about caring for the triple bottom line of: people, planet and profit. To that end, we are also deeply concerned about the state of our economy from the perspective of who gets to thrive and who doesn’t.  Our fundamental aim is to help transform the culture of capitalism from its current state to one that is more just, accessible, and sustainable for us all. This is our mandate, one entrepreneur at a time.

What makes Move The Crowd unique?
We’re an entrepreneurial community of practice. Not only are we putting forth principles and ideals, we’re actually creating an environment where the entrepreneurs we work with receive the knowledge and training to achieve their vision, apply what they are learning in community with others who share the same values, and figure out how to live them every day in the context of what they’re building.

Why is this important right now?
I believe we’re moving away from the Age of Celebrity to the Age of the Citizen. “Who am I, what is it I’m here to do in this world? How am I making that contribution in alignment with who I am and why I’m here?” We’re in a moment where many people are searching for that, specifically.
I think in this Age of the Citizen, we’re being invited to stop looking at who’s going to rescue us, who’s going to save us, or who are the special people of the world who are going to get it all done, and asking what’s my part, what’s my role, what am I here to do?  How do I facilitate the process that enables me to arrive at my most authentic self and my highest contribution?
We believe that success is about alignment with vision, mission, and purpose. We believe success is a whole-self proposition. To be successful you don’t have to sacrifice parts of yourself. The more healthy and whole we are, aligned with our most authentic selves, the more we’re able to deliver the greatest impact on humanity and our planet.

How did your personal journey lead you to develop the activist/artist/entrepreneur concept at the heart of your work?
My first identity was one of activist. At a very young age, I was aware that some of us were more fortunate than others. My parents were really passionate about community, family, education, and giving back. If you had any opportunity or advantage, you had a responsibility to make a way for other people. That was instilled in all of us, my siblings and myself growing up, and was very much what shaped my own reality. Both my parents were involved in the major organizations and institutions of that time, from the NAACP to the Urban League, really moving the Civil Rights agenda. My mother worked for Operation Push, so I met Jesse Jackson when I was 11 years old. Being active, engaged, and civically aware of the challenges and opportunities that faced our communities, our cities, and nation, was always very much right there for me. I was born into the intersection of the Civil Rights movement and the Hip Hop movement.
I came to my art kicking and screaming, not intending to be an artist, which is usually not the case. Usually people want nothing more than to do their art and not have to do the other things! But most of the artists I knew growing up were really struggling or crazy or broke, and I was like, “Hmmmm, I don’t think I want to do that.” And then I went through a come-to-Jesus moment with the universe where I was going to do this or I wasn’t going to do much of anything.

Frustrated and impatient with the Civil Rights movement, you turned to Hip Hop in your teens. But when you lost several people close to you everything changed. I understand that’s when you started writing and performing in earnest?
Yes, that was the place where I surrendered to my art. My activist self came along because it was so much of who I already was.
Then the entrepreneur piece came about 12 years ago, when I had finally surrendered to my purpose but couldn’t pay my rent. As much as I know I’m moving the needle on important social issues and believe I’m building global family, if it isn’t economically sustainable, what’s the point? I’m not going to get very far! So, I had to figure the money out. That’s how I came to combine all three parts of my identity—activist, artist, and entrepreneur and it was also my impetus for starting the company.

As a Hip Hop MC, you worked with artists Zulu Nation, The Last Poets, and Chuck D, creating your own label and releasing your solo album Soulah Vibe. In your TEDxBroadStreet talk you tell how you rebelled against the rampant and very lucrative misogyny the genre developed in the 90’s, inventing the term floetry to describe your unique style of rhythm, poetry, and political engagement to “rock the mike, save the hood, and heal the planet.” Did your name emerge from your Hip Hop career?
It synced with my work as an artist, but it’s not just a Hip Hop moniker, it’s part of my spiritual journey. In 1986, I went through a cleansing, fast, and vision quest with an incredible woman by the name of Queen Afua, who’s a holistic healer, working in the toughest communities around the world for the last 40-plus years. In my visioning, channeling, and meditative work, the name Rha Goddess came to me. I was very afraid of it in the beginning. I was like, “Who am I, I can’t hold this, and what is this supposed to mean?” It was revealed to me that my charge was to be a bearer of the light and truth and to hold the space for the highest form of love that there is. So every time I see my name or speak it, it’s a constant reminder of that commitment I made, to live into my purpose every single day in the work that I do.

What do you think we’ve learned as a nation since Trump was elected? Has this changed the focus of your work?
I felt from the very beginning of his presidency that as a company and as a movement, we were going to be very, very busy. What we’ve learned is that this is our nation. If we have a vision for a more united, equitable, peaceful, sustainable world, then we have to show up for it. We can’t rely on somebody else to deliver on that for us. This is our world, this is our watch, bigger than any figurehead, bigger than any one leader. We all have to show up to the party if we want the party to look any different, to deliver on the vision of a world we want to leave to our children.
There is no savior, there is no great rescuer; it’s us.
The other thing is, Trump has given us an opportunity to really deepen and strengthen our commitment to what we say is important and what we say we value. Because of the extremes, more people are being activated and awakening in new ways. They’re looking for guidance to get closer to their truth, their true selves, however they define that.
We’re learning that leadership isn’t just about who can win the contest, but about who can do the job. What does the job of leadership require in terms of an internal capacity for maturity, compassion, and accountability? When that is not present in leadership, what are the ripple effects on society?

I was in Paris when Obama was elected in 2008, as commentators in the usually cynical French media exclaimed that America had “wiped out 400 years of karma in one night,” while others predicted a backlash, which was unthinkable in the euphoria of the moment. Since then, forces more powerful than we knew have come forth to be dealt with. Do you think the election of Trump is a backlash to the Obama presidency?
I see Trump’s election as the last big hiccup of a dying paradigm. I actually call him The Grand Accelerator because he’s providing a quickening energy for us to move through the disparity between our potential and how we are showing up right now. What it’s laying bare is the fundamental wound of humanity we’re being called to heal. We’re being invited to ask how we really want to live, in love or in fear?

As the driving force at the center of the Move The Crowd community, how do you maintain what you call the “human conversation” among the diverse voices in your network?
The human conversation is the only conversation there is. We stand for love and that’s baked into every facet of how we express ourselves. It isn’t just the neat, wonderful words on Move the Crowd’s website, it’s in every interaction we have with the members of our team, every interaction with the entrepreneurs we serve, and with the people who want to work with us. In my mind, it’s the only way you fully align and embody your commitment to what you say you’re about.
As we’ve come into these times, there have been people who have been part of our movement but who have also been enticed into the negative-speak of our current administration. We’ve had to have internal family conversations about that. In other words, if we’re standing for love, that’s a universal commitment That doesn’t mean, “Oh I’m about love if I agree with you. Or I’m about love if you think the things I think.”

Your Move The Crowd staff of coaches is very diverse in terms of race and gender and based in different parts of the country. After the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, you videoed several of your conversations as a team and posted them on YouTube. The series is called  “Uncensored Team Transformation.” I was blown away by the way you frame your discussion, not in terms of color or sexual orientation, but viewing racism, intolerance, and privilege as social constructs we all contribute to and must therefore assume responsibility for changing. In the context of our current political polarization it’s very brave.  How did this come about?
One of our team members actually lived in Charlottesville, on the street where the driver ran down the protestors. She was deeply affected by what was happening, in her home, in that community, but she had very little capacity and few places where she could talk about it. She was undergoing her own personal awakening around the forces of inequality, what it looked like, what hatred looked like. She had never seen this kind of organized hate and certainly not on her front lawn.
She also had a very deep attachment to the Confederate statues because the dialog around them was an integral part of her upbringing and taught her about the history of this nation. She recognized that she didn’t have a long history of activism as we would have described it and she felt she didn’t have the “right language” to discuss any of these issues or events. So we decided we needed to exchange as a team and kick all these things up. We saw that we were coming from very different places around all of this and we began to have deep internal conversations with our larger community about it. We asked if they would be willing to engage in a transparent process and that was the impetus, to enable us to move from a place of finger pointing to a place of ownership and accountability.
I was at a recent gathering where Brené Brown spoke about her new work in Braving the Wilderness.She shared that one of the hardest issues we’re navigating is the fact that we’ve organized ourselves in very neat little echo chambers of people who think like us and that’s creating deeper entrenchment and polarization. I would agree. It’s easy to dehumanize people who don’t share our opinions and we have to pay super attention to that, right now, as we’re engaging.

How can we heal the divisions in our country? How do you see the way forward?
I think it’s possible and we need to develop new capacities to do it. In other words, we’re all being called, in our citizenship, to a new level of engagement, a new level of being. Our capacity to build bridges and find common ground, even when we disagree, is critical. To be in difficult and challenging dialog, we’ve got to develop deep listening, an ability to love ourselves and care for ourselves in ways that give us more love and compassion for others. Those things are actually deeply connected.
Most people who are not good to other people don’t love themselves. Egoic grandiosity or arrogance is absolutely not love, or self-love. It’s actually quite the opposite.
Our capacity to imagine something different than what we see is also critical. In other words, when we see a world of disruption and chaos, our ability to step above it, to become transcendent and actually say, “Regardless of what my external eyes may be showing me, I know something else is possible, and I’m willing to imagine it. I’m willing to breathe life into it, breathe words into it, breathe actions into it,” as opposed to nurturing our own resignation or allowing our fear and doubt to win the day. We need to connect to one another, to move beyond the silos of isolation.  If we develop these new capacities we can heal the divisions.

Can we find common values with people at the opposite extremes of the spectrum?
Yes, I believe there are shared interests. As we get caught in the rhetoric, we may have arguments about how to get there, about what level of priority it should be or is, but we all want a world where our children can be safe. We all want clean water and healthy food. The work we need to do is about re-humanizing ourselves and the other. It’s about healing the perception that anyone is more or less entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of something better, or more or less entitled to clean water and fresh air, the fundamental things necessary for our humanity.

As a lifelong advocate for social justice, what has been your most memorable moment?
I’ve had so many moments, like every day, but I would say a formative moment for me was when Jesse Jackson ran for president, the first time around, back in 1984. My mother was the District Leader for the Rainbow Coalition in Westchester County just outside New York City and I actually ran the voter registration center, at 17 years old. It was a pivotal moment, the first time a black man was running for president. In addition to overseeing all the registrars, I had to do my own voter registration work and I remember one day, in one of the more dangerous housing projects in our community, coming into an apartment, meeting a 92-year old woman, and registering her to vote. She signed her name with an x and her granddaughter had to sign as the witness, underneath her x, underneath her mark. I remember her saying to me, “I never had a reason to want to vote until now.” I’ll never forget it. This woman, at 92, chose to step into her civic rights and felt that she finally had an impetus and an inspiration to do that. What stayed with me was that any time we talk about wanting to lead people somewhere, wanting to invite people somewhere, it always must carry the promise of something better. It’s our job to meet them wherever they are, in whatever shape they’re in. It’s our job to deliver on the promise of something better. That’s what Move The Crowd endeavors to do.

Who and what are your inspirations right now?
I’m inspired by the people we serve, the leaders and entrepreneurs creating innovative solutions every single day to shift culture.
This moment inspires me because as much as we experience the devastation, we’re seeing how people are rising to find each other’s humanity, going above and beyond the call of duty to be that bridge. It’s very easy to focus on the tragedy, to get caught in the swirl of the fear, but the truth is that in every one of those moments of deep tragedy, there have been people who rushed in to try to hold those communities, to be part of the solution. Because we have the capacity to be both, because we often are both, our instinct is to move from love, to find each other. Every single moment of every single day that I have the opportunity to be present to that, I’m inspired by it.
And I’m inspired by Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes. It’s rare to watch paradigms shift and movements “tip” in real time. She embodied so much in everything she said and didn’t say. I felt my ancestors when she spoke. I saw my Aunt Betty, one of the first black certified NYC Public School Teachers, I saw my mother’s mother Ida Mae Fletcher who, with very little education, raised 7 children on her own after losing her husband in a hunting “accident”. I felt Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hammer, Sojourner Truth and Ella Baker raise a glass as they batted their wings sitting up in heaven. I felt it all. AND I saw the clear path to a future so bright, that it became palpable for anyone with a pulse. These moments are rare and should be honored, cherished and elevated as an integral part of our culture. This is what real leadership looks like, this is what a new day for women looks like, this is what a true moment of long overdue recognition for black women looks like. As I relive this moment over and over in my head and heart, probably for years to come, I believe that not only will little girls around the globe sit taller in class now, I believe that each of us will reach a little higher today to touch our dreams.

How do you see 2018?
2017 was year of extremes. It posed an incredible challenge for us to harness and ride the wave of growth and change. I’ve been calling it the beautiful chaos because it was awe inspiring in terms of the more challenging things and the great things that happened. It was both personal and universal.
We got a new president, a new era of twitter/tabloid-dominated leadership, and a new era of activation as millions of women took the streets all over the world in January. We were rocked by the events of Charlottesville, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and the wrath of Mother Nature. From hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria to the wildfires across Northern California, she let us know that we have to be better stewards to planet earth.
We were deeply inspired by the story of Karen Kline, the anti-bullying school bus monitor who received $700,000 in donations when a cell phone video of her went viral. She’s now become a philanthropist and created her own foundation to stop bullying.
There were incredible moments. I think of Colin Kaepernick and the take-a-knee movement, the tipping point we’re currently experiencing around sexual harassment and the next frontier for gender equality, all the women who have been raising their voices in the #metoo movement, encouraging us to up the ante for our culture, so that women can reclaim their agency in terms of their bodies, minds and spirits. It’s a watershed moment that came about within the span of one year.
I think the energy of 2018 is carrying a much gentler vibe, a year of forward movement, of massive integrity, a year where we trade in the hard edge for a kinder, gentler version of ourselves.
My message for 2018: “Go within, open your heart, and answer the call. ”

More on Rha Goddess:


Move The Crowd



Noticing (updated 11/11/17)

DSC03876 (1)Funny sidewalk face, Place des Vosges, on a recent autumn day…

Blog has been in slomo for several days, busy busy with other writing projects and life…

As promised, thoughts about noticing:

Since the Paris attacks two years ago, I’ve been meditating every day to stay calm and raise my vibes, in various ways. Tibetan compassion mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum:


Also the Oprah/Chopra (W&D) meditation series, which I highly recommend. It’s freeeee (and there are lots of free sample meditations to try out), and you can subscribe if you want to redo, which I do:

Then there’s the On Being site, with (not too shabby!) meditations by Sylvia Boorstein, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn and others:

And last but not least, Krista Tippet’s On Being interview with Ellen Langer, who says we don’t have to meditate to get the same and better results. To be mindful (instead of mindless) all we have to do is NOTICE. Notice 5 new things about our significant other, about our job, about our neighborhood on our daily walks (see above, that’s what photography does for me):

…and question all our assumptions and received ideas… Her outlook reminds me of climate activist David Gershon’s minute-to-minute life question, “What’s possible?”

And Empowerment activist Gail Straub putting on “John Lennon’s glasses”

Noticing noticing noticing…

To be continued… xxxxx Aliss

My Interview with David Gershon @ The Antidote

Social Change 2.0 and Beyond

imagesDavid Gershon, founder of the Cool City Challenge and other ground-breaking endeavors for social change.

Our correspondent, Aliss Terrell, interviews David Gershon, visionary social architect, climate activist, and author of
 Social Change 2.0, and The Low Carbon Diet.

Aliss Terrell:

It seems we are at a turning point in American history. How do we address the challenges we are facing?


In America, our systems are stressed in every area—education, health care, politics, the economy. When a social system is stressed it can either break down or break through to a higher level of performance and social value. In systems theory, this is called second order change.

It’s important to understand the difference between social change 1.0, which is incremental, and social change 2.0, which is more deeply transformative.

Social change 1.0 is business-as-usual thinking, based on four approaches, the primary levers of government at national, state, or local levels. The first is command and control. Its underlying assumption is that the only way you can get people to change is by forcing them. You make them change by passing a law and punishing them if they don’t follow it.

The second approach uses financial incentives. You pay people or you incentivize them with penalties. The expectation here is that the only way to get someone to change is through economic interest.

The third approach is awareness campaigns by NGO’s, government agencies, etc. The assumption here is that there’s a deficit of information and, if we inform people, they’ll change. Of course, there’s a big gap between knowing and doing. So that has lots of limitations.

The last approach is protest, as in the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring. People are saying “this is not acceptable,” but offering no alternatives, other than more 1.0 solutions.

When none of these approaches work, you have two directions left.

One is despair, cynicism, and apathy, states of mind where a lot of people are right now. The other is empowering people to want to change. My book Social Change 2.0 is about the kind of change that transforms the whole social system.

The Empowerment Institute helps people create compelling visions and acquire the tools to implement them. We build capacity for second-order change around the most strategic issues for our evolution as a human species, such as low-carbon living.

Right now we need to change the way we think about change. Trump is forcing people to look more deeply at their beliefs and methods, especially about climate action. If we lose our planet’s viability to support life, there isn’t a lot of latitude for business-as-usual approaches.

What do you see as the growing edge for the resistance movement? How can people go to the next level?

A colleague of mine, Dennis Hayes, helped co-create Earth Day in 1970. There were many different groups engaged, and he came up with the phrase “ecology of action,” an eco-system with lots of niches, each one important for the system to be healthy. We need laws, financial incentives, and awareness campaigns. But the challenge is that these first-order change tools are not sufficient to create change at the scale of transformation we want.

It’s very important to protest, to say no, but we then have to learn how to say yes. You can reinforce change with legislation and financial incentives, but if people don’t want change in the first place and those means are repealed, then you regress.

Let’s say Obama wants us to step up for climate change but businesses, cities, and individuals don’t care about it. A new President comes in with different priorities and we regress. If people are involved because they see the need for change and know what to do, then we have a lot better chance for sustained results. Ultimately, the opportunity is for all of us to define what we want, how we want it, and to focus on a more sophisticated metric for social change than, “We don’t like the bad things this person’s doing.”

There’s a hunger that hasn’t been here before. We’ve been assuming everything would get taken care of by a progressive political leader at the national level. We now see that’s not going to happen, and in fact would never have happened. Even if Hillary were president, people would have stayed complaisant. Now at least we’re awake. It’s a great moment.

What is the Cool City Challenge?

The Cool City Challenge is a non-profit initiative of Empowerment Institute to address climate change by reducing CO2 emissions at the grass roots level. It’s designed to make our cities more sustainable, resilient, and livable. The fundamental idea is that 70% of the planet’s carbon is emitted out of cities and 70% of that is from of our daily lifestyle practices, so that’s where we have to start in order to have global impact.

How did The Cool City Challenge develop and how does it work?

When I first committed to climate activism in the early 90’s, I explored ways to engage people in my quest. How does one get one’s arms around such a huge, globally challenging issue? What I can offer is a thinking process, how to conceive of a social innovation like this, how to design and architect it.

First I defined the end state as motivating individuals to adopt sustainable behaviors. The next question was, “What’s holding someone back?” “What beliefs are stopping them from taking effective action?” We found there were several issues: “I don’t know where to start. I don’t know which actions are the most important. I don’t know how to do them. And if I did them, I don’t know if it would make a difference. So I’m not sure it’s worth bothering.”

So we synthesized the information that was overwhelming people and created the Green Living Program to help them reduce their solid waste, use water, energy, and transportation more efficiently, learn to purchase in a more eco-friendly way, and then learn how to empower others. Through trial and error, we found we had to build a peer support group to generate social motivation for people to follow through. Then we had to develop structured meetings, action recipes, self-directed meeting guides, and a whole series of other things. This then became the first sustainable lifestyle program. More than an awareness campaign, it was an actual behavior change program.

After years of iteration, we found we were able to help people reduce their solid waste by 40%, water use by 32%, energy use by 16%, C02 emissions by 15%, vehicle miles traveled by 8% and people were saving about $400.

Then we asked two more questions: “People have adopted a more sustainable lifestyle, but will they continue over time? “How do we get enough people to do this so it has a far-reaching impact on climate change?”

We did eight research studies that showed new behaviors were not only sustained but improved upon. Then we discovered a way to organize people into teams at the block scale. Most people didn’t know their neighbors, so meeting them filled an unmet need. Social isolation became an opportunity instead of a limitation. We gave them a very simple script, “Hi I’m your neighbor from up the street, I’d like to invite you to a gathering about a program sponsored by our city, to better conserve resources for the sake of our children, get to know each other better, and create a healthier, safer, and more livable block. Can you make it? It’s this Thursday 7:30 to 9pm.”

The benefits drilled down into what we call intrinsic motivations, internal needs rather than external. We didn’t force people, pay people, or shame people. They were doing something because they wanted to. They wanted greater meaning and purpose, a deeper sense of community, and a sense of agency. “I can actually make a difference on the block where I live.” We were able to get a 25% recruitment rate per block.

So fast forward as we iterated on this model around livability issues in inner cities, resiliency issues in New York City post 9/11, water issues and carbon reduction across many cities. But the priority remained climate action.

This has led to our Cool Block program, which we’re piloting in California, integrating all these issues and this methodology into a block-based behavior change program. We’re now doing it in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Palo Alto, in partnership with a wonderful company called Josie Maran Cosmetics. They represent a new social change model in business, what I call corporate social engagement, where companies step up, take on big issues, and put real funding and commitment behind it.

So that’s our process. We’re just completing the pilot phase and we’ll begin scaling the program later this year. So far it’s working well, in fact, the 25% recruitment rate has gone up to 55% because of the multiple benefits this program provides: sustainable living, resiliency, climate action, an explicit focus on social cohesiveness and livability. It doubled thanks to this more expansive curriculum.

The Cool City Challenge was recognized by NASA and a consortium of Silicon Valley thinkers. Tell me about that.

In 2013 NASA and an organization called Sustainable Silicon Valley Partners sponsored a Showcase of Solutions for Planetary Sustainability. Hundreds of scientists, inventors, and companies submitted their proposals for better water management, energy use, and transportation to a panel of experts from academia, research, business and venture communities. The Cool City Challenge won the top prize in the category: “Most outstanding solution addressing human impact on the planet.”

Why focus your climate activism in California?

We looked at California because it’s the most progressive state in the US, it’s very committed to the issue, and as the 6th largest economy in the world, has autonomy to act. It was the best place to anchor our climate work, test it, and ultimately, scale it. The Green Living Program we developed in California, became our Global Action Plan that has now diffused to 22 countries.

Is the Cool City Challenge being implemented in other states besides California?

We’re not in a position to do that. We really just want to hunker down and learn how to get our programs working well before we start taking on the responsibility of other places anywhere else. I’ve had interesting conversations with a group called C40, the largest world cities dealing with climate change. They’re very eager to implement behavior change and very interested in our program, but I’ve told them we’re not ready for that level of diffusion yet. I work in cities where I can be very hands on and tinker until I get the social innovation working right. We’ve chosen three cities diverse enough to provide different kinds of social learnings.

 You’ve outlined these programs in a series of workbooks?

Yes, and the blueprint is laid out in Social Change 2.0 so whatever social issue people are working on, they can use that framework. There’s a study circle guide for community projects, and questions to help people apply the content.

A template for action?

Exactly. The goal of Social Change 2.0 is to literally create a blueprint. It’s a pattern language for creating transformative social change. Lots of people are using it in many different contexts.

How much leverage does California have to resist Trump’s policies and how much can the state impact national politics?

It has huge leverage. Our constitution gives a lot of power to the states and local communities, so there are lots of possibilities. It will involve a negotiation process, but I see California, as the premier early adopter state, leading the way for the country. There’s an incredible amount of talent and financial where-with-all there.

Do you agree with urban planner Audrey Noeltner’s statement that mayors are like CEO’s and have more leverage than other politicians?

Yes, I would agree with her. Even Obama could only get so far. Communities are where you can do social experiments without all the crazy national politics. If you choose early adopter communities with a similar mindset, you don’t have to sell climate change, you present the benefits, how it will improve their quality of life and sense of meaning through the contribution they’re making. That’s what people really want.

Has Trump’s blatant disregard for environmental concerns changed national or international strategies for your work?

Well, it’s made everything I do more relevant. The biggest opportunity of Trump is not really in any one content area where he’s regressive. It’s about accelerating the learning curve for people to get smarter about the process of social change.

The climate work and all the social change work I do, the whole framework is now much more on the agenda. This is where people will need to turn after they frustrate themselves with protest.

There have been wonderful articles in the New York Times, by Tina Rosenberg, who writes the Fixes Column, and other commentators, who say protest is a venting mechanism, but then what? As Einstein said, you can’t solve the problem at the same level it’s created. You can’t hope for better results when you use tools that haven’t worked in the past. So I feel very privileged, very excited that our work over the last 35 years now has such relevance.

Do you think our democracy is in a state of emergency? Is there a real threat of a totalitarian take over?

 It comes down to whether you see the glass half full or half empty. I see possibility where others see only problems. I believe in human beings’ ability to learn and grow, which is the core of our Empowerment work. I believe we’re coded for self-improvement because we want a better life and we‘re smart enough to evaluate what will allow that to happen. We’re relatively slow as a species, but eventually we come along. If you look at the last hundred years, you see we’ve evolved. So I don’t think we’re going to regress in that way. I think people are projecting their fear mentality onto the situation. What I find is that democracy is actually being strengthened in a way I’ve never seen before. The fourth estate, the media, is now more energized than they’ve ever been. The New York Times readership, cable news, Internet viewership are all up. The judiciary branch is more empowered than it ever has been. Cities and states feel more empowered. Other countries that became dependent on the US are now asking more profound questions about themselves.

There was an interesting article in the New York Times by Maureen Dowd, who said Trump actually has made America great again, just not the way he anticipated. And I agree! So, I’m not worried; the fear is getting people out of bed in the morning. It’s good people are awake and taking responsibility for our democracy. Eventually they will ask the next set of “how to” questions and when they do it will catalyze an evolutionary moment for transformative social change.

Any other thoughts about dealing with the “Alt Right”?

At the level of activism, the antidote isn’t just reacting to problems; it’s being clear about our choices, thoughts, and beliefs. If we respond in kind, with fear of “us and them,” then we’re just playing into that same polarization. The opportunity here is to think in a more inclusive way about our country and the world. I call it building a unitive field, a place where we see only “the us”.

Trump is a polarizing individual. So what’s the antithesis of that? We have to be disciplined every day. Where we place our mental attention is what we create. This is a key principle in Empowerment. If we believe in “us and them” and work from a place of fear, we’ll feel morally righteous while reinforcing what we don’t want. I don’t go to the fear place, generally.

In your webinar you mention your work with the Rhode Island Fishery partners and how synergy benefited the local economy and the entire Atlantic Ocean. How can we create synergy in the US and a compelling vision that will carry us forward?

That’s another growing edge–the next place growth needs to happen. On my website, there’s a section under Societal Empowerment, called “A Dream For Our World” about the First Earth Run we organized, passing a flame around the globe as part of the UN Year of Peace in 1986. We had 45 heads of state and 25 million people participating in 62 countries. 20% of the world’s population watched it through the media. It was a huge initiation into a unitive worldview on the planet. In that section, you’ll see “Seven Actions to Change the World” based on our learnings about building unitive culture: how to befriend the other, how to create experiences in a spirit of cooperation, how to be what we call a dream keeper, to believe we can be successful as a human species and make our earth a viable place over the long run. It’s a free tool and designed to be shared virally. I encourage people to put these actions in practice and share them with others.

There’s whole chapter in Social Change 2.0 on synergy as an accelerator of social change. To create a real solution you need the whole system, you need everyone to be involved, which is why Trump’s polarizing worldview will not succeed.

Obama was way ahead of his time. He was a unitive political leader unlike any I’ve ever seen before. Even though the world wasn’t ready for it, he kept using all of his skills and natural instincts to bring all of us into a unitive place, as best he could, within a divisive political system with built-in constraints. That’s why he came out of office with such high approval ratings.

In the Cool City Challenge we have to get government, business, and all different parts of the civic sector in place. It’s an eco-system. Synergy isn’t just a nice thing to have; it’s essential.

One tool the Empowerment Institute uses for behavioral change is visualizing present history from the future. Can we re-imagine our current political situation from a future perspective to pull ourselves toward positive outcomes?

We have to envision what we want or we won’t create it. We need to project what we want coherently into the future then backcast to see how to get there. It’s a very powerful tool I used in the fishery intervention that you described and many other projects, including the climate change work we’re doing. Projecting a new possibility for the future opens our imagination.

Another core principle of ours is shifting from pathology to vision. When we focus on pathology, our ability to generate a solution is defined by the problem. We’ll always be trapped in the history and the limited thinking of a problem-solving mentality. When we focus on what we want, our vision, then our solution is unlimited. Our vision of possibility propels us into the future.

Outside my office I have a poster: “And the angel shrugged and she said, ‘If you fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination.’ And she gently placed in the palm of my hand, the world.” (Author: Brian Andreas, editor’s note)

I feel this is humanity’s opportunity. We need to open our social creativity. This is where everything I’ve said comes from. My question has always been, “What’s possible and how can we create it?” It’s profoundly empowering and effective to place your focus on envisioning new possibilities. The problems don’t go away per se, but it activates your ability to generate solutions. It’s also much more fun because you’re always energized.

What opened your imagination and galvanized you to become an activist?

For most of my life, I’ve had this desire to make the world better and to ask the “what’s possible” question for societal change, my body, my relationships, and my work in companies. When you ask that question, you get surprising answers.

Recently I was invited to speak at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative. These are business, government, and academic leaders who’ve been very successful by following the rules and who are now looking at their lives and wanting to give back. I started off by saying, “My biography is very different from the ones you might be seeing here because I’ve asked very different questions and gotten very different answers. What I offer you is to do the same. This is my number one question, ask it and see where it takes you. ‘What’s possible? And how can I make that happen?’” That has taken me here, truly. At each step of the journey, like during the Cold War: “What’s possible so these two countries don’t blow each other up?” Then “What’s possible for climate change, for personal evolution, for our empowerment work?” So that might give people a starting point. Imagination is fertile. Not everyone’s a social architect but everyone has an imagination and now we also have the tools to apply when we begin to dream.

What new insights have emerged from your collaborations and conversations since the election?

I’ll give you two thoughts on that from a social change point of view; one’s a story and one’s an understanding of the physics of change applied to social issues.

When we were organizing the First Earth Run, passing the torch around the world, we had Hopi elder Grandmother Carolyn come to the UN and offer the Hopi Prophesy. We had Iroquois Chief Shenandoa light the fire. It was an incredibly symbolic, powerful moment. One of the things Grandmother Carolyn said has always stuck in my mind. It was about noticing what’s not being seen. We only see the tip of the iceberg. Underneath is where it’s really happening, where all of it is.

So in this Trump moment, we see a prominent person operating from a fear state, pulling in people who also operate out of a fear state, and then getting a reaction, often of fear. People feel threatened by his narrow vision of “us and them.” But underneath that, the mechanisms of American democracy are being strengthened. The sense of agency is being strengthened. What appears on the surface isn’t the deeper reality.

And of course, everyone fears he’s going to take us into a nuclear war, but I don’t buy that one. I think our species is intelligent enough to prevent him from derailing our ability to stay on the planet. That’s one insight.

Then I’ll offer the science of change from a physics point of view. Contraction forces expansion and vice versa, as in Trump following Obama. We’re now in a period of contraction, and there’s a tremendous desire for expansion. People are not just reacting; they’re innovating and investing all kinds of resources in creating new societal possibilities.

The next four years will be a social laboratory. What we’ll see on the tip of the iceberg every day is the chaos and everyone’s reaction to it. Underneath, there will be a tremendous amount of positive, constructive social innovation, organized and designed, tested, like the work we’re doing, among others.

I see it as a fertile time to figure out as a species how to deal with systemic, deeply entrenched social issues. It’s an interesting paradox. What seems so bad is causing amazing innovation. Evolution is a mystery and we’re a part of it.

What are your news sources?

The New York Times and the Huffington Post, but I read books more than news. I choose authors with visions and strategies for the future that help me connect dots. I love Thomas Freidman’s vision because he’s not just reacting to problems. His new book, Thank You For Being Late, An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, has a lot of clear analysis. I’m very interested in periods of human evolution where we achieved major breakthroughs like the American Revolution. I’m inspired by Thomas Jefferson and his deep belief in human potential. I’ve been influenced by Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation and Jarrett Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel about how concepts spread more quickly when there’s an actual blueprint people can copy.

I’m a pattern thinker so I see patterns in everything. I look to the natural world as a fantastic teacher for social system design. I’m learning right now how bees use collective intelligence to achieve amazing results. I love what’s going on in technology because there’s so much innovation. One of my aspirations is to help upgrade the social change literacy in the technology world so their investments have greater positive impact.

 Is it time for a Second Earth Run?

The “Dream For Our World” section on the website is somewhat of a Second Earth Run, using the power of the Internet to diffuse the same principles without having to run around the globe and physically enact it. I didn’t have the language for it at the time, but the First Earth Run’s ultimate aspiration was to build a planetary unitive field, where we connect as a human species with the Earth we live on. So that is a start. There’s a video of the First Earth Run so you can have a vicarious experience of being there. All the essential elements we learned from that event are listed among the Seven Actions. If people apply them in their communities, they’re already effectively doing a Second Earth Run.

A Virtual Second Earth Run!

Yes, absolutely!

When the Trump administration is replaced in due course, would you accept a future cabinet position?

I enjoyed seeing that question in your list, but it’s probably not where I would add value! That model has constraints. I always say Obama was a 2.0 president in a 1.0 political system. Where I add value is in optimizing the whole social change eco-system, including the 1.0 and the 2.0, all the players who aspire to create change, from businesses, NGO’s, local, state or federal governments, and your basic every day neighborhood organizers, my heroes, the people actually doing it day to day, right in their own back yard.

Everything I’ve said about everyone else applies to me: there’s a vacuum, there’s tremendous potential, people are open, asking more profound questions, receptive to upgrading their ideas about change. But we have to also believe in the future or we’re actually creating a dystopian scenario. The movie Tomorrowland is a perfect case study. So I’m working with my partner, Josie Maran, on a strategy we call Reinventing the Planet, to utilize this high-leverage moment for second order change on a global scale to help people believe in and create the future they want. Just a small idea! Over the past year and a half, we’ve designed a four-part plan.

The first part is reinventing climate action to keep the planet viable for human evolution. The Cool City Challenge empowers individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. Starting in California, we can scale it across a city, then across cities around the world, to significantly impact climate change. It’s a whole system approach, with behavior change that creates demand for new technologies, new legislation, and new markets. That’s the first pillar.

The second asks “Is there an accelerator of human evolution to make us smarter faster, more skillful and conscious?” Our answer is the IMAGINE initiative. With 80% of the world in development mode, the leverage point is women’s empowerment. The key is what the World Bank and UN identify as “agency,” the ability to believe in yourself, envision and create what you want: ”I am and I can.” Our program is now implemented by 24 NGOs in 12 countries, improving the lives of millions of women, their families, and communities.

The third space we’re working in is reinventing social change itself with the international social transformation community at our Empowerment Institute, using the the Social Change 2.0 book and study circles. I’m also planning a MOOC for this kind of training at a global scale.

The fourth is reinventing business as a force for social good. We’re empowering corporations to increase their social impact and brand value by investing in second order social innovations. We call this Corporate Social Engagement. We’re creating a billion dollar Reinventing the Planet investment fund for projects we will help incubate in our Think and Do Tank: Reinventing America’s Inner Cities, Reinventing the Middle East, and other little ideas like that. The aim is for business to become a social change player on the planet at this critical time. So as you can see, I already have a lot on my plate!

You’ve invented your own cabinet post: Secretary of Sustainability for the World.

I will make a small tweak. How about we call it Secretary for Reinvention. That’s basically my self-anointed job title. Since “A Blueprint for Reinventing the World” is the tagline of my book, I’m stuck with having to figure out how to do it.

You have a favorite quote from St Exupéry. Since I’m speaking to you from France, shall we close with that?

Yes, it goes something like this, “When you want to build a ship, instead of gathering wood and assigning tasks, awaken in people’s hearts a desire for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Links and Resources:


Empowerment Institute

Social Change 2.0

Webinar on Transformative Social Change

Cool City Challenge & The Cool Block


 Seven Actions


Urban Freedom Fighter, Audrey Noeltner

My latest interview for The Antidote


Audrey Noeltner, Franco-American social entrepreneur with degrees in Urban Planning from Concordia University, Montreal, and Sciences Po, Paris, co-created One, Two, Three…Rap! to make English accessible for underprivileged youth through Hip Hop, organized forums for grass roots activists in Paris suburbs to exchange best practices with NYC community organizers, and co-founded the NGO Womenability in 2016 to promote gender equality in world cities.

 As an activist, urban planning guru, and a dual US-French citizen of the “Millennial” generation, what’s your perspective on the election of Donald Trump?

 The election was traumatic, devastating, but it was also a great wake up call. It’s America! We can’t give up without a fight! I think this is the last time WASP males will control the government because more women and minorities will demand their rights.

What differences and parallels do you see between your two countries?

Our generation, the Millennial generation, is finding out democracy comes not only with rights but with duties. It requires engagement. For most of human history, we’ve had autocracy, monarchies, or oligarchies. Democracy’s very young and to make it work, we have to invest time and energy. Obama’s election motivated young people, gave them faith in the system, made politics sexy. Unfortunately, Hillary wasn’t able to do that.

What makes me optimistic about the coming French elections is that people here love politics, much more than Americans. Everyone’s talking politics at family dinners and parties. We still have to be extremely cautious. What happened with Trump can happen with Le Pen.

In the US everyone was sure Hillary would win, but they didn’t realize voters in the central states were angry, surviving on the minimum wage or unemployed, denied the American Dream they were promised.

In France we have a similar situation. Unemployment among young people is 24.7%, compared to 11.5% in the US. French young people are angry that so many jobs have been outsourced because of globalization. In the north, most of the factories have closed; people have been out of work for years. Last week I spoke to the mayor of a village near the Belgian border. He said 60% of the electorate voted for Le Pen 5 years ago and he’s afraid the number will be even higher this time. Here in Paris most people are liberals, more like American Democrats, but we can’t just focus on our own social circle.

The problem for our generation, the Millennials, is that we don’t really know how to fight. In France, we’ve never had to fight for anything–abortion rights, health care or free education. Most of us have had access to all that since we were born, but now we see how the system is excluding others. What happened with Trump might scare people enough to create a movement that reinvents democracy to include everyone: Democracy 2.0.

How will a Trump presidency impact women and minorities?

 We’re going to regress on women’s rights and abortion. Without qualified women in top leadership positions, young women won’t have role models like Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama. And as Meryl Streep said, bullying and negativity don’t create peace. Whether you like Obama or not, his image promoted peace. Trump is promoting hatred of women and minorities.

In this context your work is vitally important. How did Womenability come to be?

In 2015 I was working out in the suburbs at an urban development firm that organized participative town hall meetings. In that area, there were no women in cafés, I had to be careful about what I wore, very few women were taking part in our meetings about how to design the cities of the future. One morning I was biking to work on my pink bicycle and a man assaulted me verbally, using the language of violent rape culture. I was so shocked I told my colleagues, Charlene Ourraki and Julien Fernandez. We agreed it’s not normal that women still don’t have the same freedoms as men. Women get harassed on their way to work, men don’t. If a woman sits on a bench to eat lunch, guys hit on her, as if sitting on a bench is an invitation. Men don’t have to worry about it. It’s not right. I’m an urban planner, I work for cities and I want equal rights there.

So Charlene, Julien, and I went to several NGO’s in Paris, we approached the city government and the ministries. They all said, “We know there’s a problem but we don’t have solutions.” So the three of us founded Womenability to travel the world, see if this was a problem everywhere, look for inspiration and solutions. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see.”

How did you develop the methodology?

Womenability methodology is based on a Canadian tool called Exploratory Walks. In the 1990’s, there was a lot of crime targeting women in downtown Montreal. The city and local NGO’s were studying ways to make the area safer. They took two-hour walks with different groups, young, old, disabled, and filled out a questionnaire. I worked for the project when I was studying in Montreal. The questionnaire focused on security: Could you hear if someone was chasing you? Would someone hear if you called for help? Would someone see if you got raped? Would you see your aggressor?

For Womenability, the NGO Genre et Ville helped us change the questionnaire to focus more on what makes a place more welcoming for women, what makes women want to be there. We were inspired by the work of Jane Jacobs, in my opinion the most influential urban visionary of our time. To create safe communities, she said we need “more eyes on the street,” more people have to be there. To go a step further, if women feel welcome, they’ll be visible day and night and the better the city will be for everyone.

Our strategy worked on three levels: first, identify world cities with female mayors to raise awareness about gender issues and inspire more young women to go into local politics. Second, collect data on exploratory walks, to see if women feel more welcome in some places, if they are harassed more in others. Third, find solutions by interviewing change makers who innovate for better cities.

How did you finance the Womenability World Tour?

 We were funded by a Swiss foundation, called Pro Victimis, 30,000€, crowd sourcing 7,000€, City of Paris, 3,000€, Ministry of Women, 5000€, in partnership with UN Women France. To continue, we’re looking into consulting for cities. Finding funding takes 30% of your time when you run an NGO.

Where is Womenability on the gender spectrum?

 When we designed the questionnaire, we wanted to include everyone. We asked an LGBTQ NGO for assistance to make sure we included the whole spectrum of identity and sexual orientation represented today. We wanted to challenge gender stereotypes. For example, one question was about street cleaners, police officers, bus drivers, postal workers… are they men or women? Is it 50-50? Reactions were revealing: “Oh my God, only men are doing construction work, only men driving buses, most police officers are men.” Not everywhere of course. For example, in Montreal, you do see women in these jobs.

How do women experience the city differently?

 There are two main areas—accessibility and attractability. Cities are much less accessible and comfortable for women than for men.

Some examples, without getting into stereotypes: Here in France the percentage of women and men taking their kids to school and daycare is really different. It’s still at least 70% women. To drop off your kids in the morning, you need a stroller and few sidewalks, stairs or escalators are adapted for strollers, so it becomes a nightmare. In other countries, Sweden or Bulgaria, there are rails on all the stairs everywhere, so transportation is easy. In addition, women are left out of public meetings and politics. As for sports in France, depending on the area, 70, 80 and even 90% of public recreation facilities, skate parks, soccer fields, basketball courts, are mostly used by guys.

To evaluate attractability, we based our questionnaire on the five senses.

In terms of sight, when you walk down the street, what do you see–groups of men standing around, sexist advertising, women with big breasts selling underwear, sexist graffiti with penises.

In Paris 74% of the streets are named after men. The vast majority of monuments are to men. There are only two metro stops named after women. All the statistics are on our website: it’s a male-oriented décor and this really has to change.

Next, 77% of us don’t like the way cities smell. What do we smell? Often it’s urine, which doesn’t just stink, it reminds us that a few hours earlier, men were urinating, exposing their genitals, marking their territory. Women interiorize this and it makes them feel unwelcome.

Women think twice about taking kids outside with strollers or bikes because it exposes them to pollution, especially in Chinese cities, and in Paris, there’s a lot of asthma when air pollution peaks.

Next, hearing: cities are very stressful due to traffic engines and honking, but even worse, street harassment. Here are some figures:

 According to our data, an average of 58% of women report being catcalled more than once a month. That’s huge: more than half the female population being verbally harassed at least once a month. For 30%, it’s once a week. It’s a real issue. In Montevideo, Uruguay 72% of women are harassed more than once a week. In Zurich 40% are harassed monthly.

In terms of taste, the reactions were more positive because cities offer a variety of foods. 75% of women like the tastes of the city, but hesitate to eat outdoors because of pollution, noise, and harassment.

For the sense of touch, 57% of women don’t like cities because they’re dirty. They don’t want to sit on benches or hold handrails in the subway. So cleanliness is a problem. In this category you can also count physical harassment. 25% of women are physically harassed at least once a month. That’s huge. It varies from place to place: in Khayelitsha Township, South Africa, it’s 69% once a week, in Mumbai, 15% once a month, and in Malmö, it’s 16%, monthly.

Which groups are particularly vulnerable and why? 

The LGBTQ community is by far the most vulnerable to street harassment. When we asked, “Can you express your sexual orientation in public?” 52 % said no, so that’s something we really have to work on. Cities can play a big part in public education campaigns.

Next come women living in poor areas of metropolitan suburbs traveling long distances to work, so more subject to assault. In enclaves of extreme poverty, such as Khayelitsha Township, women have to use outdoor toilets, near bars, where there’s no lighting and a high rape and murder rate. These women don’t have access to the most basic need, sanitation, because they’re afraid for their lives if they go to the bathroom.

Minority women are targets. In France veiled women were harassed after 9-11 and the recent terrorist attacks. In some places there are very rigid patriarchal communities where it’s harder for women to go to cafés because of their culture. Of course, we have to avoid generalizations that discriminate against these minorities. When women were attacked on New Year’s Eve last year in Cologne, Germany, both the Media and the Extreme Right in France used the word “refugees” when it was actually North African migrant workers who had been there more than 5 years. It’s a sensitive issue.

What makes for a gender equitable city?

That’s a great question. It’s important to discuss what’s wrong, but it’s even better to consider solutions. There are three things we can do. First, raise awareness, recognize the problems, collect data about how public facilities are shared between genders. Second, educate municipal employees and teachers about stereotyping, train city planners to create gender equitable cities. Third–gender mainstreaming. We’re collecting best practices around the world, such as changing the way facilities are designed, opening specific time slots for women to practice sports, and providing lighting where needed. Action is possible at all levels, citizens, NGO’s, public authorities, local governments. Of course, to act you need political will and money.

How many countries did Womenability visit?

We traveled for seven months, to 20 cities in 16 countries (France, Sweden, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Switzerland, USA, Argentina, Uruguay, New Zealand, Japan, China, India, Botswana, South Africa)

Were you in contact with female mayors in the US?

Yes, the most inspiring was Annise Parker, mayor of Houston. She invited us to breakfast, walked to meet us, and walked us to her home. Among other things, Parker spearheaded a campaign to eradicate human trafficking through Houston’s waterfront. It was very refreshing to meet a gay mayor, who adopted four African American children in conservative Texas. She’s living proof you can be anyone you want, whatever your race and sexual orientation. Her love for the city and her dedication to women’s rights were memorable.

What impressed you most on your world tour?

The worse conditions are for women, the harder feminists battle on the ground. That blew me away. For example in Argentina, abortion is illegal, femicide is prevalent and still considered a crime of passion, so men don’t go to jail for killing their wives because it’s “passion”! There’s so much outrage, many women and men are completely engaged and determined to change things. We were fortunate to participate in a walk for Ni Una Mas (Not One More), thousands of women and men in the streets, marching together, Ni Una Mas graffiti everywhere. Old and young, so strong in their feminism, gave me hope.

In India, the situation is horrible for women in public spaces. In Delhi and Mumbai, women can’t go out after 6pm. They have to be with men. There’s a movement called Why Loiter, a group of women who go out on Saturdays between midnight and 2am, without men. They’re just as deeply committed and brave as African Americans who sat at segregated lunch counters and Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus during the Civil Rights movement. When we walked with them, all the men, rickshaw drivers, and even police were threatening them: “You’re asking for trouble, go home!” The women answered, “No, we want to show it’s possible, so men accept women being outside!” Being a feminist there is completely different from being a feminist in Paris. Here people may joke about it, but there, you’re betraying your family’s values. Young women there take risks to change things. People say you’ll never find a husband, or a job. Yet 40 people participated in our walk; it was our biggest one.

When we did the walk in South Africa, men and women chanted, “No more murders, no more rapes!” In the face of tragedy, they were joyful and empowered. Their movement gave me hope, too.

In China, you can go to prison for being a feminist. We spoke with activists there whose lesbian friends kissed at their graduation and had to go into hiding for months because the police were after them. Public toilets there are reserved for men and when women demonstrated, they were arrested. Feminism is dangerous in China. It’s quite a reality check.

We also observed good practices, like positive discrimination. In Malmo, Sweden, we visited a huge indoor skate park, owned by a woman who started “girls only” Monday nights to help girls can catch up with guys on their skills and confidence. There were girls everywhere, fathers teaching little daughters. For soccer, the city ruled that to use public playing fields, every team had to have at least one girl. Certain time slots were reserved for female teams. By comparison, you mostly see guys at skate parks in Paris and New York.

In Wellington, NZ, instead of little green men on the pedestrian crossing signals, they put a woman’s silhouette, and not just any woman. It’s Kate Sheppard, the country’s most influential suffragette. Thanks to her, New Zealand was one of the first countries to legalize women’s suffrage. So now you see the silhouette of a beautiful woman with a big hat at pedestrian crossings there. It’s a small thing but it says a lot. Walking around the Wellington city center is empowering. Next they plan to install a signal representing a famous Cuban transsexual, whose trademark is also a big hat. Cities can do a lot for tolerance on the gender spectrum.

A cool example of ways to discourage public urination: In India, they put tiled images of Hindu gods in problem corners and men stopped peeing there so they wouldn’t get bad karma for committing sacrilege.

Another fun one: In the squares and neighborhoods of Kaifeng, China, every night at 7pm, hundreds of women gather around boom boxes to practice their line dancing with choreographers. Imagine that Place de la République or in Times Square. It’s great seeing women who appropriate public spaces and take ownership of their rights with music and dancing. The city government encourages it with an annual contest to select the best choreography. Women are visible and there seems to be zero street harassment.

I could also mention the breastfeeding booths in New York airports and free Jujitsu classes for women in Japan…

Do you think the US election has awakened dormant feminism and gender awareness?

 The Women’s March got more press coverage than the inauguration. It sent a very positive message to the media and people all over the world. “We fucked up but we’re not going to let women and minorities down.” Seeing millions of women and men, old and young, marching energized me. We’re stronger than ever, united against sexism, misogyny, and racism. Now we all have to return to our communities and organize.

Before, a lot of people in France, particularly young people, saw feminism as something negative, superfluous, “We’re all equal today, it’s only for women who hate men.” The election revealed the truth. America is still sexist and racist. So is France. Male politicians don’t always respect women. To stop Trump, local movements and NGO’s have to work together. To quote my friend Milan Taylor from the Rockaway Youth Task Force in New York, “We have to organize, organize, organize.”

How can we best act for gender equality?

We have to keep speaking out and be proud of being feminists. Raise our voices when we see discrimination. Parents have a huge responsibility to eliminate stereotypes on the whole gender spectrum. If you work in marketing and you see a sexist ad, if you’re in education and you see something sexist in a book, it’s really important to say so.

This was a theme at the 2016 World Women’s Forum where I co-led a panel. Norma Bastidas, World Champion Triathlete and survivor of human trafficking said, “It’s easy, don’t buy sex and don’t buy cheap stuff.” Who makes the cheap stuff? Mostly women and kids, paid nothing. In France, it’s sale season and everyone’s rushing to H&M, Mango, Zara, to buy fucking cheap stuff that isn’t ethical.

I agree with Egyptian-American feminist Mona Eltahawy that “Feminism is about solidarity among women.” So don’t buy stuff from Pakistan, where women are practically slaves.

A great quote from DNC CEO Leah Daughtry: “One woman can do everything. All women can do anything.” We have to stick together.

There’s a lot of anger because a majority of white women voters didn’t support Hillary whereas a higher percentage of Black women did. We have to celebrate each other’s efforts. The more successful women there are the better it is for everyone.

What other insights have emerged from your collaborations and conversations since the election?

 At the World Women’s Forum, the consensus was “to build bridges not raise walls.” That’s what we’re doing right now. Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, has launched a campaign to stop street harassment. It’s now illegal to harass women in the street and the fines are quite steep. This sets a new standard. The transit authorities in NYC and Paris have followed suit, so things are moving in the right direction.

Two words have stood out in my recent conversations with women activists: Trust and Care. From now on, they’ll be the focus of my work.

We have to create more trust between ourselves as citizens. In Paris, more than 80% of women think that if they’re raped on the Metro, no one will help them. Rape is rare in the subways here, but women are afraid. We have to restore trust between people, elect trustworthy politicians, restore transparency, find accurate news sources. Society will be better for it.

We need to care for each other and for other women. If we see a woman in trouble in the street, we have to do something. As men and women, we have to care for children and refugees. At the Women’s Forum, I learned that in Saudi Arabia, the word for refugee is “guest.” We need a shift in perspective.

Trust and care must become priorities for our generation.

I do see some positive changes in the business sphere. For example, Shiseido, the Japanese cosmetics giant, is reducing working hours so their employees spend more time with their families. Japanese culture places great emphasis on working long hours for social status and the country has the lowest birth rate in the world. Shiseido is literally turning off the lights in all their buildings at 7pm to make sure employees leave work. The head of Coca Cola just made a statement about being a feminist and committed to making the board of directors 50% female. Even if Trump is president, local communities, cities, and businesses will move forward. We don’t have to wait for politicians.

Deep divisions have come to light in the US, France. The meme is “cities vs. the country.” How can we best heal the divide?

 This is a consequence of urbanization; rural areas have been left behind. I think it can be partly resolved with movements to eat local and produce local, bringing more jobs and artisanal activity back to the countryside. We need journalists to cover what’s happening there, not just the cities, so the public grasps that reality. Life is harder in the country, the standard of living is lower, there are fewer options and facilities.

Here’s an idea: The European Erasmus program is the greatest success the EU has implemented thus far. Americans probably haven’t heard of it, but all EU university students can spend an academic year at another EU university, anywhere they want, Spain, Italy, Germany, 28 nations. It creates unity and pride in European identity. Perhaps we could set up an Erasmus program between rural and urban areas? Outside the cities, most people have no contact with minorities; they have no idea who they are. Racism comes from fear of what we don’t know, so if city people spend time in the country and vice versa, it could change things. If we can reinforce the idea of unity, we can solve many problems.

What do you see as the next step for gender equality, in the US, Europe? 

Mentoring is vital. Women must encourage other women to believe in themselves. Role models like Michelle Obama or Angela Merkel set a precedent, but there remains a great need for mentors, men or women, who stand beside us throughout our careers.

Rumor has it Hillary Clinton may run for Mayor of New York. How much impact could she have?

 As Mayor, she’d be the type of role model we need in New York and across the US, just as Anne Hidalgo is a great inspiration for woman entering politics in France. Hillary would be sensitive to discrimination issues; she could raise money and create programs in favor of girls and women. Most importantly, I believe mayors and local government are the ones who can bring about the greatest social progress. They have leverage that even presidents don’t have. In the US, a mayor can raise the minimum wage, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, educate and create awareness campaigns, establish a sanctuary zone. They can demonstrate and lead by example. Wellington, NZ, Mayor Cecilia Brown rode her bicycle to kick off Hillary Clinton’s official visit as Secretary of State. That was a strong statement.

Mayors are more like CEO’s than politicians. They can move faster than national governments. Mayors of the 40 largest cities in the world are acting locally with global impact through the C40 organization. They’re doing amazing things: reducing greenhouse gas emissions more than the COP21. So I think Hillary could have major impact as mayor of New York.

Where are you in your work right now?

I’m no longer president of One, Two, Three…Rap! My good friend Hatoumata Magassa has taken the helm and is opening an office near Paris, in the first ever Hip Hop cultural center in France. Our MOOC, “PimpMonAnglais,” was just selected as the “Most Original MOOC” at the Google France My MOOC Awards. It’s exciting to see my first venture growing up.

Charlene Ouarraki, Julien Fernandez, Gabriel Odin and sixteen Womenability volunteers are analyzing data from the World Tour for our final report, to be published on March 8th for International Women’s Day. Julien Fernandandez, Marguerite Carlo, and Ilona Mitrecey are editing our videos of outstanding activists and inspirational female mayors for a webdocumentary. Also in the works: exhibits and an international forum with the mayors and our partners, to expand awareness and share solutions.

Everything is on

How do you see the world of tomorrow?

The future lies in the cities; they’re the solution, not the problem. They’ll reduce climate change, create less waste, recycle more. More people will be biking. Women will be safer. Women, minorities, and youth will be involved. Mayors, planners, all those creating cities of tomorrow, will include all ages and their visions. We’ll learn to trust and care for each other.

I’m very optimistic. Thomas Friedman said pessimists are often right and optimists are often wrong, but optimists are the only ones who change the world. I believe in my generation. We’re going to wake up and take action, get off social media, go out, be part of a movement, get our candidates elected, or become candidates ourselves.





My Interview with Gail Straub @ The Antidote:

A New Era of Creative Change


My interview with Gail Straub, co-founder and Executive Director of Empowerment Institute and the Imagine Global Initiative for the Empowerment of Women

The election aftermath: existential disorientation, radical creativity, fierce unstoppable action, the Beloved Community, grass roots activism, climate change, compassionate engagement, her article “John Lennon Lends Me His Glasses,”… and where we go from here:

“Many were blindsided by the presidential election results. Our correspondent, Aliss Valerie Terrell, spoke with Gail Straub , Executive Director of Empowerment Institute and Imagine Global Initiative for the Empowerment of Women, about where we go from here.

All content, Copyright 2016, The Trump Antidote.
You say you observed “existential disorientation” after the election. How do we make sense of what happened?

A lot of people, about half the country, are disoriented, the other half are ecstatic. I’ve spoken to scores and scores of people since the election and what strikes me is how everyone is going through their own individual inquiry regarding what this means to them. If you’re a person of color, it means something radically different than it does for a white woman, and if you’re a Muslim it means something even more radically different. So I think it’s really important to say that anything I share is just one human being’s opinion, one who did vote for Hillary and was deeply disappointed.

I wrote “John Lennon Lends Me His Glasses” a few days after the election. I had a dream and John Lennon came and he took off my reading glasses and put on his iconic wire rims and he said, “You need to see things through different lenses.” And that’s become a kind of guiding principle for me. After the election, at first there was a kind of radical disorientation. One asks: who am I, what country do I live in, what does this ask of me, what do I do next, what happens next? All those humongous existential questions. In all spiritual traditions, radical disorientation can be used to deepen spiritual practice. In fact, this profound disorientation actually is a very fruitful spiritual opportunity, whatever people’s practices are, to deepen in practice, because practice tells us there is no ground anyway, and so the way we’re feeling is, in a very deep spiritual sense, a true part of the human condition. So, for me, it happened to be meditation and time in the natural world, which were extremely helpful during this period of radical disorientation. It helped me accept that I didn’t have answers, because there are no answers yet, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we’re waiting.

For many of us, and I’m part of a tribe of grassroots activists, we’re all more dedicated than ever to what we’re doing. We’re all feeling this is not a time to back off, whatever our activism is, it’s a time to do it in deeper and more dedicated ways. It’s a time to speak out, stand up, march. All kinds of things are going on. My husband David [Gershon] just got back last night from California. He was there for three weeks. He’s a leader in climate change. He was there during the election and all the climate change activists are coming together and saying: we have to rededicate ourselves.

So there’s the spiritual part, there’s the action part, and the third quality is what I call radical creativity, which is the John Lennon thing. We can’t do things the way we’ve done them before and everyone’s realized that. We have to think outside the box, there has to be all kinds of mash-ups and mix-ups and collaborations across sectors. There has to be solidarity, consolidation, collaboration. Again, David found a lot of that out in California these past weeks.

And then there is Martin Luther King’s concept of the Beloved Community, where the earth is safe for all. We have to keep fighting for this idea. Though people are threatened, they’re afraid, they’re disoriented, simultaneously there is a profound rededication. All the women’s groups I speak to, all of us are getting 40 emails a day from people taking on further actions. So I think that there’s perhaps a paradoxical combination of disorientation but also a deepened and passionate commitment to the actions we all believe in.

How does your methodology of personal empowerment foster compassionate engagement?

Our Empowerment Institute turned 35 years old in October, so we’ve been at it for a while, but empowerment for us was always about community engagement. I mean the only reason a person becomes empowered is so they can contribute to their family or their neighborhood, their community or their country, otherwise it’s narcissism and to me that’s the antithesis of empowerment. There’s a lot of narcissism in the New Age, but the true definition of empowerment is that we gain a sense of self so we can become change agents. In twelve countries — including Africa, the Middle East, and India — our organization is working to enable the heads of NGOs to become leaders in their communities. For me, I can’t think about empowerment without thinking about action.

Millions of people are newly radicalized following the American election, wanting to stand up for freedom and democracy. Tell me about your concept of the “growing edge” and how it might be in play.

So the growing edge, for your readers, is simply the concept of what might be the next place, or point, of empowerment. The principle we use is that true empowerment can’t take place if we’re beyond the growing edge or we’re behind the growing edge. For all these people who are newly dedicated to making a difference, I think one potential trap, perhaps, is taking on too much too fast. They burn out and then say, well, it doesn’t make any difference anyway. That’s the whole cycle of burn out and compassion fatigue so familiar to activists.

So, people need to work in solidarity. They need to join with those who have been there before. If they’re going into climate change, for example, they join up with some of the activists and the organizations who have been around the block a few times and know what they’re doing. They don’t want to recreate the wheel. If I was just starting out, first I’d identify what’s the greatest place of passion for me. In climate change, women’s rights, or whatever they choose, start with that. Then do research. Who are the best organizations doing this and what can I learn from them? Can I start out as a volunteer or do I want to be a social entrepreneur and start up my own thing? They have to join in community and educate themselves and not take on too much too fast.

What do you see as the “growing edge” for our country? What second-order social change is needed?

There’s a lot on our websites about that. All the things we do are second-order change. That’s really David’s work and I can suggest a chapter from his book. It’s in PDF and it has all you need.

The Imagine Program works with NGOs in the developing world, empowering impoverished women by fostering gender equality and individual “agency.” As a result of the recent election, deep divisions have come to light in the United States. Although we live in the richest country on the planet, there is extreme poverty. What is your program doing in the U.S.?

It’s been in our country for 35 years. It started here, it’s still going on, it’s never stopped. We’ve done this work in prisons, with the homeless, any population you can imagine. For example, along with our Imagine Practitioners from the global south who are coming to our Empowerment Institute in Amman, Jordan, in 2017, there will also be leaders from inner city Chicago, inner city Baltimore, and inner city Atlanta. They’ll all be working next to their colleagues from the Middle East, India, and Africa, because it’s the same work. And they’ll be looking at how to bring agency to the most disenfranchised populations here, and looking at how that leads to community leadership, to actions.

There is David’s Livable Neighborhood Program, an extraordinary program that’s been created for inner city neighborhoods in America. So the first step is with neighborhood leaders, we call them block leaders, who go out and begin making their neighborhoods safer and more livable.

And then they’re joined by activists who are working in climate change. In this case, our pilots are in California because that’s our most progressive place for climate change.

What happens at the Institute is we have a person from Kabul, Afghanistan, sitting next to a person from Palo Alto, California, sitting next to a person from the inner city of Chicago, and next to them someone from Lebanon. It goes on — Tunisia, India, and so on — and those conversations are a form of radical creativity, global exchanges of best practices, about what sustains hope, about what allows compassion in the face of tremendous difficulty.

So someone working in Rajasthan to stop forced early marriage talks to the person working in inner city Chicago, and they have this amazing exchange and they begin to teach each other and exchange how they sustain their own hope in the face of great difficulty. We have to all be in this together, that’s clear.

How can we best heal the divisions in our country, find more balance, a shared vision? What limiting beliefs do we need to clear? What new beliefs do we need to create or affirm?

Well, you know, we’re just starting. I wish I could answer that. The path ahead is how do we heal the divisions? How do we find a shared vision? There’s all kinds of analysis going on now, political, spiritual, but I think we don’t know exactly the path ahead yet, we’re in a new situation in our country. We all feel that.

Again, I can only answer, personally. I agree with what’s been said about the bubble and the disenfranchised, but that also can become overly simplistic. Because if I’ve learned anything in 35 years, it’s that disenfranchisement takes an infinite variety of forms.

The suicide rate among adolescents in America is so high that it’s at a crisis now. And that’s often amongst the most privileged — often white kids. So something is disenfranchised for them, too, if they’re killing themselves in record numbers. So if I could step back and take a spiritual perspective on this, because I can’t really answer it from a political point of view, I think we need a lot more time. I would say that what we’re trying to learn is who is suffering and why — not just this bubble vs. the disenfranchised.

Someone asked the Dalai Lama, of all the prayers you do — and the guy really prays a lot — of all the prayers, what is the most important prayer that you do every day? And he said, that’s really easy. The prayer that’s most important is the simple mantra: “Every person I meet, just like me is suffering and is trying to find the way to alleviate that suffering.” That is something that is unitive. Again I speak for myself. One of the things the election did is ask me to look more deeply at the roots of suffering of those who voted for Trump. Also. it asks me to look at the roots of my own suffering more deeply. I’m a bit of a Buddhist so I’m taking it from that perspective. I think that at the heart of difference is suffering. What is the cause of the suffering, why do we demonize the other because they’re different than us? We all do this. Why do we have trouble with the person who’s different?

Certain things are being asked of us in terms of actions. That’s the outer life, but also what is being asked of our inner life? What sort of development is being asked of us now as humans? I think this is a political opportunity, a spiritual opportunity, an emotional opportunity, and an opportunity for communities. If you ask me this really great question in a year I could say more, but right now it’s too fresh.

Empowerment Institute has worked with the Clinton Global Initiative. How do you see Secretary Clinton continuing her advocacy?

We don’t know, none of us know. We’ve worked with her and President Clinton and Chelsea in our participation in the CGI, which was one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve ever had. You couldn’t join it unless you made a ferocious, audacious commitment to making the world a better place, and they would only accept you if you stretched your own vision to work harder and do more. And so when you went to those meetings you were surrounded by people from all over the world, all of whom were addressing the most dire challenges in the world we live in.

No one knows what she’ll do. I’m a tremendous fan of hers. I’ve seen her work first-hand. All the women I work with in the deepest poverty in Kenya, in India, in Lebanon, you name it, they know her. She has changed the way women are viewed, she has changed the landscape of women’s empowerment. So my hope is she’ll continue with what she’s been doing her whole life, which is advocate for the disenfranchised, for kids, for women. No one thinks that this extraordinary human being is just going to be sitting around. I think she’s taking a pause and she’s going to come out and continue to do visionary, important work.”

Gail Straub: John Lennon Lends Me His Glasses