At Heifer International, we see repeatedly how powerful women become when they have the tools and resources to thrive. Receiving an animal gift is a good first step to economic sustainability, but it’s women’s leadership that’s building up communities around the world. Why? Because successful women help not only themselves, but also their families and other people in their communities. The power of women and community is a global universal. We are thrilled today to introduce you to an amazing, groundbreaking community leader as part of our Women’s Empowerment Community Leader Series.
Today’s Women’s Empowerment Community Leader Spotlight is on Meredith Walker of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. Walker began her television career producing Peabody and Emmy award-winning Nick News with Linda Ellerbee. Next, she served as head of the talent department at Saturday Night Live. Walker now serves as executive director of the organization she co-created, “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.” Headquartered in Austin, Texas, she devotes her time to all things Smart Girls. By leading workshops, service days and Smart Girls volunteer teams, she makes sure that the mission of Smart Girls -- to help young people cultivate their authentic selves -- reaches around the globe.
What was the pivotal moment that led you to create your community?
Amy Poehler and I created Smart Girls to help young women find their way in the world while hanging onto their own identities, rather than morphing for a false sense of belonging. Smart Girls has become a cyber-clubhouse, a safe haven for our community to engage in intelligent conversation and find the things that make them more similar than different. Our hope is to convey to our community members that it is their right to forge a meaningful life as they define it and to celebrate the multidimensional people they really are.
Can you share an example of a woman in your community who has done something amazing?
What I consider amazing is to hear about moments of authentic living inspired by Smart Girls. A woman in her 70s decided to start swimming every day because she learned from us to be someone who jumps in, instead of standing on the side endlessly discussing what it would feel like to jump in. We hear from students who discover more about what matters to them, what breaks their heart, what injustices they want to fight against. Whenever I hear from someone who is living according to her OWN beliefs and values and not being defined or limited by society, THAT is amazing.
We would love to hear about a woman who has empowered you! Who is someone who said yes to you or encouraged you to do more/do better for others?
Linda Ellerbee is the reason I am where I am today. As a woman, a journalist and a producer, Linda did the difficult things that opened doors for so many of us. As we navigate our way through efforts to undermine journalism and the very idea of objective truth, I am grateful for Linda’s tough standards and honesty. For me, she exemplifies the art of being yourself. That’s why she is the godmother of Smart Girls. Linda mentored me. She taught me about fact-finding and attaching context and meaning to those facts. She taught me how to use media to tell the truth, and she taught me how to advocate for others by helping them share their stories.
A key way we help empower women is by providing resources and ongoing training to help them grow and then help others. What resources and types of training have best helped your community thrive?
We use our platform to address and change gender stereotypes by creating content that leads by example. Ranging from going live with young instrument engineer Christina Diaz at JPL’s (Jet Propulsion Lab) Mars Yard, historical pieces profiling women often left out from history, or covering events that are galvanizing women such as the United State of Women Summit in D.C. or our own Fear of Failure Summit. We have held workshops, day camps and even a journalism boot camp. In that boot camp, the girls chose for themselves to learn more about and report on transgender issues. Helping young women learn how to seek the truth and seek perspectives other than their own is an important part of what we do.
A big piece of Heifer’s work in women’s empowerment and social capital is gender equity, teaching women and men that shared decision making and leadership is a good thing. This can be challenging in patriarchal communities. What do you think is one of our society’s key challenges to help women close the equity gap?
In 2018 it is both exhilarating and disconcerting that women still have to confront a bias against them. It is exhilarating because the culture is obviously being challenged. There is more than a wakeup call taking place. It’s disconcerting because so much still remains to unlock the great potential of women fully taking an equal place in a world that so desperately needs all the gifts and talents women can offer. Those who continue to put obstacles in the path of that progress need to be held accountable, need to be called out. It would be wonderful it those obstacle placers could simply have a change of heart to see all the good that can come from equity. If not, then we need to let them know that we are not walking away, not giving up or giving in. We won’t let them hide behind token gestures in place of real substance.
We believe that the women’s empowerment journey is universal, even if details differ depending on where a woman lives. What do you see as a key universal -- a thread that connects all women around the globe -- when it comes to women, leadership, and/or community?
My job at Smart Girls has afforded me the chance to spend time with young women around the world and witness the threads that connect us as human beings. Women everywhere deserve to be treated with respect. Women deserve to be taken seriously. Women and girls are pillars of their communities with voices that deserve to be heard and supported.
Which of Heifer’s women's empowerment programs is your favorite? Why?
Heifer International's Women's Self-Help Group. I know the power that comes from women rising together through participation. The Heifer International Women’s Self Help Group offers that power. Women gather in support of one another while learning about business, their community and themselves. Because of these groups, communities are strengthened and lives are transformed.