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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 community leader as part of our Women’s Empowerment Community Leader Series.

Morra Aarons-Mele
Morra Aarons-Mele

Today’s Women’s Empowerment Community Leader Spotlight is on Morra Aarons-Mele of The Mission List. Morra has worked with the world's leading companies and institutions on digital marketing campaigns since 1999. She was the Director of Internet Marketing for the Democratic National Committee during the 2004 Presidential Election, founded Edelman’s digital public affairs team and has worked in various roles at leading online companies including iVillage.com and eBookers.com. She founded Women Online and created the influencer network The Mission List in 2011. In addition to her work in the digital marketing space, Morra is passionate about creating a dialog about women in relation to politics, social change, leadership, work and family life. Her book Hiding in the Bathroom was published by HarperCollins in fall 2017.

What was the pivotal moment that led you to create your community?

I was inspired by the Obama Administration! Various departments within the Administration consistently invited women bloggers to the White House to learn about new initiatives and interview leaders, including President and Mrs. Obama. I was lucky enough to go once. I looked around the room at all the amazing “lifestyle” writers gathered to talk about health policy and I realized that a central database to inform these women about opportunities to use their online platforms to promote social change would be fantastic...and that it didn’t exist. That was the germ for The Mission List.

Can you share an example of a woman in your community who has done something amazing?

There are too many to count! But I’ll never forget our very first campaign at The Mission List back in 2012, when a mom blogger named Caroline Gravino asked us to support a fundraiser she was doing to provide clean water to a village in Asia. She had four small kids at home and she singularly raised thousands for water and raised awareness about the need for clean water. She used her wonderful storytelling and graphic design skills to create content that people just loved. On a personal note, Caroline is still a TML member and a colleague too! She has become a well respected (self taught) video editor and really reinvented herself.

There’s a sense that women can be competitive and singularly focused in their work; can you share a favorite example you have witnessed – inside or outside of your community – of the value of women rising together?

The biggest gift of my professional life is that every day, I witness women rising together and benefitting from it too. I have my “kitchen cabinet” of fellow women entrepreneurs. Most of us work at home and have a pretty decentralized work life, so we need to lean on each other for advice a lot more than people who work in a typical organization or office. One professional online community I’m part of has a rule: you can’t share an open job posting or contract without sharing the compensation. Why? Because women need to know how much other people are making. It levels the playing field and helps us all earn a fair wage. And, it forces us to talk about money, which can be tough for us!

Morra speaking to a crowd of women.
Morra brings women together to lift each other up.

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?

Gina Glantz is my role model. She’s also a client, dear friend and founder of GenderAvenger.com. Gina is almost 75 and she could easily be sipping mimosas by a pool. But she isn’t! She is fighting for gender equity, just as she has been for over 50 years. Not only that, she founded a tech startup in her 70’s! GenderAvenger is an amazing set of tools that helps anyone call out gender and racial inequity in the public dialog. Gina pushes me to be less fearful. She likes to say she is “post ambition” and so she doesn’t need to be afraid of what people think. But the truth is she’s brave, and her courage is a model to all of us.

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?

Financial literacy is crucial for any woman. I meet women–well educated, successful women–who still do not know how to access their family’s bank accounts, or their husband pays all the bills. Or, they don’t know what the average salary is in their industry or for their job title. I’m inspired by the women who learn where their money is, learn what they should be fairly paid and most importantly, give their money a goal. Get literate! There are so many free tools out there.

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 – which 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?

If women need to understand how money works, men need to understand how caregiving works! Shared decision making means shared decisions on kids, house, money and the big picture stuff.

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?

Women are wonderful at building community; it’s in our blood. We must honor this as a prized skill and also a tool for achieving gender equity. If there is one thing I have learned from watching privileged white men operate, it’s that they help each other out, because they assume there is always more gain to be had–more pie, if you will! That’s tough for women. We can feel like there isn’t enough pie to go around. But when we create community and support each other we grow the pie. Community is everything.

Which of Heifer’s women's empowerment programs is your favorite? Why?

Launch a Small Business program. For all the reasons I detailed above!

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