Women who do groundbreaking work on behalf of other women and their families amaze and inspire us. We’ve honored many of them at our Multicultural Women’s National Conferences and Town Halls with our Legacy Award.
Pictured: Congolese Woman
War Survivor Champion
Zainab Salbi Founder and CEO, Women for Women International, Washington, DCFive years ago, when Zainab Salbi was working in Africa, a Congolese woman named Nebitu told her that during the war she and her two daughters, at ages 9 and 17, watched one another being raped. Nebitu had been afraid to tell her story to anyone, but she was sharing it now so that Zainab would tell it for her and other women might be helped. Zainab heard another tale of courage from an Afghan woman whose husband beat her regularly. She finally told him to stop hurting her—that he should just talk to her, that she didn’t deserve to be hurt. “Moments like these reinforce my belief that what we try to do is absolutely possible,” says Zainab. “Things can get done.” As the founder and CEO of Women for Women International, Zainab strives to support some of the hundreds of thousands of global war victims by talking about women’s rights, offering training and linking them with financial sponsors. She also helps give a voice to women whose stories need to be told. “I was afraid to tell my own story for so long,” says Zainab. “But these women are my best teachers. When they told their truths, I knew I had to tell mine.” Zainab grew up in Iraq. “My father was Saddam Hussein’s pilot. We were his ‘friends,’ and I called him Uncle.” Her mother told her not to look him in the eye because he could read eyes. “If he knew what I was thinking about injustice in my country—that people were shot on the street for next to nothing—he’d kill me. I was petrified of that.” Zainab eventually came to the United States through a marriage her mother arranged to get her out of Iraq. “He was abusive and raped me, but I left him after three months. I was still afraid and vowed to never tell my story.” But, of course, she finally did—and does, and says she’s an optimist at heart. Zainab was led to her work with war-damaged women when she learned about rape camps in Bosnia while a student at George Mason University in Virginia. “The stories were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, so how could I sit still?” she says. She founded her organization in 1993. Today, the group works with some 53,000 women on a monthly basis. Zainab, who has received multiple honors for her work, says she can’t wait for the day Women for Women goes out of business. That’ll be the day “when all women stand up and speak out and are included in all decisions made for this world.”
Carla Harris Managing Director, Strategic Client Advisory Team, Morgan Stanley, New York City
She’s known as a powerhouse financial strategist at Morgan Stanley, where she serves clients from corporate hotshots to foundation fund managers. As an investment banker she’s been deemed “most influential,” “most powerful,” one of “15 corporate women at the top” and more by national publications. But Carla Harris has a whole other life—helping the hungry, supporting education and advancing the arts. Straight out of Harvard with an economics degree, Carla had worked in corporate America for only a year when she realized she needed more. “All I did was work, and I was miserable,” she says. To make her life feel right, she started giving back. Fast-forward 20 years or so: Carla sits on the board of eight organizations, from the Food Bank for New York City (she’s the chair) to the Maya Angelou Research Center on Minority Health to Sponsors for Educational Opportunity to the Apollo Theater Foundation. Her life passions shape her humanitarian work. Carla is an accomplished gospel singer and has recorded two CDs—hence her support for the Apollo as a cultural and educational force in New York City’s African-American community. She works for children because “my parents stressed the value of education and how it helps you be competitive in this world.” As for her deep commitment to ending hunger, a friend introduced her to the Food Bank; she went to a board meeting and was hooked. “Everyone in the world has an inalienable right to eat, but there are so many that don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” she says. “When I see the elderly Russian grandmother or the family of three come to a soup kitchen, well, that reminds me why I do what I do.” Carla would like to get more people involved in pro bono efforts, and, as a speaker, she tries to convert young people to her prescription for balancing a challenging career with charitable work: It’s a circle. “The more I help others, the better I feel and the more effective I am as a professional, which helps me to do even more for others.” Her other passion in life? Her husband of seven years, Victor. They met while bowling and made a bet on who would score higher. The prize: a hamburger. “Now I’m the hamburger queen! I love them. My husband makes an amazing hamburger—the Victor Burger.” Do we see a new financial venture brewing?
foodbanknyc.org www1.wfubmc.edu/minorityhealth abetterchance.org elcinfo.com seo-usa.org apollotheater.org/education.html morganstanley.com/globalcitizen/community
Domestic Violence Advocate
Rev. Cheng Imm Tan Director, Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, Boston
Cheng Imm Tan was raised in a traditional Chinese family on the multi-cultural Malaysian island of Penang. Despite living in a male-dominated society in which girls and women were under-valued, intellectually disregarded and exploited both economically and sexually, Cheng grew up “with a zest for life, enthusiasm for learning and a passion to make things right around me.” Cheng came to the United States 30 years ago to study, eventually earning a master of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School. As an Asian immigrant, however, she had trouble fitting in and often felt invisible. This outsider status led her to an internship at Renewal House, a battered women’s shelter in Boston. There she learned what an insidious, invasive issue domestic violence is. “The abuser of the first woman I worked with would come home in the middle of the day to spy on her,” says Cheng. “If she was looking out the window, he would beat her up—accusing her of signaling to a nonexistent boyfriend.” Cheng also saw that language and cultural barriers made it difficult for Asian women at the shelter to get the services they needed. Eventually, she became the director of the shelter and launched the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence in Boston; the Asian Shelter and Advocacy Project, New England’s only Asian domestic violence shelter program; and Ricesticks and Tea, the only Asian food pantry program in her state. She has a wall of awards for her humanitarian efforts. In 1998, Cheng was appointed as the director of the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians, where she serves to help women, men and children of diverse immigrant communities participate in all aspects of city life. “My work has taken on a new focus, but it’s a privilege to work with so many different groups and begin to understand who they are, what their issues are and the richness they bring to the community.” Why a life and career in this kind of service? “I have a deep sense that my own freedom and liberation are connected to the freedom of all people,” Cheng muses. “Unless everyone is liberated, none of us are. And I just can’t stand injustice—it makes me want to kick butt!” No doubt she’s passing this quality on to her 2-year-old son, Zhenli, whom she and her husband, Kenneth Morin, adopted from China.
cityofboston.gov/newbostonians atask.org gundkwok.org
Additional Working Mother Multicultural Conference and Town Hall Legacy Award Recipients
M. Helen Cavazos M. Helen Cavazos is recognized for her outstanding efforts to promote diversity in the workplace. As vice president of human resources and diversity for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Houston (METRO), Ms. Cavazos has led many diversity initiatives, including the development of diversity seminars and business plans. She is a past president of the nonprofit advocacy group Hispanic Women in Leadership. hwil.org
Barbara J. Ellis A former executive with IBM, Barbara was also a leader in the company’s diversity initiatives. She served as co-chair of its U.S. Women’s Task Force and Chair of its Multicultural Women’s Initiative. Outside of IBM, Ms. Ellis helped established the nonprofit organization ASCENT, which focuses on the advancement of multicultural women. She currently sits on the board of the Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA) Education and Technology Foundation, which awards scholarships to students interested in exploring technology. ascentleadership.org betf.org
Nuby J. Fowler As a regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Nuby Fowler has been an advocate for women and minority business development. In her role, she helps thousands of small businesses gain access to capital, counseling, training and government contracting opportunities. sba.gov
Elisa Rodriguez Gordon A passionate advocate of diversity, Elisa Rodriguez Gordon founded the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte (LACC), which she chaired until 2006. She currently chairs the LACC Foundation, which awards scholarships to help Latino students attend colleges and universities. lacccharlotte.com
Geeta Rao Gupta, PhD Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta is recognized for her extensive work in research on gender-related aspects of HIV and AIDS. She is the president of the International Center for Research on Women, a leading international institution on gender and development, and a founding member of the U.N. Global Coalition for Women and AIDS. icrw.org womenandaids.unaids.org
Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch As the founder of Educational Achievement Services (EAS), Consuelo Castillo Kickbusch has dedicated her life to empower a new generation of Hispanic leaders by providing educational tools and resources that have helped more than one million children and their parents across the United States. easleadership.com
Mmatshilo Motsei Mmatshilo Motsei is recognized as a community leader in South Africa due to her work as a counselor, trainer, gender consultant and a rural development practitioner. She has worked on such issues as domestic violence against women, rape, sexuality and HIV.
Vanessa J. Weaver, PhD As the founder and CEO of the Washington, DC–based Alignment Strategies, a management consulting firm specializing in diversity, business and leadership development, Dr. Vanessa Weaver and her team have designed and implemented various initiatives that help companies recruit, retain and advance multicultural women. She is also chair of the Advertising Committee for Dignity and Diversity in the Media, which brings women of different backgrounds together to achieve equality and respectful portrayals in the media. alignmentstrategies.com