As a young girl growing up in a Kenyan farming village, Musimbi Kanyoro was inspired by the philanthropy of her mother, whom she describes as “Melinda Gates, but with a lot less money”. Her mother spread generosity in their community through a practice called “isirika”.
A word in the Maragoli language, isirika is the mutual responsibility of caring for one another. It is a way of life that embraces charity and service.
Kanyoro describes in her TED talk how the concept of isirika has inspired her, and how women everywhere embody it.
Kanyoro’s mother carried out isirika in a myriad of ways: by supporting the education of girls, by mobilizing resources to build a local health clinic, and by organizing women to help find solutions to community issues. This sense of inclusiveness was engrained into Kanyoro as a child, and now, as President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, the practice of isirika is a driving force behind her work.
The Importance of Isirika
Kanyoro recalls traveling abroad for university and noticing that “isirika began to become very small”. When she took up humanitarian work, what replaced isirika was a focus on programs, donors, measuring impact, and return on investment. She acknowledges the importance of this work but argues there should be a greater embrace of isirika as well.
This begins with recognizing our common humanity and by viewing each other as human first and foremost. In doing so, we value what others bring to the table, and respect their contributions, both big and small.
Women Practicing Isirika: The Story of Semillas
Kanyoro has encountered isirika particularly among other women, and it’s what gives her the passion to work with women today. She tells the story of Lucero González, who came to the Global Fund in 1990 requesting support for a movement rooted in Mexican communities. González received a grant through the Global Fund of $7500, and in the last 25 years, has raised and spent 17.8 million dollars. Her fund, Semillas, has impacted over 2 million people and works with a group of over 600,000 women in Mexico. When an earthquake struck, the women were able to quickly assess the short term and long term needs of the community. An idea brought forth by a single woman transformed into a meaningful movement with extraordinary benefit.
The Benefit of Empowering Women and Girls
The story of Semillas illustrates the importance of investing in women. It’s known that women expand the investments they receive, providing care and protection for everyone in their community, including children and the elderly. Employed women typically invest 90 percent of their earnings to family, while men invest 30 to 40 percent.
“Women who know how to protect themselves know what it means to make a difference”, says Kanyoro.
Research backs up her assertion that investing in women and girls is “the smartest thing you could ever do at this particular time”. According to USAID:
- When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases on average by 3%.
- When women have the same amount of land as men, crop yields increase by over 10%.
- Countries in which women hold greater than 30% of seats in political bodies are more inclusive, egalitarian, and democratic.
It’s proven that when women and girls do well, communities reap the benefits.
Kanyoro states that thirty years ago, very little funding went directly into the hands of women. This is no longer acceptable. Investment in women is necessary, not only because it recognizes their humanity and their value as members of society, but because it has a lasting impact that benefits us all. It creates positive change in small towns and big cities, in schools and government, and in local businesses and large corporations.
Communities everywhere face complex issues, and a simple yet powerful solution going forward is to invest in the ideas, talents, and efforts of women.
Want to do your part to empower women? Take action with LiveYourDream.org. Become part of a dedicated movement that invests in women and girls everywhere looking to reach their full potential!
Grace Malloy is a 28-year-old living in the Greater Boston area, with interests in writing, public service, and women’s rights. While working as a software support specialist, she received her Masters Degree in Public Administration – a challenging yet fulfilling experience. She aspires to use her strengths and passions to make a positive impact on her community.