By David Large
Rex Foundation board member Nick Morgan says:
“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right”
I’m not sure if Robert Hunter was thinking of the Women’s Earth Alliance when he penned those lyrics, but I was sure thinking of them when I met WEA co-director Amira Diamond. I was walking through the Sierra foothills last fall at the Symbiosis Gathering, when I had an exciting conversation on my way to an enchanted installation. Tales of empowerment and employing a range of strategies including appropriate technology, micro-financing and skill sharing seemed so right on. Intrigued, I followed up and pursued a common Rex Foundation strategy – I starting digging deeper. The deeper I dug, the deeper the roots went.
This small, relative newcomer to the non-profit sector is smart, strategic and effective – wise beyond their years! They embody everything that is right about working to make the world a better place. The more you dig into them, the more you will dig them as well. Thanks so much for supporting Rex, and thanks so much for supporting WEA – we can all be proud of being part of the Rex-WEA connection!
In 2006, women leaders from 26 countries gathered in Mexico City to study how a lack of collaboration and support limited their ability to be agents of change. From those discussions emerged Rex grantee the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA), which unites and empowers women on the frontiers of social and environmental justice, resource sustainability, and community development.
Over the next three years, inspired by the ideas that came to light in Mexico City, Amira Diamond and Melinda Kramer, WEA’s co-directors, have launched pilot projects, taken on multiple learning curves, built community support, found innovative approaches to social change, and formed partnerships with other like-minded organizations.
WEA currently focuses on three projects in different parts of the world. In Africa, WEA works with the Global Women’s Water Initiative to help communities develop clean and sustainable water supplies, through technology transfer and microcredit for key women leaders. In India, WEA supports sustainable agriculture and fertile land conservation, including equipping local Indian women farmers with training, business skills, networking support, and seed capital for micro-businesses. In the American Southwest, WEA’s Sacred Earth Advocacy Network mobilizes legal and policy advocates to protect sacred sites, promote equitable energy policies, and support environmental health.
In three short years, WEA has developed many fruitful partnerships around the world and an impressive track record of successes: providing $70,000 in seed money to women-led organizations in over 50 countries; organizing two international delegations of grassroots women activists to the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development; providing hundreds of hours of legal and policy advocacy support to indigenous environmental justice campaigns in the American Southwest; and equipping 15 teams of African grassroots leaders from eight countries with technology and business training and $15,000 in seed capital to help launch water projects.
Recently Rex had the opportunity to learn more about this unique organization from co-director Amira Diamond.
Rex Foundation: How did the ideas that emerged from the Mexico City conference generate such an impressive list of on-the-ground results in just three years?
Amira Diamond, Women’s Earth Alliance: Our time in Mexico City gave us three important pieces of information: first, that women environmental leaders, positioned as hubs of community networks, are ready to move resources efficiently through those networks; second, that we can never predict in advance the powerful opportunities for collaboration that will arise from in-person encounters; and third, that women leaders need support for their work in the areas of capacity-building, advocacy, and communication.
When we got home, we started to build these key principles and mandates into every aspect of our program development; we’ve found that this ecosystem-like way of working — sharing resources within the context of interpersonal relationships in such a way that those resources can have as broad a reach as possible — really works!
Rex: How do you identify situations where you believe you can make a measureable difference?
WEA: Our three initiatives focus on different concerns in different regions, but they share a basic process. We always begin with face-to-face inquiry, so that we can determine whether there is a need for and an interest in the convening and resource-coordinating work that we do. Then, we collaboratively develop and implement a capacity-building initiative and/ or an advocacy initiative, incorporating the participation of advocates, activists, community leaders, and experts. Finally, we place a strong emphasis on follow-up and follow-through, so that our efforts can really take root in a sustainable and long-term way.
We are committed to taking direction from the women leaders with whom we partner. We explicitly value collaboration, transparency, and shared leadership. We strive to always act respectfully and with awareness, and to only step forward in collaboration when there is a clear call for it from our project partners.
Rex: Your approach to these projects seems to be a mixture of idealism with hard-nosed business and political sense. In what ways does this differ from more conventional aid programs?
WEA: We need it all — idealism, business sense, and political acumen, as well as intergenerational participation, a strong emphasis on using our work as a platform for leadership development for all participants, and joyful moments of music and laughter. We weave it all together because we see process as inextricably linked with results; in a complex world in crisis, we have to start building solutions that integrate all the gifts and resources that are available to us.
Rex: Is this what you mean by “moving beyond development as usual”?
WEA: It can be said that the work of Women’s Earth Alliance takes a circular shape. We stand together with our partners around the world, coordinating resources in a way that is responsive and responsible. You might imagine traditional development models as a straight and slightly downward-slanted line, where people at one end of the line funnel resources towards people at the other end of the line, without full, sustained engagement or a strong emphasis on relationship. We’re interested in the power of partnership, and in the powerful, self-perpetuating web of results — both immediate and long-term — that can arise when everyone involved in a “development” process gets to bring their skills, their wisdom, their resources, their spirits.
Rex: Your focus on women as prospective leaders in needy communities has proven effective. Why women?
WEA: Around the world, courageous women and men equally invest their time and energy into environmental protection and sustainability.
At the same time, Women’s Earth Alliance recognizes a trend of women stepping forward at the grassroots level to confront environmental threats. We see that across the world, women are often positioned as the caretakers of future generations and resource stewards for the community.
Concomitantly, it can be said that when women thrive, community thrive; when the women leaders who are so often at the helm of resource management and community care can experience full empowerment for environmental protection, everyone benefits. So our work in collaboration with and support of these women leaders is really an investment in health, sustainability and justice for communities.
Rex: Tell us about your goals for the coming year.
WEA: This year we’re elevating all of our work to new levels of coordinated and effective action.
Our Women and Water Initiative in Africa will facilitate the Global Women and Water Initiative training in Ghana, as well as a year-long project implementation support program, assisting the women who attended the conference to activate their newly-acquired knowledge and skills on the ground in their communities.
Our Women and Land Initiative will coordinate three Advocacy Delegations in the Southwest, unique and life-changing opportunities for women advocates to meet indigenous environmental justice leaders and witness their work of defending their lands and communities from pollution, followed by advocacy collaboration within the Sacred Earth Advocacy Network.
And, with the guidance of two talented new staff for our Women and Agriculture Initiative in India, we’ll return to India this fall to conduct an innovative capacity-building training with women on business development, marketing, and support for the revitalization of the local agricultural economy.
Rex: What would be the optimal outcomes of the work of Women’s Earth Alliance?
WEA: We want to see a network of thriving communities, moving together towards the common goal of a thriving earth. We want to see women in positions of leadership, influencing both global and local environmental decision-making processes; we want to see a healthy, protected global ecosystem, where abundance and sustainability are equally available to all people; and we want to have a great time while we’re doing it.
Rex: Any additional thoughts?
WEA: We act from the principle that every time we gather, every time we share our true stories of leadership, courage, and successful action, the world changes. Every day, everywhere in the world, courageous women do the urgent work of healing of our world by speaking out about what their communities and lands need to flourish.
Women’s Earth Alliance strives to listen and respond, powerfully and effectively, to these women’s stories. We’re thankful for the support of the Rex Foundation in this work!