Looking at ‘Half of the Sky,’ from Dorothy Clark

Editor’s note: CIN invites members to submit book reviews of somew of your great summer reads. There is nothing that inspires me to pick up a book, or seek out a new title like the affirmation that someone else’s book review provides. We thank Dorothy for being the first to actualize what has been an 11-month dream for this blog platform.

By Dorothy Clark, of the 20/20 Sisters of Vision
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My giving circle, 20/20 Sisters of Vision, doesnʼt meet during the summer months because of membersʼ vacation schedules. Last summer, we decided to read a book to broaden our awareness of the issues facing women in the global village and to keep focused on giving. The book we selected was Half the Sky, Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn.

The title is taken from a Chinese proverb – women hold up half the sky.

As journalists for the New York Times, the authors received a pulitzer prize for their coverage of China; Kristol received a second pulitzer for his coverage of the genocide in Darfur.

The book is divided into chapters, each telling the story and accomplishments of one woman. Through their stories, we are shown graphic examples of how women suffer from lack of access to basic health care, economic opportunity, and even rudimentary education. The authors artfully use supporting research to give context to the womenʼs situations. Despite the fact that their lives were seemingly hopeless, I was uplifted and deeply encouraged to learn what the extraordinary women were able to accomplish, with little more than desire, determination, and persistence. The authors introduced the reader to people who focused on what they could do to make their lives better given what they had, not by concentrating on what they lacked.

Two lessons stayed with me after reading the book. The first is that change starts on the ground, not from a strategist sitting in an office many miles away. The authors give repeated instances of well meaning NGOs who went to a country with the best of intentions only to see their efforts fall far short of the desired effect. The most effective programs start by finding and working with a local change agent who understands the culture and the people. They then work with that agent to implement programs that will be accepted by the local community.

The most effective change agents arenʼt foreigners but local women (and sometimes men) who galvanize a movement… [page 70]

The second lesson is that one person can make a difference. When we consider the conditions in our own neighborhoods, it can seem that bringing about change is an overwhelming task. But again and again, the women and men portrayed in Half the Sky prove that change starts with one person who has a passionate belief that they can do something to improve their lives. They donʼt wait for someone else to come and fix their problems.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is involved with philanthropic work on any level. Even though the stories are mostly about people in locations outside the United States, the lessons can be applied by persons seeking to effect change in their own neighborhoods.

The book was written in 2009 but the ideas are still relevant. The book has inspired a movement of people who have felt compelled to make a difference where they live. You can get more information about the book and the upcoming PBS documentary at the website www.halftheskymovement.org.

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