Like the old saying goes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. And that holds true for social activism, according to the speakers at the “Hearts on Fire” event at the 92YTribeca on Tuesday night.
Relying solely on the government to bring about true social change might not be the best answer. Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown, who launched the Women in the World Foundation, said that people are fed up with the stagnant nature of Washington. “There are thousands upon thousands of millions of people whose hearts are on fire who say ‘I can’t stand this anymore, I’m just going to do something on my own,’ ” Brown said.
Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code and candidate for New York City Public Advocate, said that social policy is not affected by a top-down system anymore—it’s all about networks now. “The idea of network leadership is going to completely disrupt politics,” Saujani said.
The event was moderated by Jill lscol, who wrote the book Hearts on Fire and heads the IF Hummingbird Foundation—a name Iscol said reflected the way she tends to fly from project to project—which is an organization that identifies and supports “visionary” leaders.
Both Brown and Saujani were drawn to social activism because they identified and were driven to change disparity. As a native Brit, Brown said she is still struck by the stark differences between the rich and powerful in America compared with less fortunate people. Serving as “a repository of stories,” the Women in the World Foundation is a way to connect big-name celebrities like Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie with women such as those overseen by the Taliban in Pakistan, who are told they’d be shot if they went to work. When Saujani was campaigning as the first Indian-American woman to run for Congress in 2010, she was shocked by the digital divide between just a few New York City blocks. While kids on the Upper West Side bought iPads galore, churches in the Bronx had just one computer for an entire congregation. Saujani wants to make girls realize that they need computer science for any career. In fact, she said there are fewer women in computer science today than 10 years ago. But in one of her Girls Who Code programs, a girl from Senegal who couldn’t even use a mouse at the beginning was able to build an entire website about computer science eight weeks later.
By making connections between social and political activism, real changes to policy are possible. “There’s a lot of people in this city who feel like they don’t have a voice,” Saujani said at one point. This can be applied to a much wider scale—and both Brown and Saujani are working to make sure women are heard. As Iscol said, people who choose the path of social activism “won the birth lottery,” because they get to change the lives of others.