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When Visions Come to Life

Marina Abramovic

There are moments in life when dreams and ambitions become realities, when we are thrust from the ordinary rhythms of life into the extraordinary. These moments serve as reminders that while the work may be long and hard, the journey is worthwhile. While writing my second book on women world changers titled, Visionary Women, I started to see one of my life-long dreams manifest.

Sandra Day O’Connor

Over the last several months, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some of my all-time favorite women leaders first hand (or those in their close inner circle) to round out my research. My interview list reads like the who’s who of the last century. For someone like me – interviewing these truly great individuals is a dream come true! So far, my list of interviewees includes: Katharine Graham, news magnate of the Washington Post, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, the niece of Carmen Amaya, the world’s most famous Flamenco, Asha Kowtal, General Secretary of the National Dalit Women’s Movement, Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist and Nobel laureate, the grand daughter of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire, and newest and youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai’s partner and co-founder of the Malala Fund, Shiza Shahid.

Malala Yousafzai

My adventure continues — in the coming weeks I am flying to New York and look forward to meeting and interviewing the world famous performance artist Marina Abramovic in her studio. There is so much to glean from these amazing women, and my new book will be full of new revelations, insights, personal stories and ideas to stimulate our own growth. I look forward to sharing this incredible journey with you! So, stay tuned…

 

Powerhouse Women Connect at the WITW Conference

Every year I look forward to going to NY to attend the Women in the World Conference. Tina Brown packs the two and a half days at the Lincoln Center with the most compelling stories and women change makers. For someone like me, who writes, lives, and breathes these topics, it is one of the most interesting venues to attend.

I want to share with you some of the highlights from the conference:

I had a chance to meet two Syrian women (Hiba Sawan and Rania Kisar) who are activists in their war torn country. Their story of saving victims of bombing and war was incredibly touching and I had a chance to sit next to them at lunch.

Who can forget the in-depth conversation between two of the most powerful women—Hillary Rodham Clinton and Christine Lagarde. The moment where they high-fived one another was caught on camera and was in the news the very next morning. Funny enough, I ran into Christine Lagarde at the Carlyle hotel and enthusiastically went over to congratulate her on her inspiring talk. She is not only brilliant and fearless, but chic and approachable.

The list of impressive presenters continued: Lorene Powell Jobs moderated a panel on education; Jimmy Carter made a passionate case on behalf of women and girls in his new book, “A Call to Action”; the comedian, Sara Silverman and her sister, Susan, who happens to be a rabbi talked about their shared spirit of activism (by the way, Susan is as funny as Sara); the list went on.

Of course, one of the highlights was listening to the experiences of Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. To think that for months we were following their trial and tribulations in Russia and they were onstage talking about their new NGO, Zona Pravda.

I came back to LA brimming with ideas and thinking about the women who I would like to write about in my next book. Stay tuned: I will have a surprise story of a brave-hearted “untouchable” woman that I want to showcase in the near future.

 

Jacqueline Novogratz: “I Want to Be Used up by Life”

Ever since I did my research on Jacqueline Novogratz four years ago for my book, Pioneers of the Possible, I knew I had come across a brilliant, world-changing woman.

Jacqueline Novogratz is the Founder and CEO of Acumen, a non-profit global venture capital fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to fight global poverty.

In 2011, Jacqueline and Acumen graced the cover of Forbes Magazine for her work in venture capitalism and social enterprise.

In her book, The Blue Sweater, Jacqueline shares her personal life story and how she found her life to be intertwined with the life of a child wearing her old blue sweater far away in the wilderness of Africa, and what this connection means for all of us. Her life story is so compelling that when she wrote her book it quickly became a bestseller.

Without exaggeration, it took me 2 years to have Jacqueline to come and speak to a group of women here in Los Angeles.  But, this comes to show that persistence pays off!  Last year, my partner, Beth and I, asked her to come and speak at the WOMEN A.R.E.  Summit. However, that first week of November she had to be Africa and India!

Oftentimes I have thought about how many times she criss-crosses the globe in a given year.  Luckily, her travels this year brought her to Los Angeles on March 13th, where she addressed 170 WOMEN A.R.E. guests.

She shared with us her personal journey and amazing life’s work—from training future leaders in developing countries, to funding start-ups that serve the needs of the most marginalized people in the world. It is with a great deal of pride that I say that her vision has touched and affected over 40 million lives to date.

One of my favorite quotes that Jacqueline often shares is from none other than Martin Luther King: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its bests love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

She also made another powerful statement that had a deep impact on many of the women, “I want to be used up by life.” Her message highlighted humanity’s interconnectedness – that we are all intertwined not only socially, but economically and in many other ways. She talked about the importance of human dignity, and how much more important it is that wealth. Her core message was focused on how we can unleash the potential of the most marginalized people in the world and lead a life that is full of dignity.

May each one of us glean from the wealth of wisdom Jacqueline shared and make the world a better place because of it.

La Dama Del Cement: Amalia Fortabat

I just got back from an amazing trip from Argentina, and of course, one of the first things I do while I’m touring around a new country is ask the guides about the local history and the most notable women of the region.

Just imagine that one of the most powerful and successful executives in Argentina was a woman by the name of Amalia Fortabat. She caused quite a stir by divorcing her first husband and marrying a man 27 years her senior, who was the founder of a large and successful cement company. Their romance was the talk of Buenos Aires, where at the time, their relationship was anything but conventional.

It didn’t take long before she was immersed in his business. She was fluent in three languages, French, English and Spanish, and was the daughter of a prominent family (her mother’s family descended from Uraguay’s second president Manuel Oribe).

Following her husband’s death in 1976, she took charge of his business empire taking the company to greater heights, earning her the title “La dama del cement” or “The Cement Lady.” In addition to being a successful executive, Amalia Fortabat had a deep passion for the arts and philanthropy.

In the 70s, she created the Foundation Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, “an institution that donates millions of dollars to charity and provides grants to children’s homes, schools and cultural centres.” And, in 1992 she was appointed president of the National Art Foundation where she continued to contribute her services to the arts and philanthropy to the end of her life.

One of the highlights from my trip was visiting her private art collection.

Here is a photo of the piece Andy Warhol created for her.

My Adventures in Mexico City at the WOBI Conference

Poster Art by Twitter fan @CFMEDIUM

When I had accepted to speak at the WOBI conference in Mexico City, I had no idea how hectic my life would be that week. I was gearing up for the WOMEN ARE Summit that my partner, Beth and I, have been organizing for the past year, I was due to speak in New York at another women’s conference a few days later, and to add more excitement to my life, my husband and I had accepted to host a speaker from Stanford the night before.

But truth be told, that week was one of the highlights of my work. It isn’t easy to be in constant movement, and I for one, cherish the times that I have a set schedule of uninterrupted writing.   But, what I have realized is that what I love even more than the process of writing is connecting with people.

Needless to say, at the WOBI conference I got the opportunity to connect with 2,500 top leaders and executives from Latin America. The thought of walking into a big expo center and seeing rows and rows of seats and stage twice the size of anything I have ever seen made me chuckle. How did a girl from Iran ever end up coming to the conference and have the opportunity to do interviews with Forbes, Televisa, and Martha Debayle, and do a Vogue photo shoot for their “Power Women” feature?

Besides, at the conference I had the opportunity to listen to other truly exceptional speakers such as: RED BULL’s Stratos pilot, Felix Baumgarter (who jumped from the Stratosphere in free fall, breaking the sound barrier as well as many other records), Xavier Sala-I-Martin (the Spanish economist who is a leader in the field of economic growth), Magnus Scheving (the Icelandic writer, producer, entrepreneur, and athlete who is also the creator and co-star of the children’s television show LazyTown), and Lorenzo Servitje, the founder of Bimbo Corporation (the largest Mexican owned baking company, with brands in America, Asia, and Europe).

Each of these experiences were incredibly gratifying and exciting at the same time. The saying is true: when your work is your passion, it can really be the most fun of all and my time working in Mexico was a perfect example. What I truly sensed was the warmth and hospitality of the people I met—the wholehearted way they reached out to me.

Angella Nazarian with CNN Host

 

In the few hours I had free, I was able to visit the Tomaya Museum and Carlos Sims art collection.  The only thing that was on my mind as I was leaving for the airport was, I need to come back to Mexico—and very soon.  I guess Latin blood really runs through my veins.

REACHING THE SUMMIT – ONE STEP AT A TIME

When I was writing and researching for my books, it would be as if I was retreating somewhere quiet and still inside myself.  Sometimes it would take me an hour or two to get out of my shell and take part in the daily hustle -bustle of Los Angeles life.

Now that we are 6 weeks away from the WOMEN A.R.E. Summit, I see that my days are diametrically different than what I was accustomed to while writing. To get over 25 leading women to come and speak at the conference was no easy feat. I can’t tell you how many letters I drafted, how many calls I made, and how much time was spent in meetings with others.  But the flip side is that I feel ever more connected to my community and the one day summit itself.

One summer afternoon two years ago, I was lounging in the garden and watching the sun fade away. Suddenly in the quietness of the afternoon, an idea occurred to me—what if I can bring the very women I research on to a forum where they can themselves share their story.  The seeds of organizing a summit were planted that afternoon.

In hindsight, the one day Summit, showcasing such trailblazers as Marianne Williamson, Dr. Andrea Ghez, Alison Pincus, Cathie Opie, and Ann Philbin to name a few, feels like a natural extension to the books I have been writing.

We are six weeks away, and I am filled with excitement and anticipation for the big day. My partner, Beth, and I are keeping a tight schedule these days and are planning all the details of the day but at the same time, we know that organizing a summit is like organizing a dance—you create the space and structure, the people show up, and the rest is about the energy in the room and the spontaneous exchanges between people!

I will update you all with photos and breaking news!

Lorena Garcia: Cooking Up A Storm

 

You may have seen her in the Taco Bell commercials, or perhaps Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Masters, ” but one thing’s for certain: Chef Lorena Garcia has now made it to the center stage of the American spotlight. No stranger to the media, Lorena and her cuisine, cookbook New Latin Classics and restaurants Lorena Garcia Cocina,and LorenaGARCIA Tapas have been featured in major magazines and TV networks including CNN, NBC, Bravo, and Telemundo, just to name a few.

Adding to her list of impressive achievements, Lorena launched “Big Chef Little Chef” – a program dedicated to help children and families take control of their health and combat obesity through workshops and hands on cooking classes.

Can you imagine this charismatic and creative force once had a completely different career trajectory? It was fascinating to learn that she earned her law degree and was continuing in her education when she had a personal epiphany that caused her to completely switch gears and explore a new future in the culinary arts. She enrolled at Johnson & Whales University and never looked back.

Recently I had the pleasure of having dinner with Lorena, Randy Jackson, Harriet Sternberg (who incidentally is on the Women A.R.E. advisory committee), and Lara Shriftman. As I had suspected, Lorena has an effervescent personality and was brimming with excitement about the new venture on her horizon. Lorena is so comfortable with herself that one can easily fall into friendship with her. She talks about the experience and ritual of food, as if she were giving a impromptu workshop on personal growth and relationships. No wonder she has a strong following worldwide!

Women A.R.E. is pleased to have chef extraordinaire and culinary artist, Lorena Garcia, as a participant on the “Women in the Arts” panel at the November 7th Summit.

Ann Philbin Re-Envisions Los Angeles’ Vibrant Art Scene

What does it take to turn a sleepy museum in Westwood Village into the talk of the town? The answer is – “a new visionary”. In 1999, that visionary woman was Ann Philbin. She left her ten-year position as the director of New York’s Drawing Center to come to Los Angeles with a passion and purpose to reveal one of the city’s greatest hidden gems.

Philbin was eager to transform the museum’s image and attract a new generation of art lovers and did so by developing programming to accommodate the interests of the urban art scene. She founded the museum’s Hammer Contemporary Collection as well as the Hammer Projects Series, which focuses on emerging artists.

During one of my conversations with her, Philbin beamed with pride as she talked about Los Angeles’s vibrant artistic community. Many people may not know this, but Los Angles has become the mecca for emerging artists, more so than New York or Berlin. Capitalizing on the strength of Los Angeles’s artistic community, she envisioned a bold and ambitious enterprise.

Last year The Hammer Museum joined forces with nonprofit gallery LAX ART and the Department of Cultural Affairs to hold the first ever Los Angeles Biennial called Made in LA. Unlike the well-known Whitney Biennial, Made in LA had a regional focus: about 60 artists, some marquee and many emerging or lesser-known artists, were participating in this enterprise.

Made in LA was an overwhelming success: local artists had a prestigious platform to showcase their work, and the community was abuzz with the influx of the new artistic energy put on display.

Today the Hammer features contemporary artists, holds short film festivals, readings, lectures and debates six days a week. It’s safe to say Ann Philbin’s vision for turning the space into a cultural hub and gathering place for artists, students, and enthusiasts has been realized.

We look forward to having her participate on “Women in the Arts” Panel in our summit on November 7th.

The Amazing Massiliano Giono and the 55th Annual Venice Art Biennale

I just got back from the 55th Annual Venice Art Biennale and I have to say that Massiliano Giono, 38 and the youngest curator in the history of the biennale, did such a thoughtful job of linking some of the most fascinating artworks in the central pavilion.

Carl Jung’s “Red Book”

Given that I am a disciple of Carl Jung, I can’t tell you how powerful it was to see his drawing on display in the center pavilion, and his much-coveted Red Book that has not been out of the vaults for decades was on display. Legend has it that when Jung was suffering from a extreme neurosis, he would withdraw to his tower in his estate and spend hours drawing symbols and images that bubbled up to his consciousness.  The work was both beautiful and cathartic.  A gallerist had asked if he wanted to ever sell his works, but he refused, saying that the intent for his art was healing and not commercial.  The stunning works were al in the infamous red, leather-bound book and it serves as some of the most archetypical pictures on the collective human psyche.  The book has been locked in the family vaults for decades, rarely to be seen by anyone.  Here were Carl Jung’s art on full display and the glorious book in a temperature controlled glass case for all to view.

Carl Jung’s “Red Book”

To me the whole question of what is art, who is considered an artist was the most thought provoking. There was a miner who claimed that a voice told him one day to make art. He headed that voice and spent hours making intricate designs that were simply breathtaking. He would often sit 20 hours at a time and claimed that his work was effortless since the hand of God was working through him.  He also never sold those sublime colorful grids but wanted to be “in communion with the vibrations of his color.

Miner’s Art

Other examples of lay people who have taken art seriously was on display:  a social worker who dealt with the restrictions of education and the prison system, blind people, who did not have a sense of space and proportion, a dental hygienist and a woman who through meditation created what looks like the typical drawings of the cosmos and chakras when she was not truly aware of such notions.  How wonderful and liberating it was to celebrate art for arts sake and to celebrate ordinary people who also turned out exquisite pieces of work!

The Russian and British Pavilion in particular were also great. And Ai Weiwei’s installation in the French Pavilion was another showstopper.

Artwork installation by Ai Wei Wei

Of course, Mr. Arnault had the good sense and taste of wrapping the entirety of his Pallazo Grassi, wall to wall, floor to ceiling with Persian tribal carpeting courtesy of Rudolph Stingel.  But really, after going through the 20th room in the palazzo you got tired of the same thing.

Pallazo Grassi carpeting by Rudolph Stingel

The most surreal was Prada Foundation’s exhibition of “When Ideas become Form”—a rather menacing “muahahaha” voice blared throughout the palazzo and then there was this hysterical cry of a baby. (Maybe babies cannot be called hysterical because they have a right to cry)

That is the funny thing about exhibitions; you never know what is real and what is not! Obviously I knew that the Prada-clan doormen would never let in a certified lunatic so the real question was if there was a real baby in the exhibition? That was a recording too.

But joking aside, I came to understand that the seminal 1969 show that re-created tried to show that process of art was as important as the product itself—or perhaps no product at all. A revolutionary thing at the time that filled in the gap between what we are conditioned to appreciate and what the essence and possibilities of art could be

The only funny thing is that just as I left the Palazzo door, there was a screaming baby in the arms of a helpless dad as well.  At that very threshold was the display of life imitating art!

 

The Power of One Person

It is one thing to research and study the life of a person you admire and quite another when you get to see them face-to face and collaborate.  I had first met Somaly Mam, CNN Hero—and one of Timemagazine’s ‘Top 100 of the Most Influential Women in the World’, six years ago. She took the stage at the Governor’s Conference and had her speech had all 9,0000 women in the convention center simply rapped.

Today, Somaly Mam is a shining example of love, resilience and courage. She has transformed her painful history as a child who was sold into sexual slavery and who eventually broke herself free to rescue others. She and others fromThe Somaly Mam Foundation risk their lives continually to go into the dark hidden places where young girls are locked up, help them escape and provide a safe haven for them to rehabilitate. For me, these are true heroes.

One of my favorite speaking topics is about the power of one person. One person, or small group of likeminded individuals, can accomplish anything. Likely, they have more power than mega-organizations. And Somaly Mam is one of those people who, single-handedly, has brought sex trafficking to a global platform.

When she came to Los Angeles for work in early November, I invited her to a small afternoon tea with a few of my close friends. What touched me the most from our time together was the deep level of joy and love she radiated. All the guests that afternoon walked away feeling uplifted and utterly moved by the gracious presence of this woman.

I tend to believe that one of the most powerful ways to unleash the potential a group of people is to hold salons and conferences, where ideas, issues, and experiences can be discussed in a meaningful way.

A quote by Margaret Mead comes to mind:

“Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world.”

Invigorated by this simple truth, I along with my partner Beth Friedman, decided to organize a formal salon as a platform for Somaly Mam to share her story with a broader audience. The response was overwhelming. Press came, donations were given, and even one woman I heard contacted Somaly’s organization to replicate their operations in another country. Truly the power of one life, of one story, Somaly’s, yours and mine, has the ability to impact the world!

Continuing on this theme, Beth Friedman and I have co-founded Women Aspire. Respond. Engage. (Women A.R.E.) and we will be hosting our inaugural day-long conference on November 7th at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles.

Below is a sample of the discussion at our first Women A.R.E. Salon.

Angella Nazarian & CNN Hero Somaly Mam