Musimbi Kanyoro
1,250,813 views • 14:29

My mother was a philanthropist. And now I know you're asking — let me give you the answer: yes, a little bit like Melinda Gates —

(Laughter)

but with a lot less money.

(Laughter)

She carried out her philanthropy in our community through a practice we call, "isirika." She supported the education of scores of children and invited many to live with us in our home in order to access schools. She mobilized resources for building the local health clinic and the maternity wing is named in memory of her. But most important, she was endeared by the community for her organizing skills, because she organized the community, and specifically women, to find solutions to anything that was needed.

She did all of this through isirika. Let me repeat that word for you again: isirika. Now it's your turn. Say it with me.

(Audience) Isirika.

Musimbi Kanyoro: Thank you. That word is in my language, Maragoli, spoken in western Kenya, and now you speak my language.

(Laughter)

So, isirika is a pragmatic way of life that embraces charity, services and philanthropy all together. The essence of isirika is to make it clear to everybody that you're your sister's keeper — and yes, you're your brother's keeper. Mutual responsibility for caring for one another. A literal, simple English translation would be equal generosity, but the deep philosophical meaning is caring, together, for one another.

So how does isirika really happen? I grew up in a farming community in western Kenya. I remember vividly the many times that neighbors would go to a neighbor's home — a sick neighbor's home — and harvest their crop for them. I tagged alongside with my mother to community events and to women's events, and had the conversation about vaccinations in school, building the health center and really big things — renewing seeds for the next planting season. And often, the community would come together to contribute money to send a neighbor's child to school — not only in the country but to universities abroad as well. And so we have a surgeon. The first surgeon in my country came from that rural village.

(Applause)

So ... what isirika did was to be inclusive. We as children would stand alongside the adults and give our contributions of money, and our names were inscripted in the community book just like every adult.

And then I grew up, went to universities back at home and abroad, obtained a few degrees here and there, became organized and took up international jobs, working in development, humanitarian work and philanthropy. And very soon, isirika began to become small. It dissipated and then just disappeared. In each place, I gained a new vocabulary. The vocabulary of donors and recipients. The vocabulary of measuring impact, return on investment ... projects and programs. Communities such as my childhood community became referred to as "poor, vulnerable populations." Those are the communities of which literature speaks about as living on less than a dollar a day, and they become the targets for poverty eradication programs. And by the way, they are the targets of our first United Nations' sustainable development goal. Now, I'm really interested that we find solutions to poverty and to the world's other many big problems because they do exist. I however think that we could do a better job, and we could do a better job by embracing isirika. So let me tell you how.

First, isirika affirms common humanity. For whatever that you do, you begin from the premise that you're human together. When you begin that you're human together, you see each other differently. You don't see a refugee first and you don't see a woman first and you don't see a person with disability first. You see a human being first. That is the essence of seeing a person first. And when you do that, you value their ideas, you value their contribution — small or big. And you value what they bring to the table. That is the essence of isirika.

I just want to imagine what it would look like if everyone in this room — a medical doctor, a parent, a lawyer, a philanthropist, whatever you are — if you embraced isirika and made it your default. What could we achieve for each other? What could we achieve for humanity? What could we achieve for peace issues? What could we achieve for medical science? Let me give you a couple of hints, because I'm going to ask you to accompany me in this process of rebuilding and reclaiming isirika with me.

First, you have to have faith that we are one humanity, we have one planet and we don't have two choices about that. So there's not going to be a wall that is high enough to separate humanity. So give up the walls. Give them up.

(Applause)

And we don't have a planet B to go to. So that's really important. Make that clear; move onto the next stage. The second stage: remember, in isirika, every idea counts. Bridges have big posters and they have nails. Every idea counts — small or big counts. And third, isirika affirms that those who have more really enjoy the privilege of giving more. It is a privilege to give more.

(Applause)

And this is the time for women to give more for women. It is the time to give more for women. Our parents, when they brought in other children to live with us, they didn't ask our permission. They made it clear that they had a responsibility because they had gone to school and they had an earning. And they made it clear that we should understand that their prosperity was not our entitlement, and I think that's good wisdom from isirika. We could use that wisdom today, I think, in every culture, in every place, passing to the next generation what we could do together.

I have, over the years, encountered isirika in many places, but what gives me really the passion today to embrace isirika is the work that I do with women all over the world through the Global Fund for Women, though women's funds and through women's movements globally. If you work with women, you change every day because you experience them living isirika together in what they do.

In the work that I do, we trust women leaders and their ideas. And we support them with funding so that they can expand, they can grow and they can thrive within their own communities. A woman in 1990 came to the Global Fund with a big idea — a woman from Mexico by the name of Lucero González. She wanted to begin a fund that would support a movement that would be rooted in the communities in Mexico. And she received a grant of 7,500 US dollars. Today, 25 years later, Semillas, the name of the fund, has raised and spent, within the community, 17.8 million dollars.

(Applause)

They have impacted over two million people, and they work with a group of 600,000 women in Mexico. During the recent earthquake, they were so well rooted that they could quickly assess within the community and with others, what were the short-term needs and what were the long-term needs. And I tell you, long after the lights have gone off Mexico, Semillas will be there with the communities, with the women, for a very long time. And that's what I'm talking about: when we are able to support the ideas of communities that are rooted within their own setting.

Thirty years ago, there was very little funding that went directly to women's hands in their communities. Today we celebrate 168 women's funds all over the world, 100 of which are in this country. And they support —

(Applause)

they support grassroots women's organizations — community organizations under the leadership of girls and women, and together we have been able, collectively, to give a billion dollars to women and girls-led organizations.

(Applause)

But the challenge begins today. The challenge begins today because we see women everywhere organizing as isirika, including women organizing as isirika in TED. Because isirika is the evergreen wisdom that lives in communities. You find it in indigenous communities, in rural communities. And what it really ingrains in people is that ability to trust and to move the agenda ahead.

So, three things that I have learned that I want to share with you through my work. One: if you want to solve the world's biggest problems, invest in women and girls.

(Applause)

Not only do they expand the investment, but they care for everyone in the community. Not only their needs but the needs of their children, the needs of the rest of the community, the needs of the elderly, and most important, they protect themselves — which is really important — and they protect their communities. Women who know how to protect themselves know what it means to make a difference. And the second reason that I'm asking you to invest in women and girls is because this is the smartest thing you could ever do at this particular time. And if we are going to have over 350 trillion dollars by 2030, those dollars need to be in the hands of women.

And so I grew up with isirika. My mother was isirika. She was not a project or a program. And now, I pass that to you. That you will be able to share this with your families, with your friends and with your community, and embrace isirika as a way of living — as a pragmatic way of living.

Thank you.

(Applause)

Thank you.

(Applause)

Thank you.

(Applause)