Tom Yellin, Executive Producer of Girl Rising, came to our screening of the movie on March 9th to speak to our supporters about the making of the film. We had very limited time at the theater, so I sat down with him last week to ask a few more questions about the process and the film itself.
Brianna Plaza: How did you get involved with the Documentary Group? (Note: The Documentary Group is the company that produced Girl Rising)
Tom Yellin: The Documentary Group is a company that I run along with two other partners. It grew out of PJ Productions, a company I created with Peter Jennings after working in network television for years; specifically at ABC and CBS.
BP: What inspired Girl Rising?
TY: What inspired it, really, was the experience […] The greatest experience you can have as a journalist is to discover something that is deeply and profoundly true, but people don’t know it. Years ago we discovered something that was well-known in the world of development which is to say, if you can educate girls, get them in good schools and keep them there throughout adolescence, everything changes for the better. Not just for the girl, but for her family, her community, her country, and broadly, for everybody. Indices of world problems shift very powerfully in a good way when girls are educated. All the good things that happen, happen more, and so on. It was just so overwhelming we almost couldn’t believe it. How come no one is talking about this? We had to figure out how to tell the story, but more importantly, figure out a way to motivate people to act. In this case, we felt a profound responsibility to do something, we felt a responsibility to tell people.
BP: How did you pick the girls involved?
TY: We didn’t pick the girls. The girls were chosen by writers that we picked from each country to tell the stories. The girls had interesting life stories and we selected a subset of girls that were really interesting. In almost every case, the writers chose a different girl than we thought they would choose. We wanted authentic stories and authentic voices. We believed that the storytelling should come from the culture, not from us. And the best way to do that was to pick writers who shared cultural roots with the girls, and that they chose compelling stories to tell.
BP: How then, did you decide which girls to put in front of the writers?
TY: We went through a long journalistic process, meeting many girls, and interviewing them about their lives and hopes and dreams and families. Some strike you in ways that feel really compelling. That’s what you’re trained to do as a filmmaker and journalist; to identify interesting characters.
BP: How did you choose the writers?
TY: That was hard; there were countries we wanted to go to where we couldn’t find writers that fit. I should also add that we worked through NGOs that have become our partners. We didn’t go out and put up a sign [looking for girls], that would have been weird. We worked through the organizations that have programs that girls are engaged with. That’s how we got the broadest set of girls. We chose the writers by reading their work, and then by meeting them, and then by begging them. We felt that the writers couldn’t really understand what we were asking until we really engaged them. In every case, we think they found the process to be enormously rewarding.
BP: During the film, particularly with Wadley, we’d see a camera crew filming Wadley being prepared for the next scene or picture. Is every girl that’s featured the real girl or are they actresses?
TY: All but two girls’ stories are portrayed by the girls themselves. The girl from Egypt- we felt that her identity needed to be protected because Egypt is hostile for women and girls. We also wanted to protect her since she was victim of violent sexual crime, and all victims of that kind of crime should be protected. Also, Afghanistan is very dangerous as a girl [so that girl is portrayed by an actress]. All the other girls are themselves. They are acting in a screenplay constructed from their own lives. It’s an interesting dynamic; it’s the real girl, but in some stories, like Ruksana’s, the Indian girl, the mom and the dad are actors playing the part of her parents.
BP: How did you get all of the famous people involved?
TY: It was hard. The answer is that we went to them through the people who represent them. The first person was Meryl Streep. We also knew that whoever we got first would set the bar. The first question we were asked was always, who else is involved?
BP: What do you hope the outcome of the movie will be and how will you measure its success?
TY: We don’t hope the movie, by itself, will do anything. But we hope the movie will be used in a larger movement called 10×10. The campaign is designed for impact. First, change people’s minds, and change the way people think about the value of a girl. And if you change the way people think about the girl, you can, ultimately, change their behavior. We also want to change lives by directing resources to girl-focused programs on the ground. Generating financial support and allowing tools to be used by our partners who raise money to ultimately help our partners scale up and change people’s lives from around the world. Lastly, we want to change policies, to change the rules. We are working to get this message in front of the world.
We have our theory of change [Change minds, change lives, change policy] and we are measuring the results in a quantitative way, using an organization called Mission Measurement. [We are measuring the] reach of the film and content created. How can we measure attitude change? How much money is being generated and how is it flowing to action on the ground? We are working hard on the last part of our theory of change; the enforcement of laws or law changes. We are very focused on measurement and it is a key part of this project. We will be able to tell you soon.
BP: Is this a one-time thing (Author’s note: One-time meaning will the movie be shown again next year or edited to reflect progress)?
TY: YES. 10×10 is designed to be out of business at some point. We hope and believe that the world can, should, and will change.
Earlier this month,the US Office attended “Women in the World”, an event to highlight the advances of women around the world and the challenges they still face. The event was hosted by Newsweek and the Daily Beast, and wow, it was inspiring! There were panel discussions on topics ranging from the crisis in Syria to prominent women in business.
On Thursday night, we heard from an outstanding lineup of celebrities and activists as they spoke about the women that inspire them. We heard from Meryl Streep about Inez McCormack, a human-rights activist who helped facilitate the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
On Friday there were panel discussions about women in technology, the 2011 uprising in Libya, a Ugandan chess champion, and the plight of orphans worldwide.
It’s impossible to quantify how inspiring each participant was. As soon as each panel discussion was finished and you felt immensely inspired to change the world, another group of women (and some men) took the stage to inspire yet again. While the topics varied greatly, there was one major takeaway: Women are inspired by each other, and we should support each other in our efforts to further our rights. Hillary Clinton said it best: “”Women are not victims. We are agents of change, drivers of progress. We just need a chance.”
You can view all of the panel discussions here.
Girl Rising spotlights the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change a girl – and the world. Many millions of girls face barriers to education that boys do not. We can help break those barriers by bringing global attention to the enormous benefits of educating girls.
You can view the trailer here.
See you at the movies!
This article originally appeared in the December issue of Monthly Developments Magazine. You can see the online version here.
We arrived at the grassy field right as the Black Keys were set to hit the stage for the Global Poverty Project’s Global Citizen Festival, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I had won tickets to the concert, one of my favorite bands was playing and it was a splendid fall evening. Plus, I was there to fight global poverty!
I never expected to win free tickets to the concert just by watching videos, reading articles and sharing the information online. And considering my life’s mission is to tackle poverty, I was excited that thousands of people were also taking action.
So when the Black Keys finished their set and we were watching presentations and videos from organizations and people fighting poverty, I was surprised to realize that I was mostly wrong about the thousands in attendance. Jeffrey Sachs, famed economist and special advisor to the UN Secretary-General, took the stage and the people around where astonishingly uninterested.
“Boooo! Get off the stage! No one cares,” they said. “We just want to see the Foo Fighters!”
I was shocked, sad and annoyed. Why didn’t people care? This is POVERTY we’re talking about! This was our chance to do something big and make a lasting impact on the elimination of global poverty.
I left the concert excited about the music, but also thinking that our generation was just not the “Woodstock” type that camps out for a few days in honor of peace and love. We were the generation that put Kony 2012 on the map, after all. So why didn’t people care now?
As a part of the Millennial Generation—people currently in their teens and 20s—it is frustrating that many adults see us as self-centered know-it-alls that are constantly glued to our smart phones. I usually try to defend us, but at the concert I began to understand the stereotype.
I originally intended to write about how Millennials were not the right group for sweeping declarations about things like ending world poverty, because I was focused on the image of my generation as a group who don’t want to do anything that doesn’t benefit them directly. But then I realized what I should have seen from the start: Millennials like a challenge. They want to be involved, not simply show up. Countless articles and studies have been written on how to engage Millennials, but few hit the nail on the head like The Millennial Impact Report. The 35-page report essentially advocates for one thing: “Stop trying to figure out Millennials and just include them.”
What the Global Citizen Festival didn’t do was include Millennials in the personal way we want to be included. That would have been virtually impossible, of course, when dealing with a crowd of 60,000 people, most of whom got free tickets to the concert. I’m not saying that the concert didn’t raise at least some awareness; it just wasn’t the platform for engaging thousands of 20-somethings.
Millennials like to be social, personally engaged and more involved than simply giving money. We give to and work with nonprofits because we feel personally connected to their causes—from curing cancer to saving puppies to fostering our political voice. It’s not just because we feel the need to donate money.
Seventy-seven percent of Millennials have smart phones, 67 percent of us engage with nonprofits on Facebook, and the overwhelming majority of us prefer short-term volunteering opportunities. And with money being tight, 75 percent of Millennials want to know how their donation will make an impact. So instead of going to a huge concert to end global poverty, a smaller, more involved event (where it is actually possible to really engage and feel personally involved) will have a greater impact.
I identify with these statistics. I want to know what a nonprofit is doing, how they’re doing it and where my dollars will go. I work for a nonprofit, so that information is readily available to me. But to most of my friends it is not. When asked, one friend said she identifies more with health-related nonprofits because she works at a hospital so she can see exactly what happens when she donates to a pediatric or cancer-focused charity. When focusing outside her profession, her connection changes because, “The resources for nonprofits aren’t as available to me unless I am looking for them.” She wants to be able to find key information about an organization right away and not have to dig through layers and layers of websites or Facebook postings to understand what it is doing. With a bevy of information coming in our direction, it is hard to sift through what is important and what is not. In a busy Millennial’s life, there isn’t time to find out what every nonprofit does, so make that information front-and-center and easily accessible. Nonprofits should work to connect directly with Millennials so there is a more tangible impact of a donation. Does your charity fight cancer? Then tell me the story of a particular person who benefited from the research that donations supported. Are you working to end global poverty? Then tell me if my donation will go towards an entrepreneur or a school for girls or an agriculture project. I want to know what is going on, and I want to be able to share that story. Millennials and vagueness don’t seem to mix. And as another friend pointed out, “I think it’s a bit of a turnoff when an organization seems to have no clear goals, [and works] just to ‘engage in education/immigration/women’s issues.’”
What does this mean for nonprofits struggling to involve this large new group of donors? Always make it personal. I want to hear your story and I want to be involved in other ways than through my checkbook. Don’t try to teach me what I might already know. Instead, involve me in the process of your work through board meetings, volunteering, fun events or working with you in the field. Make me feel the good you are doing.Give us the chance to lend our tech, social,smart phone, on-the-go skills in a more personal manner, and I promise we won’t let you down
About Bright Funds:
Bright Funds is a better way to give. Individuals and employees at companies with gift matching programs create personalized giving portfolios and contribute to thoroughly researched funds of highly effective nonprofits, all working to address the greatest challenges of our time. In one platform, Bright Funds brings together the power of research, the reliability of a trusted financial service, and the convenience of a secure, cloud-based platform with centralized contributions, integrated matching, and simple tax reporting.
At Bright Funds, we understand giving as a deeply personal act, a reflection of both our core beliefs and our aspirations. When we give, we are investing in the world as we would want it to be.
Donating should not be a reluctant handover of funds or powered by guilt. It should be an enjoyable experience, something you seek out and feel good about. You should always feel richer after you give. Donate not because of obligations, but because you want to see change and sustainable impact. Give because you are invested and because you are genuinely interested in making a difference.
Think of your giving as a targeted contribution to a social good. Insist that your donor dollars are well spent and have the potential for maximum impact. In other words, we should demand the same from our charitable giving that we do from all other aspects of our personal finances.
Set your standards high for the types of organizations you give to. Donating to IIRR is a perfect example of an “investment” with a high “return” in the field of sustainable development. Supporting IIRR’s practical and innovative solutions to poverty is a wonderful way to maximize the impact of your donor dollars if you want to donate to alleviate global poverty.
And, as we head into the new year, we encourage you to make the most of your giving. In 2013, how will you best invest in a better world?
We are excited to announce that our former Board Chair, Tony Gooch, was honored with the IIE Europe Award for Excellence! Congrats, Tony!
2012 IIE Europe Award for Excellence
Goes to Anthony C. Gooch, Benefactor of the Klein Family Scholarships
Honoring Linda B. Klein
NOVEMBER 19, 2012
BUDAPEST – The Institute of International Education (IIE) European Office is pleased to announce the recipient of the 2012 IIE Europe Award for Excellence. This year the award will be presented to Anthony C. Gooch on December 7th in recognition of his establishment and continued support of the Klein Family Scholarships, which provide full financial support to talented Hungarian students to study at Sewanee: The University of the South.
Mr. Gooch, a retired partner with over forty years of experience at the international law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, based in New York, has written and co-authored numerous books and articles on documentation for financial derivative products and loan documentation.
Mr. Gooch also serves on several boards and councils, including the Board of Directors of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and its Executive Committee, the Rockefeller University Council, and the Investment Management Committee of the Board of Regents of Sewanee: The University of the South. He formerly served as General Counsel, as a Trustee, and then as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), an organization that works to better the conditions of the rural poor and their communities in Africa and Asia.
After graduating summa cum laude from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, he received a law degree (LL.B.) and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) from New York University, followed in 2005 by a master’s degree in international affairs (M.I.A.) from Columbia University. Mr. Gooch studied at the College of Europe in Belgium in 1959-60 on a Fulbright Scholarship.
The Klein Family Scholarships were conceived of in 2003 by Mr. Gooch’s late wife, Linda B. Klein, who was of Hungarian descent on her father’s side. The scholarships are permanently endowed by gifts to the University of the South made by Ms. Klein herself and by Mr. Gooch and others to honor her memory. The University generously provides partial matching of ongoing gifts and the endowment income, which makes the program possible.
One four-year full scholarship is offered each year to a high school student from Hungary or from another Central or Eastern European country, to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree at Sewanee: The University of the South, a national liberal arts university with an outstanding undergraduate College of Arts and Sciences, located in the state of Tennessee in the United States. The Institute of International Education’s European Office conducts the program outreach and manages the prescreening process for the Klein Family Scholarships.
Klein Family Scholarships have been awarded each year from 2007-2012 to a Hungarian student – six graduates of some of the top high schools in five different cities in Hungary. Two recipients have completed their studies, and four students are currently enrolled at Sewanee: The University of the South.
“Being an international student at Sewanee has not only given me an opportunity to learn about a different environment, but also completely changed my outlook on my own culture,” said Klein scholar Zita Monori, who is currently a junior. “This enhanced awareness in my conception of the world will always help me to think more critically about my surroundings, the people with whom I come in contact, and how we relate to each other,” she added.
“One of the things I value most about my experience in Sewanee is the people I had the chance to meet. I made friends from all over the world: Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, France, Japan, Spain, Rwanda, Nepal, China, Honduras, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Zambia, Russia, Pakistan, and Germany. In such a setting, a regular dinner table conversation easily supplies anyone with lots to learn about other cultures,” commented Tamás Kubik, a Klein scholar in his senior year.
By helping to establish and support the Klein Family Scholarships, Mr. Gooch has furthered IIE’s mission of fostering mutual understanding through the international exchange of students, and contributed to promoting closer educational relations between the United States and Europe.
About the Institute of International Education
The Institute of International Education (IIE), a private not-for-profit organization founded in 1919, is a world leader in the international exchange of people and ideas. IIE designs and implements over 250 programs of study and training for students, educators, young professionals and trainees from all sectors with funding from government and private sources. IIE has a network of 12 international offices worldwide and more than 1,000 college and university members.
About the IIE European Office
IIE’s European office is located in Budapest, Hungary. Founded in 1990, this office represents IIE’s program operations in Europe. Covering over 30 countries in Western, Central and Eastern Europe, the office focuses on supporting and strengthening internationalization of universities, developing and managing scholarship and study abroad programs, and collaborating with corporate partners to design and implement programs and services that meet their specific corporate needs and philanthropic objectives.
About the IIE Europe Award for Excellence
The IIE Europe Award for Excellence is an award initiative that was launched by the IIE European Office in 2011 to recognize outstanding achievement in international education. The criteria for recipients include meaningful contributions to IIE’s mission of Opening Minds to the World®, relevance to European higher education, and high impact on the European education community.
On the evening of October 29th, Hurricane Sandy tore through the Northeast United States causing enough devastation to make it the most damaging hurricane in U.S. history. Millions of people in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut lost power, belongings, and homes. But considering the amount of damage (approaching the $50 Billion mark), there were relatively few deaths. Regardless, people will spend countless hours and money to rebuild their lives and the region is far from getting back to normal.
I live in Hoboken, NJ, one of the hardest hit areas in the aftermath of Sandy. And while all of my belongings are fine, I know that my Sandy Survival story is far from the norm. Almost two weeks after Sandy made land-fall late last Monday night, I still have no heat or hot water. I went without power for a week, and while all of this is terribly frustrating, people’s homes in Hoboken – as well as the Jersey Shore and coastal areas of New York City - are literally gone. As our U.S. office isn’t fully functional in Manhattan, I’ve been working out of Starbucks, and when I walk through the streets of Hoboken, I can’t seem to find the words to adequately describe the destruction. There are enormous piles of trash still remaining on many of the streets, and entire blocks of basement apartments have been ripped apart awaiting a post-flood rebuild. The storm surges of Sandy brought enough water to completely fill these basements with water and then to also submerge cars and some ground floor apartments and businesses.
Living in the Northeast, we aren’t used to hurricanes, but when Hurricane Irene was on track to be a “once-in-a-lifetime” hurricane in the Northeast last fall, it caused a considerable amount of damage on the Atlantic Coast and throughout the Northeast. So when weather forecasters predicted Sandy would be bigger and cause more damage than Irene did last year, another ”once-in-a-lifetime” storm was upon us.
I don’t think anyone in the Northeast thought Sandy would be this bad. But it was, and still is, very very bad.
And the worst part? This is likely to become the new norm.
In the US we’re lucky to have access to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and local and national relief organizations to help us clean up the mess and rebuild. Within hours of Sandy making landfall last Monday, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Red Cross, and other relief organizations had set up camp in Hoboken to offer guidance, relief supplies, and a little hope. Things may be slow at times, but we have myriad resources available to us in the wake of disasters.
In the countries in East Africa and South East Asia where IIRR has programs, things are a much different situation in the aftermath of natural disasters. Climate Change is certainly coming to a head in the Northeast with two epic storms in the last year, and hopefully Sandy will keep the discussion on the table, but elsewhere, climate change is already being felt on a most epic and disastrous scale. In Ethiopia, droughts that only happen every couple of years are now happening on a yearly basis. South East Asia has been rocked with an increase in flooding, and it is these communities that feel the brunt of the effects of climate change.
Developing nations don’t have the resources to avoid destruction from natural disasters, and even in countries that do, like the U.S., it was clearly demonstrated last week that even the best resources don’t help. That’s why at IIRR we believe that the best way to mitigate the risk of disasters is to work directly with local people to identify their vulnerabilities and capacities and then to develop an action plan that will help them lessen the impact of disasters and manage their effects.
We use an integrated approach that allows communities to be at the center of hazard identification, analysis, and risk assessment and management. We also make sure that community members participate in this process so they can bring information to their families and neighbors in the face of disaster, and in turn, helping bring their needs to a greater policy level.
Climate change is here, and while the global community is slowly mobilizing to thwart a change to a dangerous new normal, IIRR is working to help the most vulnerable communities prepare for the worst, no matter what it may be. And perhaps larger, more developed economies, can take note that to prepare for the new normal, we must be prepared for whatever comes our way.
Monday’s foreign policy debate was the last of 3 debates until the election two weeks from Tuesday. And though the topic was foreign policy, the debate largely focused on nuclear weapons, Iran and the Middle East, and domestic issues. A quick 9 minutes into the debate, foreign aid was mentioned. That was the only time aid, in any context, was mentioned.
I realize that the Middle East, a nuclear Iran, and China are major foreign policy issues – and they always will be. But having a well-rounded foreign policy plan also involves issues like foreign aid, global health, and combating poverty.
These issues aren’t just about giving away money to foreign countries, it’s about American interests overseas. When we help countries rebuild themselves after war, for example, we help foster the growth of democracy, provide infrastructure support, and help them transition towards a stable government. We are not only helping a country move forward to prosperity, but we are building a relationship that can lead towards trade agreements, open travel, and a long-lasting, positive relationship.
When we fund programs to help eliminate polio, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, we are not only protecting future generations of children in developing countries, but we are prevent the spread of disease. And combating poverty gives people a chance to improve their own personal economies and strengthens a global workforce.
But just because it wasn’t mentioned on Monday night doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it. In the absence of discussion of issues that so many organizations work to promote, this is now our opportunity-as a regular person, a small non-profit, or even a generation to make a positive change around the globe. The fact that global poverty wasn’t mentioned on Monday is a call to action for millennials to donate their time and money to non-profits working to end global poverty. Not mentioning global health or foreign aid is a chance for non-profits to affect positive change and move these issues onto the next presidential platform.
When Presidential candidates miss the mark, it’s up to us to treat global health, aid, and fighting global poverty like the important issues that they are.