Your Voice is Vital: Using Your Megaphone to Change the World


More than ever before, women are a part not only of the conversation, but of the actions that are moving our world towards better future. Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices, an “NGO that identifies, trains, and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe,” tells the stories of extraordinary women on the front lines of social justice issues the world over in her new book, Vital Voices: The Power of Women Leading Change around the World, out today.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Nelson about the role women play in combating social ills and how women without large platforms can use their voices for good. Too often, many of us shy away from acting on large problems within our local and global communities. Issues like hunger, poverty, and wellness are problems with deep roots not easily tackled. Furthermore, it’s easy to feel as though you don’t have the power or influence to make change. But as Nelson asserts, “We all have a platform. It just takes some out-of-the-box thinking about what kind of platform you have within your community. If you don’t feel you have your own, borrow someone else’s; find someone else to support.”

The easy option is to shy away from leadership, but as Nelson believes, “You can’t wait for an invitation to lead. Many of the women [featured in Vital Voices] didn’t have a big platform, but they didn’t wait for an invitation to step up and make change.”

One such woman profiled in Vital Voices, Esraa Abdel Fattah, organized a day of protest in Egypt:

In early 2008, long before the Arab Spring spread across the region, Esraa set up a Facebook group to promote a day of civil disobedience – a general strike and protest of workers’ low wages at a textile factory in Mahalla al-Kobra, an industrial city north of Cairo.

Esraa reached out to friends and colleagues, encouraging them to show solidarity with the workers. Online supporters of her “April 6 Movement” grew rapidly from several hundred to more than 77,000. On April 6, 2008, as thousands of workers across Egypt went on strike, the security police cracked down on the demonstrators, killing four. Esraa, known as the “Facebook Girl,” was arrested and sent to Qanatir Women’s Prison.

Esraa’s Facebook group was also a means of protection: after her arrest, members put out the call to “Free Esraa!” Nelson sees social media use such as this not only as a way to organize, but a way to demand accountability and provide security for women activists, and as a way to provide powerful voices to leaders and members.

Esraa may not have had a large platform to speak from at first, but she used her megaphone in a way that sparked a movement and helped lay the groundwork for her and others’ participation in the coming Egyptian revolution.

Whether you blog, tweet, tumble, or lead your PTO, you have a platform and a voice that can be used for positive change no matter how large or how small. Just as Vital Voices “takes care of the women who take care of the world,” we have the opportunity to come together online and offline to support each others’ quest to improve our lives and the lives of others.