S3 E1. From Trauma to Transformation: Empowering Women and Healing the Planet with Zainab Salbi

[00:00:00] Section: Podcast introduction

[00:00:00] Anna Stoecklein: Welcome to Season 3 of The Story of Woman. I'm your host, Anna Stoecklein.

[00:00:05] Anna Stoecklein: From the intricacies of the economy and healthcare to the nuances of workplace bias and gender roles, each episode of this season features interviews with thought leaders who provide fresh perspectives on critical global issues, all through the female gaze.

[00:00:20] Anna Stoecklein: But this podcast isn't just about women's stories. It's about rewriting our collective story to be more inclusive, equitable, and effective in driving change. It's about changing the current story of mankind to the much more complete story of humankind.

[00:00:37] Section: Season three introduction

[00:00:38] Anna Stoecklein: Hello, and welcome to season three of The Story of Woman. I am so glad that you're here. Before we get into it, I wanted to give you a quick update about the podcast, what to expect this season and what's to come in the future. So season three, will look similar to seasons one and two, I'm [00:01:00] speaking with authors, activists, business leaders, and more each episode exploring a different part of our world through the female gaze.

[00:01:06] Anna Stoecklein: So, nothing majorly new there. But, at the end of the season, I'm going to be releasing one episode for a new podcast idea that I have. But while it's new, and different, it doesn't come from nowhere. I see it as an evolution of The Story of Woman, and I can't wait to tell you more about it when that episode comes out. Such a tease, I know.

[00:01:30] Anna Stoecklein: On a separate and somewhat personal note, I'm actually going to be living in Nairobi, Kenya through this 2023 2024 winter and spring. You may have heard the special episode I released in September, which was about the Women Deliver conference I attended in Rwanda.

[00:01:48] Anna Stoecklein: Well, while I was there, I met representatives from all different kinds of humanitarian and international development organizations that are doing incredible work in the region and beyond. And that [00:02:00] got my wheels turning of how I could help tell the stories of these incredible women that the organization support.

[00:02:06] Anna Stoecklein: I also met a wonderful Kenyan journalist and podcaster there. And together, we're going to see how we might be able to help bring these stories to life through the art of podcasting.

[00:02:19] Anna Stoecklein: So firstly, I just wanted to share that pretty big life update that I'll be in Nairobi for, um, three, four, five, six months, but also say that if you or someone, you know, works for one of these kinds of organizations and think there might be a good collaboration opportunity, whether you're based in Nairobi or not, please get in touch. I'd love to have a chat with you and see if any ideas come to light. You can find all my contact details in the show notes.

[00:02:48] Anna Stoecklein: Lastly, you may notice more ads in the podcast now, I'm trying to keep those as relevant as possible and not impact the listening experience, but just as a reminder, you can get [00:03:00] ad free listening when you become a patron of the podcast. There's a link for that in the show notes as well. That's all for now. I hope you enjoy season three of The Story of Woman.

[00:03:11] Section: Episode level introduction

[00:03:12] Anna Stoecklein: Hello, and welcome to the first episode of season three of the Story of Woman podcast. And what an incredible conversation we have to start it off. Today I am speaking with Zainab Salbi, humanitarian, author and journalist who, as you'll hear me go on about right from the beginning, has been named one of the women changing the world by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Bill Gates.

[00:03:41] Anna Stoecklein: And Zainab has a remarkable personal story getting to that point, which we get into a bit today. Zainab started her career when she was just 23 years old as the founder and former CEO of Women for Women International, an organization that helps women survivors of conflicts. I've actually sponsored [00:04:00] some women that they support for several years now and could not recommend them more highly if you're looking for ways to support women and families that have been impacted by war.

[00:04:09] Anna Stoecklein: More recently, Zainab co founded Daughters for Earth, which is mobilizing and supporting women and girls all over the world who are at the forefront of safeguarding our planet. What I found so striking in our conversation was well, a lot of things, but one was the parallels between what Zainab saw and experienced that led her to start Women for Women International 30 years ago, and what she saw and experienced that led her to start Daughters for Earth more recently.

[00:04:40] Anna Stoecklein: In both instances, women were most impacted by the crisis, war in the first instance, climate change in the second. And they were on the ground doing most of the work to keep life going. Yet they got very little to no attention, support, or resources for solving these problems. I [00:05:00] do think that story is changing because awareness is increasing and people like Zainab are stepping in to do something about it, but I still found this very striking.

[00:05:11] Anna Stoecklein: As you'll hear me, repeatedly say during our conversation, I was blown away by Zainab's story and work and could have spoken with her for ages about so many things. She has so much wisdom to offer. She has two bestseller books you might like to read, Between Two Worlds and Freedom is an Inside Job. She's also the creator and host of several shows, including, Me Too, Now What? on PBS, and Through Her Eyes with Zainab Salbi at Yahoo News. She is also Chief Awareness Officer at findcenter. com and host of the Redefined podcast.

[00:05:47] Anna Stoecklein: If you enjoy my conversation with Zainab, please share it with a friend. One recommendation goes a long way in the podcast world. But for now, please enjoy my conversation [00:06:00] with Zainab Salbi.

[00:06:01] Section: Episode interview

[00:06:02] Anna Stoecklein: Hi, Zainab. Welcome and thank you so much for being here today.

[00:06:07] Zainab Salbi: Oh, Anna, it's great to be here with you. Thank you.

[00:06:10] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah. I'm really excited for this conversation to dig into a bit of your story and the two incredible organizations that you've started amongst many other things. But to start, in preparing for this, I noticed a common theme, which is that you very frequently have been named one of the women who is changing the world.

[00:06:32] Anna Stoecklein: And this has been by publications ranging from Newsweek to The Guardian. Oprah Winfrey called you a woman who's changing the world, and People Magazine and President Bill Clinton also called you one of the 21st century heroes among many other, accolades. So before we get into, you know, it's not gonna be hard to see why that is once we get into it, but before we get into your work, I wanna talk a little bit about how [00:07:00] you arrived at this point. So can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing and when you first knew that you were gonna dedicate your life to helping women and marginalized people?

[00:07:11] Zainab Salbi: Well, first of all, I don't know if I have arrived yet. I definitely arrived to my heart center. That's a different journey. But I grew up in a dictatorship in Baghdad, Iraq. And my life was a combination of beauty, I grew up in a loving family, I felt love in my family, in my parents. And Iraq in the seventies when I was a child, was a beautiful country. Uh, it still is a beautiful country, but it was also a relaxed country, let's say, no wars, none of that drama.

[00:07:47] Zainab Salbi: And life changed for me when Saddam Hussein took over, not only became the president of the country, but just before that actually became a friend of my family. We did not choose the [00:08:00] friendship, he chose the friendship. When someone so with so much power chooses the friendship, it's far more complicated to deal with it than our normal lives. You know, as normal people, it's just different. I wrote a whole book about that complexities, called Between Two Worlds.

[00:08:17] Zainab Salbi: But that impacted my life. Three things particularly impacted my life, knowing the dictator and calling him uncle, not because we were related to him, but because he was a friend of my father. And growing up seeing him all my teenage life basically on a weekly basis. And that impact is of fear. When I wrote my memoir, I was like, how do I explain fear to the world? Because fear for me was very tangible thing. I could touch it, and yet you can't, prove its existence, right?

[00:08:47] Zainab Salbi: So I grew up with fear and that really impacted, and I grew up with knowing injustice and not being able to do anything about it. So my blessing is that I wasn't oblivious to the injustices. I went [00:09:00] to a normal school. I could hear my classmates talk about public executions, about war, about killing, all of that. And at night I would hang out with my family with Sadan Hussein's palace and know that this is a different world we are living in. You know, know that there's a luxury and privileges that we are living in, that my classmates at school are not having that experience. So I knew that power is corrupt at a young age. And I'm so glad I knew that. I tear up because I spent my life, fighting that.

[00:09:36] Zainab Salbi: Um, The second thing is war. I was 11 years old, 10 years old when the war with Iran started. At a very young age during that time, I could see that all the men went to the front lines and all the news was just talking about the wars and about the tanks and the bullets and the soldiers and the military tactics.

[00:09:56] Zainab Salbi: But I, as a child, was only experiencing war from a [00:10:00] women's perspective. Everyone running life was a woman. The teachers, the police women, the doctors, the, everyone, everyone. And my mother, of course, right? Everyone was a woman. And I remember watching the news as a child standing in front of the tv and I was like, wow, they don't see the war as I am experiencing it, which is women trying to keep life going as the men were fighting and strategizing and doing like that. So at the very young age, I was aware that, oh, you know, we are missing this other side of war, basically. And eventually I came to learn, we're missing this other side of peace, of defining what peace is.

[00:10:43] Zainab Salbi: And the third and most important part that made me come to this journey is really my mother. And of course, most of us have relationships with mothers. You know, I, I always say, good, but you, I can't generalize that either. It doesn't matter whether it's good or not. [00:11:00] My mother, I am grateful for her because she made me read books when I was a teenager about women's rights.

[00:11:10] Zainab Salbi: I mean, she would take me to the bookstore and buy me books about feminist books, women's rights in Arabic, you know, women's freedom. And she would make me read roots about American history and about slavery in America. And honestly, I'm so grateful for this Iraqi woman who lived all her life in Iraq. You know, she unfortunately has passed away since, made me read about injustices around the world.

[00:11:40] Zainab Salbi: And she would tell me the stories of what women had gone through and how each generation of women push the other generation for a better life. From her great-grandmother to her grandmother, to her mother, to me. She would tell me that, you know, her mother did not go to school or to high [00:12:00] school. I mean, she went to primary school, you know, and then she made her daughters go to college and my mother made me go to, you know, live even the country to, so these impacted me.

[00:12:10] Zainab Salbi: And I remember I was 16 years old when I turned to my mom as she was driving. And I said, mama, when I grow up, I'm gonna help all women around the world. And instead of laughing at me, because every person who has dreams, there are always people who laugh at you, my mother turned to me and she said, and honey, you will, and you can. And that got imprinted on my life.

[00:12:36] Zainab Salbi: And, you know, since then I mean, between that time and the time I got to do something about it, 'cause I was, I was 16 years old and by the time I founded Women for Women, I was 23 years old. I went through a lot of tribulations. Believe it or not, I went through an arranged marriage, which does not mean that it was forced upon me, but it was arranged nevertheless.

[00:12:56] Zainab Salbi: And, you know, I, it's again, [00:13:00] complicated that my mother tried to get me out of Iraq and did not explain to me why. And it took me a very long time to understand why, but she begged me to accept a marriage of a man I did not know. Which ended up being a horrible marriage. But that's what brought me to America, and it ended up exposing me to the concept of rape.

[00:13:18] Zainab Salbi: And then I, you know, left the marriage with $400 in my pocket. And I went to school studying translation and sociology. And it's like, in hindsight, I'm 53 right now, between 16 and 23 is actually nothing, you know, but it took me only that time to find out that this is my calling.

[00:13:39] Zainab Salbi: And the calling is personal. It's not, like you mentioned this awards, and when you were talking about this award, all the times that I got the awards, I'm honored, I'm touched by them, but they didn't touch me. They didn't touch my ego, they didn't feed me.

[00:13:58] Anna Stoecklein: Hmm.

[00:13:58] Zainab Salbi: I was even [00:14:00] surprised for the longest time, like why do people do these awards things? I don't understand them. Like I really didn't really, really, really, really didn't because I was simply following my heart's calling, my pain, my attempt to do something about it. My commitment to stand up against injustice. I mean, I'm grateful that I was exposed to the corruption of power at a young age, and I was exposed to understanding war from a defend perspective at a young age.

[00:14:33] Zainab Salbi: I'm even grateful that I had gone through all the violation and moving from richness to poverty at a young age. I'm so grateful, because they made me the person I am and all what got me to do the work that I am doing is I am just simply following my heart's calling. That is it. If I succeed, then I am trying my follow my heart calling. If I fail, then I'm [00:15:00] trying to follow my heart calling. It doesn't matter what the world is saying or not saying, I'm just simply doing my journey.

[00:15:09] Anna Stoecklein: Well, I think we can wrap the interview right there. That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing. And it's just such a beautiful way to look at your whole life's journey of these things happen, these circumstances. And without them, I would not be who I am. I would not be able to follow my heart in this way or it would look different. And you know, we can look at, and we'll get into the millions might I say, of people's whose lives you've impacted. And all of that stems from these origins that you speak of. So that's such a beautiful way to look at it.

[00:15:50] Anna Stoecklein: And yeah, your story is incredible and you've touched on it a bit here, but I definitely encourage everyone to listen to more interviews with Zainab, read her [00:16:00] books, because you know, you find yourself in this situation in America, in a foreign country, this is after everything you talk about, in Iraq that was going on and in your upbringing, and then you're in America in a foreign country with $400 in your pocket after this horrific situation with your abusive ex. And from there, you end up rebuilding your life and at the prime, at the incredibly young age of 23 years old, after all of this, you started Women for Women International and it's just an incredible journey.

[00:16:38] Anna Stoecklein: So I wanna kind of continue our story on from there, but before we get into how on earth you did that, given just your age, but then on top of that, the situation and everything that led you to that point, can you just tell us a little bit about what Women For Women International is?

[00:16:58] Zainab Salbi: Women For Women International [00:17:00] simply works with women survivors of wars to help them rebuild their lives after the destruction of war. The program is designed in a very simple way. You know, by the time you reach the women, whether it is in the midst of conflict as it's going on right now or after the conflict, they've gone through a lot.

[00:17:20] Zainab Salbi: Their homes have been pillaged. Some of them have been personally violated or family members been violated or emotionally traumatized. And they have lost everything. Our model is, okay, we are here to help you rebuild. So it's a combination between emotional support but also very practical support.

[00:17:41] Zainab Salbi: Okay. Let's, let's do it. Let's stand on our feet. We don't have a choice in here. And it does few things. One is, they need financial support. They need cash. You know, everyone appreciate the money and the food and data. It's cash they need. Because there's something about [00:18:00] cash that gives people the integrity and the dignity to go to the store and buy what they need, not the clothes we send them.

[00:18:11] Zainab Salbi: Not against donating clothes. I don't, you know, but not the clothes that we send them, not the food we send them. It is what they need. So first we do cash. So we ask every woman around the world to send $30 a month to one woman for one year only, basically. And exchange letters and pictures to that one woman for one year.

[00:18:38] Zainab Salbi: That $30 a month, half of it goes to the women, and the other half goes to the following. That woman, let's say whatever country, um, Rwanda, let's say Rwanda, then is grouped with 20 other women and they create a woman's circle basically. And that Women's Circle sat meeting every week to learn women's rights, to [00:19:00] learn about their rights in society, in economy, in culture, in family. Just to understand, oh my God, I have this rights 'cause most women, not most, I mean, yes women at the very grassroots level, if you have not had exposure to education, you do not know your rights. You've been like hammered over decades of generations, saying that this is who we are.

[00:19:24] Zainab Salbi: You know, even in countries like America we are still finding out and fighting for our rights, right. So it's more like, this is your legal rights, this is your rights in these societies in general, as a woman. So build confidence, build knowledge.

[00:19:40] Zainab Salbi: Then the second part of the training is give them very tangible business training. We do market assessments. We see what the society's spending money on and give them very practical business skills, literally carpentry or farming, literal skills combined with how to do your finances, how to do your business plan, all of [00:20:00] these things.

[00:20:00] Zainab Salbi: So the theory is access to education, plus access to resources leads to lasting change. I do not believe that only if you give women education, they will be okay, or only if you give women money, they'll be okay. The truth is, behavior change takes different interventions. And these two interventions as we came to discover at Women for Women, actually make a lasting change. You know, her knowledge plus her resources.

[00:20:28] Zainab Salbi: So that's in a nutshell. And that program was started in Bosnia during the war. And like we improved it over years, and now has impacted more than half a million women directly raise more than $150 million to them in direct aid and in micro loans because after they graduate from the one year, there is a big graduation.

[00:20:52] Zainab Salbi: And then we help them get jobs, whether it's formal jobs, informal or their own businesses. And we have connected [00:21:00] another half a million women from 68 countries to support these other half million women all over the world in 16 countries thus far.

[00:21:10] Zainab Salbi: I founded it and run it and poured my heart and soul in it for 20 years. And since then, I handed over to a wonderful CEO and a friend Laurie Adams, who took it for 10 years and we just celebrated our 30th anniversary. And I don't have, literally, I don't have children. This is my child. And at the moment I see my child as an adult and growing and celebrating and nothing tickles my heart more than seeing that.

[00:21:40] Anna Stoecklein: Oh I can only imagine. I mean, over a half of a million women, 150 million in aid. It's incredible. And again, thinking about this stemming from that 23 year old who was touched personally and decided to do something about it, and here you are 30 years later, [00:22:00] it's just absolutely extraordinary.

[00:22:03] Anna Stoecklein: And I wanna ask some questions specifically about what you've learned from these women, because I can only imagine. You know, the number of women from all walks of life that you have spoken with, whose lives you have observed in the most atrocious of situations. But real quick, I wanna circle back to that 23 year old, 'cause you know, a lot of us have dreams and hopes and we wanna help. And it comes from personal places or places that have touched our hearts. But how did you go from having this touching your heart as a 23 year old, to what you've built today? Obviously that's gonna be a bit of a long answer, but maybe the kind of beginning stages that got you through.

[00:22:49] Zainab Salbi: You know, I first started demonstrating, like, remember, I believe ' cause I grew up in that circumstances that I grew up in a circumstance that I saw injustices [00:23:00] and couldn't do something about it. Because if I've done something about it, my parents would be killed, my family would be killed. That was a very linear connection, a direct correlation between speaking up. So I knew what's wrong, but there was a lot of fear to speak up and responsibility.

[00:23:19] Zainab Salbi: So when I came to America and left my abusive husband, and realize the one thing America gives you with all its troubles, with all, it's like, you know, being an immigrant in America is like you're constantly learning. Oh my God, it's not what they said. It's, you know, but it does give you freedom of expression. It gave me a freedom of expression. It may not give everyone freedom of expression, so I do not wanna generalize. It gave me.

[00:23:50] Zainab Salbi: Even though I am from Iraq, at that time, Iraq was the terrorist country where everyone is afraid of and da dah, dah, and there were people [00:24:00] afraid of me because I'm Iraq and there was a lot of racism and discrimination. I still had a freedom of expression. I still did. And when I noticed it, I was like, oh my God. I was like a child discovering chocolate for the first time. So excited and I felt responsibility.

[00:24:20] Zainab Salbi: Now that I live in a country that gave me that freedom, I cannot not use that freedom. That's a grammatically, wrong thing, but I cannot, you know, it's my responsibility to use that freedom. And so I felt responsible for it. When I saw now injustices. So when I saw the war in Bosnian, I was studying the Holocaust in college for the first time in my life, and the same month I studied the Holocaust, there was front page images of concentration camps and rape camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

[00:24:52] Zainab Salbi: And it was a very simple thing. They said this is wrong, and they said never again. It is happening again, right now, in front of my eyes. [00:25:00] For me, it was learning about two facts at the same month. And I felt responsibility to do something about it because, you know, those who stood up against the Holocaust are also individuals. I mean, I know the governments and, but there were individuals who did something. So I felt like I can, as an individual, I must do everything I can.

[00:25:20] Zainab Salbi: And so even though I had no idea where Bosnia and Herzegovina is, what is this country? What is the language? Who is this people? What is their religion? Nothing. I knew nothing. But I knew there were concentration camps and rape camps and women were violated. And I'm living in a country that gives me the freedom to do something about it, thus I must do something about it. Right. That my human responsibility. And at the beginning I joined demonstrations, and I wanna speak about this point for a while because a lot of people go to demonstrations and feel great about ourselves and then we go home and have our cappuccinos and you know, and forget.

[00:25:58] Zainab Salbi: And so I did go to [00:26:00] these demonstrations and after a while I was like, this is not doing anything for their people. I mean, it's doing, of course, it's political pressure, it's doing whatever, but it's not helping those who are in the concentration camps, you know? I mean like we need to do something. So I decided to first volunteer, there were no, there were not many groups working for Bosnia.

[00:26:23] Zainab Salbi: Then I came up with my own project and said, I wanna do this. If I can't volunteer, if I can't join something, then we'll do this. I don't have money, I don't have experience, but I have $30 a month. I can give $30 a month. And that's the creation of that project, you know? And I was like, I'm sure other women do.

[00:26:40] Zainab Salbi: And I just put it out there. So you said, how did I do that? You know, I came up with the idea. Because I didn't have money, I didn't have experience like, but I was like, we can do this. And I understood what it means to be in a war. You feel the world have abandoned you. You feel the world has forgotten about you.

[00:26:56] Zainab Salbi: So I knew that this emotional connection from someone [00:27:00] saying, I care about you, you are here. I see you, is important, but you know, I can't take the credit myself. First of all, I was at that time married to my very, very good friend and former husband and co-founder of Women for Women International, Amjad Atallah, who was very supportive of me saying, you can do it. Let's do it.

[00:27:19] Zainab Salbi: And then I met with the Unitarian Church, all elder people, their board, I presented to them. I was 22 year old kid saying, this is what I wanna do. And they're like, we'll support you for a year until you sign on your feet. And then I started giving speeches and women, I did not know who they are, called me and they said, we wanna join you.

[00:27:36] Zainab Salbi: We also have only $30 a month to come, to give. And it literally started from 33 women, 33 American women, I do not know who these 33 women, I just, they called me at that time, you know, but we found out a way. I was like, I'm discovering this myself. You know, and they trust. There was trust. They were saying, well, okay, we'll do this with you. I went to Croatia, [00:28:00] which is now a tourist country, but at that time was a world conflict area and found refugee camps and found a woman to help us deliver.

[00:28:09] Zainab Salbi: And it started in September, 1993 by helping 33 women. And me in a bus distributing that money to refugees. And speaking with a woman. And it just grew. It grew. So, first of all, I really cannot take credit for myself because it was everyone chiming in. Everyone did their bits, you know, first it's the women who sponsor, the donors and the staff, then my, my in-laws support everyone chimed in.

[00:28:38] Zainab Salbi: Right? What is it me in my personality? I mean, I'm, because I still believe I'm a believer, I'm a believer in making the impossible possible. I am a believer in the possibilities of creating change in the world. I'm a believer. You know, I didn't have job experience. I mean, I was [00:29:00] working as an assistant to someone else. There wasn't much of experience I guess I have, honestly, other than believing, I don't know what else and sort of a sense of, but of course I can.

[00:29:15] Zainab Salbi: And since then, I've not only manifested Women for Women, but other projects, you know, sometimes you fail. And I'm very hard on myself when I fail, and I've come to learn, okay, you know, I'm grateful for the failure because they're humbling. And they remind you of that because you get successful at a certain point and you become arrogant in your success. You forget what it means to start, you forget what it means to be on your knees. So I became even grateful for my failure. Okay? Okay.

[00:29:45] Zainab Salbi: But honestly, if I am to distill it, I would say a combination, if I am extremely honest, of believing and probably a dose of arrogance, I would say in a [00:30:00] constructive way. You know? You know, or because you have to have some confidence to say, I'm gonna do it even though you really don't have any tools.

[00:30:09] Zainab Salbi: Or I am a woman of color who's a Muslim from Iraq, was in America in the time of my country being called horrible things. And I had just gotten out of an abusive marriage. I could have stayed in my victimhood, said, oh my God, you are all racist against me and you are discrim, which there was a lot, and I was angry at it. Right? Or I just like, there must be some arrogant to say, okay, I'm gonna just do it, you know? And...

[00:30:41] Zainab Salbi: I wrote, my last book was about shadows on light. And how do you own your light and your shadow to change yourself and change the world? And I'm constantly looking into my shadows. And recently I have discovered that actually one of my shadows is a [00:31:00] sense of arrogant, which gave me that boost of energy and confidence that I can do it.

[00:31:05] Zainab Salbi: And I mean, maybe I'm saying it in a harsh way to myself, you know, you can say confidence, but it has a way of feeling I can do it.

[00:31:13] Anna Stoecklein: I think, yeah, I know what you mean by arrogance, but I'm gonna push back on that one. I think it sounds like, you know, it could almost just be belief all around you have belief that the world can be better and you have belief that you're able to make it better, belief in yourself, and it might be a really strong belief.

[00:31:35] Zainab Salbi: And I believe in the goodness of humanity. I really do. I mean, I've seen the worst of humanity. I've seen acts of humanity that you can't imagine humans do this to each other, let alone to animals, to each other. And I've been hurt a lot by humans, a lot. But I still have seen goodness in humanity.[00:32:00]

[00:32:00] Zainab Salbi: I've still seen beauty and love and kindness and generosity, and I feel we have a choice to look at the bad part and be bitter and angry about it. All of us experience the bad part, some more than the others. Or to look at it, but also equally pay attention to the good part, to the loving and kind and generous part. I tend to look at the glass half full part. You know, there is goodness, there is love in humanity, and I'm gonna choose to stick to that love.

[00:32:37] Anna Stoecklein: Well, like you said, there's lightness and there's darkness. So yeah, when you can see the lightness in humanity as a whole, that's a much, I think, stronger driver in the direction that you're taking the world. I mean, it's a, it's incredible.

[00:32:53] Anna Stoecklein: So I wanna hear then what you have learned from the women that you [00:33:00] have encountered, because presumably you have talked to thousands more women from all around the world. You have a very unique perspective and opportunity having spoken to women, I mean, to humanity, you know, not just women, but, I do wanna talk about women specifically. So you have seen light, you have seen darkness, but yeah what have you, what have you learned?

[00:33:27] Zainab Salbi: So many things. And they're not by any order, but one of them is women are strong. Honestly, women are very strong. My latest line, I just recently came from Kenya and saw some amazing work women were doing to protect the earth and is, you know, I came out of experiencing them and their works like women are in their power. They do not need to be empowered. They need [00:34:00] endorsements of their power. They need reinforcement of their power. They need support of their power. They need celebration of their power. They need to be heard for their power. They do not, you know, honestly, and this comes not only from, from the women I met, like if, if we go through half of what they've gone through, some of them, and stood up to the women they are, we are like, honestly.

[00:34:31] Zainab Salbi: And like after seeing some of the women and what they've gone through, I was like, who am I to be mellow dramatic about my, my, my issues? You know, I was like, I have a friend who whatever was like, she's like, oh, it's too much. I'm carrying too much energy.

[00:34:45] Zainab Salbi: I was like, carrying too much energy. Oh my God. I mean, you should see what these women are gone. So most women, I don't wanna say all women, but most women are really strong and powerful and resilient. But we have been hit [00:35:00] by society for an all society, all of them, you know, for generations. And created doubt and abuse and silence and all of that, right? But they are powerful and they are strong to survive and thrive despite all the racism and the sexism and the violence and all of that is an act of resilience and power, and I am in awe of them. So that's one resilience and appreciation.

[00:35:33] Zainab Salbi: The second I learned to appreciate personally beauty from women because I studied women's studies here in America in my undergrad, and I'm having issues with women's studies as I reflect on my studies because it was much more towards, like, I came out of it defining feminism as strong and as, do not highlight [00:36:00] your beauty.

[00:36:00] Zainab Salbi: You know, you're seeing, you're strong or, I didn't want anybody to distinguish me, what's the difference between women and men physically. Like I would wear a suit, da da, da, all of these things, right? So I took myself as this activist feminist who presented myself in a very particular way.

[00:36:15] Zainab Salbi: And I learned from the woman's softness, you know, softness and the importance of beauty and the importance of femininity. And that that does not mean weakness, it's actually strength. And it is part of the essence of life. And I learned it in so many ways. I mean, the story that I often repeat was my first time to Sarajevo, which was a besieged city and you know, this was a very horrible, horrible, horrible war. And I went and I was like, you know, it was not easy to enter the city. You have to go through the UN, plane, da da da. And then I went to the one, I was like, okay, what do you want me to bring you next time I'm here? And they're like, lipstick.

[00:36:56] Zainab Salbi: I was like, lipstick. Who caress about lipsticks? Don't you [00:37:00] need, I dunno, I, I, I, I'm against weapons, but don't you need pen and papers and vitamins and, you know, write with your resistance. And, and they're like, it's the simplest thing that we can put on and feel beautiful and tell that sniper before he kills us, that he is killing a beautiful person.

[00:37:19] Anna Stoecklein: Wow.

[00:37:20] Zainab Salbi: All I learned from women in Congo or in Rwanda, that they lost everything. And yet they plant flowers in front of their humble huts. That's just beauty. Or women in Afghanistan where they lost everything and yet they care for, I mean, now just the newest, the Taliban closed all the beauty parlors today in Afghanistan. And it's from the Afghan woman, I learned how to take care of myself, my eyebrow, my upper lips, my, you know, all the things that is important like that, that beauty feeds us. And we should not dismiss it. We should not reject it as feminists, as activists, you know, we should [00:38:00] embrace it. That softness is actually beautiful. And over time it took me, they took me to learn about the importance of feminine values.

[00:38:09] Zainab Salbi: And that these feminine values are not only soft, they're strong, they're multidimensional, like masculine values. Uh, but that we need to learn them and we need to appreciate them and we need to honor them and incorporate them and lead with them in our lives. I learned that from the women. And I learned humility.

[00:38:26] Zainab Salbi: I learned that knowledge, the meaning of knowledge, is not limited to books and intellectual knowledge. You know, there are a lot of people who like repeats, um, quote one author after the other and like their sentences is quoting and I feel very insecure 'cause I don't remember these authors, or maybe I did not read these books and oh my god, you know, I learn that is part of knowledge.

[00:38:53] Zainab Salbi: Knowledge we learn in schools, knowledge, we learn in books and by repeating to each other what we remember. The other part of [00:39:00] knowledge that I learned from the women is intuitive knowledge. It is on the ground knowledge. People who are poor and uneducated know what is needed. They are not oblivious. They're not stupid, they are not ignorant. They know what is needed. It is us, frankly, who are educated, quote unquote, people who are arrogant, too arrogant to understand that we need to be humble so we can listen what the people on the ground need. We think our intellectual knowledge, you know, is the knowledge.

[00:39:37] Zainab Salbi: Knowledge I came to learn is both. And if one takes over the other is not good. It's not constructive. It is a combination of both historical understanding of what's going on and science and math and all the research and data and figures and facts and all of that, but also [00:40:00] intuitive, heartfelt. I believe the heart has a language and has wisdom and it's wisdom as important as the mind's wisdom in my opinion. And that people on the ground know what is needed and we need to combine. And that is the highlight of my learnings from them.

[00:40:22] Anna Stoecklein: Whew. I could hear you talk about this all day, and I love that way of thinking and I couldn't agree more with absolutely everything that you've said and the heart and the mind and the needing to come together and the masculine and the feminine and those coming together. I mean, it's embracing all of who we are.

[00:40:43] Anna Stoecklein: And I mean, it's so much more. And then it's, yeah, listening to, not coming in with our solutions, putting on top of people, but going back to, you know, the power. We don't need to, they have the power. Circling back to that, I mean, just everything, [00:41:00] everything resonates. I wanna keep talking about that, but I also want us to make sure we have time for your current world changing organization that you have recently started.

[00:41:16] Anna Stoecklein: So I would love to have you tell us about Daughters for Earth, what it is, why female-led climate action is so important, and then I would love to get into some of the projects that you're working to support as well.

[00:41:31] Zainab Salbi: So, Daughters for Earth, in essence is basically arguing that women are actually playing major role in climate change and that actually we cannot solve, we, humanity, cannot solve the biggest existential crisis facing our existence beyond nations and borders and all of that, [00:42:00] without the full inclusion of half of humanities population. And that is women.

[00:42:08] Zainab Salbi: And I do not wanna, by the way, apologize or even say the word women because lately you have to like, worry about, even though I was like, I was like, I am claiming my women hoods and all of that, and all of the children of women inclusive of all genders, but I'm also women. So thus the word, daughters, because daughters and all of her children basically. So first that.

[00:42:36] Zainab Salbi: Second is climate change is impacting significantly women, and mostly in displacement because of the crisis that is creating, as well as in food scarcity because it is ultimately women who tend to be less mobile than men who are responsible for their foods and their children's food, basically. So it's really impacting [00:43:00] women in a more severe way than it's impacting men in general. And that's what the world is talking about, there's some figures about that at the UN is producing basically.

[00:43:10] Zainab Salbi: What we discovered is women are actually leading some of the most important human led climate solutions according to the scientists. So if you hear the news, we're only talking about technology as a solution to climate change. Well, actually, according to One Earth, Science, scientists came, a group of scientists came saying, we have three directions to solve climate change. The most important one is to protect 50% of Earth. Leave her alone, which for me makes complete sense because whatever disease you have, whatever illness you have, the first thing the doctors tell you no matter what you have, is go and rest. 'cause the body regenerate itself when we are resting. It's like [00:44:00] that here. I mean, for Humana, right? I mean it's

[00:44:02] Anna Stoecklein: Yeah.

[00:44:03] Zainab Salbi: Apparently Earth is the same thing. Huh? Like, surprise. Right? So that is number one most important intervention actually to solve climate change. And it's not only 50% of every country, these lands have been mapped and water have been mapped.

[00:44:19] Zainab Salbi: So it is 40% of this country, but 20% of this. But it's been mapped. It's called the zero net corridor. And if you go to one earth.org that you actually see the Earth's map and how this is to understand where are these 50%? Right?

[00:44:35] Zainab Salbi: The second intervention is to shift to regenerative agriculture, which is about the health of the soil. Again, for me, it's common sense, right? Our body's health, it would generate our health, right? So the health of the soil is most important and thus, as what's known, some call it regenerative agriculture, the some call it something else. But that is the second.

[00:44:57] Zainab Salbi: And the third, yes, is to shift to renewable [00:45:00] energy, which is all the media is focused on, and I, I believe it is because it's so technology led, and thus very man led. So it's not wrong, it's just not the only way. I mean, we have enough technology to lead us to the solution. We don't need to invent and put more money in new technologies.

[00:45:17] Zainab Salbi: Now, women, which we discovered are actually taking huge actions in the first two actions, in protecting land and water, biodiversity, animals, rewilding, and in shifting to regenerative agriculture because women are 60 to 80% of small scale farmers in the world.

[00:45:33] Zainab Salbi: But do we hear about women leading solutions? None. And do we know how much women get of all the environmental funding, that goes 2 cents out of every dollar. And that really, when I discovered that, and I'm not a climate expert, I understand the world of women, but it's like, oh my God, here comes the story again.

[00:45:56] Zainab Salbi: Women impacted the most by a crisis. They do a [00:46:00] lot of the work to keep life going. They get no attention and no support and resources, and we've got to change. I mean, it's like, for me, it's a familiar story, right? And so the activist, the feminist in me, I was like, Ugh, we gotta do something about it.

[00:46:15] Zainab Salbi: But, uh, something else happened in me and I almost died exactly four years ago, short of four days. And I moved from a perfect day in my life, top of my mountain, to the operating room where I thought I was taking my last breath. This is like, that was a second of, that's it. And, I was very sick for a year and a half, and I couldn't live in the city anymore. I grew up in a city. I lived all my life in cities. I am a city woman. And when I was really sick, I couldn't live in the city. And the only [00:47:00] place I could live in was nature. And in that time where I lost my ability to speak, to think, I lost my cognitive abilities, my nervous system fell apart, like just hearing sound felt a thousand times more in my ears.

[00:47:15] Zainab Salbi: And I couldn't do anything. I just stayed in nature. And out of that, I came with such profound appreciation and connection and joy for nature that I a hundred percent believe nature saved my life. I don't mean only good food, eating good food. I was eating good food. I mean, I felt the trees were giving me like, you go girl, you go carriage to like walk.

[00:47:48] Zainab Salbi: I felt each wave of ocean was like an electric shock to my lungs, so I can breathe. I came out with such deep gratitude to earth, [00:48:00] such deep gratitude that I have, I'm sorry I missed appreciating her before. You know, I feel like if Earth was a friend, she would have broken up with us long time ago for being the most self-centered, narcissistic, controlling, unappreciative friend to her.

[00:48:19] Zainab Salbi: And I was that. Like, like, like I was like, ah, birds. Sure. Now I look at a bird in my garden and I say, this is li, make life worth it. Honestly, I'm not. I look at a hummingbirds like this makes all life worth it just to see this.

[00:48:36] Zainab Salbi: Four years ago that happened, but I became healthy, two years and a half ago. And I came out saying, I do not understand climate change, but I shall do everything in my capacity to stand up for Mother Earth and to protect her. That's all what I know.

[00:48:53] Zainab Salbi: And with that came, I went to my co-founder, Jody Allen, who had asked me to do [00:49:00] something. What can we do to mobilize women in climate change? And that's the intellectual research that I sort of mind led research that I shared with you earlier. But then there was a hearts opening in the process and I came and I said, this is big.

[00:49:15] Zainab Salbi: Like we don't have 20 years to, to do, we have now. And let's co-found a group called Daughters for Earth and let's mobilize a hundred million dollars to find and fund women-led climate solutions, to celebrate women's efforts and what they're doing and show it to the world, and to give the science and the knowledge to everyday women to understand what is going on, to understand human led solution and to give tools and resources to every woman that she, he or they, and all the gender capacities can do something about their lives, basically.

[00:49:53] Zainab Salbi: Because we can, I think we are living in the era of the people. And the[00:50:00] era of the people does not mean only we all go on Instagram or any of the social media and populate these things. The era of the people means that people rise up and create change. And this is for me, daughters rising up all around the world to create change.

[00:50:19] Zainab Salbi: Some because they're giving money. You know, we're asking people to give $10 a month only to Daughters for Earth to the Hummingbird Effect, we're just launching a campaign called the Hummingbird Effect, to basically, in the essence, do all you can, whatever you can to stand up for Mother Earth. Some are like putting their lives out there and protecting the earth and all of us, we need to again, unite for the only mother we all have, the only home we all have. So I again, believe we can.

[00:50:56] Anna Stoecklein: If people don't believe after that, then [00:51:00] I don't know what, just incredible. And yeah, the parallels you drew of what you witnessed in your younger years with women and what we're witnessing now, that is something to be drawn on. I mean, I could go on for another hour with you about that specifically. That sent light bulbs off in my head, thinking about it in that way. And here you are again doing your thing.

[00:51:24] Anna Stoecklein: Um, So back to the beginning of the conversation, really, really not hard to understand as much as you don't care about the awards, why you are seen as a woman changing the world because you literally are, the people in it and the planet itself, and coming from your heart center, again, that story that led you to where you are today was purely from your personal experience from your heart center. And I have to imagine that's what helps keep you going? 'cause I imagine you get asked a lot, what keeps you going? And you know, I'm kind of [00:52:00] curious about that. But I do think, you know, when a person follows their heart and that's where it comes from, you almost feel like you don't have another choice.

[00:52:08] Zainab Salbi: I don't, you know, I really, it's so simple for me because I can't not do that. And when I been in situations where I tried to do something, I was 10 years in the journalism world. And it's a trickier world, that world. You can't always be in integrity to your voice. I literally, something dies inside me.

[00:52:32] Zainab Salbi: If I am not in alignment, what I'm trying to say to myself inside, I die inside. So it's very, very simple. I don't know if other people also do that, but something dies in me and I can't, I don't wanna live life like that. So all the other aspects where we sacrifice ourselves for money, security, whatever it is for me, I can't sacrifice my [00:53:00] alignment to myself for that security. I believe I just have to follow my own alignment and that security comes.

[00:53:11] Anna Stoecklein: Yes.

[00:53:11] Zainab Salbi: You know, eventually comes and it may not be in the volume that you know, all of the whatever, but it comes as long as I'm living well and I'm living in integrity and I'm eating and happy, you know, who cares if this or if you get this or this, you know, it doesn't matter.

[00:53:31] Zainab Salbi: So as long as that happens, but yeah, that's for me is my compass. What is inside is only me know. Am I in alignment or not?

[00:53:40] Anna Stoecklein: Hmm. I love that. And once again, couldn't agree more. So I wanna end with some kind of, I don't really like the word advice, but some kind of inspiring thought from yourself to our listeners. And what you're just saying at the end got me thinking because I understand everything that you're talking about, that certainly [00:54:00] resonates. That's something that I try to do is stay in alignment and I feel like a part of me dies as well if I do not.

[00:54:08] Anna Stoecklein: But I'm just thinking if this is more conceptual for people or if people, you know, want to live this aligned life, this heart-centered life, but they're stuck in these other loops that maybe don't feel like they are their lives, it can be really hard to move from that to what you're talking about this alignment, for the practical reasons of what you might have to give up and change.

[00:54:32] Anna Stoecklein: But even just like knowing what your heart wants when we've been trained for so long to listen only to our head. So yeah, it's kind of a big question to end with.

[00:54:43] Zainab Salbi: Well, I wanna answer it with a Rumi poem, and I'm gonna paraphrase. Rumi is a 13th century poet, and I love him, in love with him. I wish he could reincarnated somehow. [00:55:00] Um, but there's a poem, I'm rephrasing it. But it says, the garden is beautiful and luscious and the flowers are blooming and the butterflies are, you know, dancing. If you come, it is beautiful. If you do not come, it is still beautiful.

[00:55:24] Zainab Salbi: Now, what is the connection between what I'm trying to say? And you know, your question. You have to find the garden in yourself, and that means to live in alignment, you take risk. It's a lot of jumping off the cliff. For me, a lot of it for me to tell the truth about my family's upbringing, my upbringing and my family's relationship with Saddam, that was a jumping of the cliff. I risked everything, everything to tell the truth, but the truth freed me.

[00:55:59] Zainab Salbi: [00:56:00] Uh, Starting Women for Women, leaving Women for Women, you know, starting a new path. All of them are, feels at that moment you are jumping off the cliff as in jumping from the safety of what you know. And sometimes that safety is not good. I mean, it's familiar, but it's not good. Some women stay in not good marriages, not abusive, but not good marriages because of the safety of the marriage, of the financial safety that the marriage provides. Or some men do the same thing, by the way, you know, emotional, but it's not good.

[00:56:38] Zainab Salbi: People stay in jobs. It's not because it's good, because they're attached to the safety. So the jumping off the cliff is a risk. But that risk often, in my opinion, led me to my freedom. And every time I took that leap of faith to follow my heart center, and it's scary, I'm like, and you jump [00:57:00] and you, for me, always find my wings in the process, always landed somehow, some way.

[00:57:09] Zainab Salbi: I trust life. I personally trust life, but my compass is to follow my truth. And the more I follow my truth, the more the dark stones in my chest that gave me anxiety, disappear. You know, and they become clear crystals basically, right? And so the truth lead you to the garden of yourself inside of you.

[00:57:36] Zainab Salbi: Now when I say if you come, it is beautiful. If you don't come, it's beautiful. The attachment to what people say or think or what society measures as success or failure or good or bad is irrelevant. It's because that's attachment to us and many of us, right? [00:58:00] You know, it's not that I don't have it, by the way. I am aware of it and when I catch myself in it, I'm, ah, here it is, right? And so we all wired like that. So you have to take that risk and be willing that you are not gonna be liked and approved by everyone. You have to in order to follow your bliss and you have to trust that life, like nature demonstrates, has a way to reorient itself.

[00:58:31] Zainab Salbi: Like hurricanes happen, within few months or a few years, it's luscious again. Fires happen and it regrows again. Life is that in our lives as well. So you can stay in this barren, you know, life or job or relationship or whatever it is, and stay in your fear. Or you can take [00:59:00] risk and follow your heart and trust. It'll work out.

[00:59:03] Zainab Salbi: That's how it worked out for me. So I can only share that, but the journey is hard. I do not wanna sugarcoat it. It is freaking hard. But the taste of chocolates at the end of the journey is so delicious that it makes it all worth it. My heart is broken over and over again, I promise you. But as a Sufi saying says, break my heart, or break my heart again so I can love even more. So, the journey breaks my heart. There are people who criticize you. There are people who hurt you. There are insecurities you go through, but in that heartbreak, there is an opening and you can choose to make the opening, enabling to love even more.

[00:59:56] Anna Stoecklein: Oh, [01:00:00] all right. I cannot think of a better note to end on. I don't wanna end. I wanna just keep going forever, but the time has come. Thank you so much for that. Thank you so much for this entire hour, for everything you have done for the planet, for the people on the planet, and no doubt there will continue to be impact that ripples down from this forever, from your work. It's absolutely incredible and I'm so thankful that you've shared your story and your journey and your learnings and everything else with us today. Thank you so much.

[01:00:37] Zainab Salbi: I am truly grateful for your company, your questions, and the space that you have created that is so beautiful. And I invite everyone to join Daughters for Earth. Just check Daughters for Earth.org and just see it and learn at the minimum. And maybe you'll do more, but just go there if you can. Thank you.

[01:00:57] Anna Stoecklein: Thank you. Absolutely. Link will be in the show [01:01:00] notes.

[01:01:01] Section: Outro

[01:01:03] Anna Stoecklein: Thanks for listening. The Story of Woman is a one woman operation run by me, Anna Stoecklein. So if you enjoy listening and want to help me on this mission of adding woman's perspective to mankind's story, be sure to share with a friend. One mention goes a long way. Hit that subscribe button so you never miss an episode and make sure to rate and review the podcast while you're there.

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Zainab Salbi
Zainab Salbi
Founder of Women for Women International and Daughters for Earth