Afternoon Keynote: Women Influencers as Change Agents with Soledad O'Brien, Christy Turlington Burns, and Malaak Compton-Rock


Lisa Stone
Soledad O'Brien
Christy Turlington Burns
Malaak Compton-Rock

Lisa: Soledad and I first met when she was one of the first women to do a series of interviews of women in technology. Soledad and her husband have the Soledad O'Brien and Brad Raymond Foundation that gives women the means to educate themselves on technology.

Soledad: Good afternoon. For those of you who know my work, for 25 years I've been a reporter and after Hurricane Katrina I realized there were all these women who were left with nothing and I realized they needed wrap around services. They needed wrap around services. Almost like my kids, they needed "Oh you will go to college." Help with their goals and even to know they had goals. Today we are here because women are so well positioned to make change. Today we are going to have a conversation with two very powerful women who are "celebrity women" who leverage their advantages to help other women and children.

So Christy Turlington Burns is a global health advocate and founder of which seeks to engage audiences to take action to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. Please join me in welcoming her.

Maalak Compton-Rock has leveraged her PR career to promote volunteerism and social change with the

Soledad: There are 6 projects under your main one, talk to us about those.

Malaak: I really care about children, women and education. I focus on the US, Brooklyn and Africa. In Africa I work on HIV and education, so in Journey for Change, we take children in Brooklyn to S. Africa. We believe that in order for children...

Soledad: I cover for Journey for Change a lot, so let me say that what you do is help children in a lot.

Soledad: It's okay, I'm going to let Christy jump in here and talk about how sometimes you have to help the mother and children separately.

Christy: You're right, if a mother is supported, then her children are supported, if she thrives, they thrive. She will make sure they will get fed, educated, vaccinated and they will survive past 5.

Christy: I had a child but about an hour later I could not get past labor and I started to hemorrhage and I was in the right place and I did fine, but I learned that that happens in other places in the world and women and babies die. And often times the mother is sitting quietly while everyone is focusing on the baby and that is when the mother's health may be in jeopardy. So it is this opportunity to get into a life and make a difference.

Soledad: What has been your biggest challenge in getting the message out?

Christy: For me a lot of it has been that it is information they don't know. I think the most challenge is that while 90% of the deaths are preventable. A lot of it is about functioning healthcare systems. So you have to start the conversation where we all have common ground, mom to mom, friend to friend and then you take it to the next level such as if you get her to the hospital but there is no blood. We can't solve all the problems at once.

Malaak: For me it is people asking me why do you care about that child who lives so far away?

Soledad: How do you answer that?

Malaak: Because I care about all children. Because we are all human beings. Because every child matters. We were in a shantytown in Johannasberg and I saw this little naked child, skinny, malnourished and I was hurt and devastated by how I couldn't help him and I was describing how hungry he was and I was Twittering and someone asked why I cared and I said "Why I shouldn't care?" I just stopped, why should I have this argument?

Soledad: I think sometimes the people you are helping have this challenge.n It would break your heart. What has been your challenge, Christy?

Christy: We're a small organization, still pretty new. I've been trying to keep things lean and at first thought we'd be a campaign not an organization. I have to say we have a long-term plan with short-term results right now.

Soledad: How do you scale? Do you get that question a lot? For a lot of us scaling and keeping your arms around it, because your not running it and your not running it but it is your passion.

Christy: Yes, scaling is a concern for me. Because there are pilots everywhere, but what that says to people is that it's not going to be there forever and for us we want to stay lean and be flexible and enjoy what we've enjoyed so far and look each other in the face and make a decision in the moment.

Soledad: How many trips have you made to Africa with your girls?

Malaak: We've just taken our 12th trip. We've just been to ___ (Namibia?) and Lola has been there. We went to Sierra Leon (sp?) and we went to Ghana. We went to ___ (ket-a-crotch-ay)

Soledad: You were literally buying children.

Malaak: We were buying children, there are about 7,000 children who are being sold by their parents. They are fishing. Many die because they are diving, fishing for fish. They are in sexual servitude. They are sleeping with cattle. My daughter was 8 on that trip. We would go on the fishing vessel and we were lucky on that trip and were able to free two slaves. We took two of the Journey for Change kids from Brooklyn to Ghana to witness the release of African kids so it was quite an extraordinary experience.

Soledad: It is important for kids to understand what the world is and what their role in changing that world can be. How are you doing that with your kids?

Christy: I am doing that with my girls. My husband has been with me and now I am starting to do that with my girls. This started with my experience with Grace being born, I like to say when I was graced and she is proud of that. She's a girl so she's proud of that. With my son, being a boy, I'm trying to be gender-balanced, so it's important to lead in that way and show simple things in your home and how life can be lived and what life would be like if they weren't there.

Soledad: We sent a child to Harvard for a day and when she was coming from CA and we realized that we didn't have space for her in our NY apartment, and then my husband said to kick our girls out of their room and let Tiara stay in their room, sit at our dinner table and set an example for our daughters. You can have your children join a Board as a junior member at age 12, which I think is a great idea! What would you like people to do?

Christy: We would like people to once they know something to use their voice. Raise awareness. Then we need support. Financial support. So we offer a lot of ways on our website But it has to really speak to you. If this doesn't, there is something there out there for you. And we really need to stop these mommy wars and politicizing our bodies! We need each other! Mommies need mommies!

Malaak: Journey for Change is very personal to me. Give to what is personal to you. If you are a lawyer donate your legal skills, if you are a photographer, donate your photography skills, if you are a florist donate your floral skills -- a non-profit can save money if you give your professional skills. The average amount of money given to a non-profit is $4.12 the idea that people give $10,000 is not true. The cost of a cup of Starbucks coffee is what people give. And volunteer, once a month, three times a month, whatever you can give. And figure out where you want to volunteer, HIV, the elderly, figure out wherever you want to make a difference. For me it is education, women, and children.

Soledad: Before we open it up to questions I wanted to mention a story I had to cover was an orphanage in Haiti. They had to bring them outside because they were worried about the buildings falling in so babies in Port-a-Cribs. I would ask the missionaries how do you do this every day? And the missionary would say you know it is the story of the starfish. A boy is walking down the beach chucking in starfish. A man says, "Why are you throwing in starfish, this beach is full of them, it won't make a difference." The boy picks up a starfish and throws it in and says, "Guess it made a difference to that one." If you can make a difference and then build up momentum you can really move the needle.

Audience Question: You are a gift to women, we need to celebrate what you have done. My blog is about encouraging women and congrats for getting off the fence.

Christy: I've done a lot of Q&As with bloggers now, but thank you for getting me off the fence!

Audience Question: I've heard both of you speak at these conferences. What is the best lesson you've learned as you walk off the stage that makes you come back and do this another day?

Christy: There is something very invigorating about being in a room full of people.

Malaak: It's you all. I'm more inspired by you. The women here.

Soledad: A women last year said "I'm going to start a foundation too!" It was different from mine, but I fly out to support hers and she flies out to help mine. My experience is that women are very supportive of each other. It is women bloggers who are very supportive. The mommy wars are a media creation.

Audience Question: Christy I am interested in women in children in other countries, how is your organization working differently from the World Health Organization to reach out to the people?

Christy: We are an advocacy organization, so the difference between us and WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Organization is that we are very small and invite participation. You aren't likely to be able to go volunteer for them.

Audience Question: I've hiked Kilimanjaro (sp?) 3 times to raise money and I want to ask you about how you deal with donor fatigue.

Soledad: I find people like more of an experience. Like they want to help finance a specific person. Make a direct connection between their dollar and what you are trying to achieve. We want our supporters to know that they can change the direction of this particular life.

Malaak: Always keep them updated on their journey.

Audience Remark: I have a direct connection to both of your charities. I am from Sierra Leone. My father is ___ (Time?) mentioned in your clip -- that boy is my cousin. And my grandmother died in childbirth -- so thank you for what you are doing.

Audience Question: How do you do this if you are not a celebrity?

Christy: I think it depends on what your goal is, if you want to affect your community, you don't need the whole world to know about your cause. It depends on what your motivation. I think there are a lot of mixed motivations out there. But if you want to take on global issues and impact a lot of lives, you do have to make a lot of noise.

Soledad: This is the end of our time. Want to remind you that awareness is important to all of us, so visit our web sites and follow us on Twitter.