In the room with an activist

logo Arzu Studio Hope

When Troy Davis was executed Tuesday night, I went to bed with a heavy heart and an equally burdened mind.  I said what I could process that night via social media and awoke with the same feelings, but with the additional baggage of feeling bad for knowing I would go on about my day, as I knew pretty much everyone except for those close to the case, would.  I had to get dressed, take my car in for service, find some breakfast and head to the Idea Festival.

Once there, I thought about the blog post or editorial column I should have been writing instead of sitting in a session about Rethinking Louisville.  I thought, I should be saying something about the conflict the death penalty presents:

We need to recognize that human beings do terrible things to each other and that some of those actions are so repugnant to our sense of humanity, and reform so unlikely for the persons who commit them that their removal from existence is to society’s betterment, but that exactly what those crimes are is subjective and often discriminatory.

But instead of at least jotting down those notes in the WordPress app on my phone, I tweeted about #IF11.  And in addition to that icky feeling I get when death is used as justice, I felt bad about the amount of money the work on my car would cost, the lack of diversity present in the first session, the fact that I wasn’t in Thrivals 4.0, that I didn’t have an all-access pass to the festival this year and that I’m just as shallow as everyone else deluged with hashtag causes.

Then, I ended up in the room with a real activist.  I attended a presentation by Connie Duckworth, founder and chief executive officer of Arzu Studio Hope, a social enterprise she started to help bring economic stability to and improve the overall quality of life for women in Afghanistan.  Practically everything she said about the program amazed me.  (Quick examples of how it works socially: the man of the house permits his wife to weave and sell rugs in exchange on the condition that every child in the household gets an education and the wife gets pre- and post-natal care. How it works as a business: They started by finding out what the market would buy and then produced it.)  But for the purpose of this post, what really sticks out is her decision to do it.

I can’t remember the circumstances under which she was in Afghanistan prior to starting Arzu, but she was there, and as she was leaving, she saw women living in conditions she didn’t like.  As she got on the plane to return home, she said, “I’m going to do something personally to help these women.”

As a former Goldman-Sachs executive and graduate of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Connie Duckworth clearly has resources that about 90 percent of us don’t.  But I think she’s inspiring to anyone who feels helpless because she doesn’t let the magnitude of the problem stop her.  Instead of looking at global poverty, she thinks, “What do I need to do to employ three more women?” and then she does that.  She employs some 1300 women now.

I’ve realized there are few people who care enough about anything to take decisive action to change it.  But I believe that there are enough causes out there for everyone to take one on, and that once people find that cause that makes them linger a little longer before they get on the plane to go home, they won’t be able to stay away from it.

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