Let the Women Get Strong Again!
An Interview with Kimberly Weichel, Incoming CEO, Peace X Peace
by Mary Liepold
- Who are you, Kim, in just a few words?
I call myself a social pioneer, or social entrepreneur, and a peacebuilder. I say pioneer because a lot of my work has been in areas of society that are underserved and need innovative solutions. I say entrepreneur because I am using entrepreneurial principles in the social realm to build healthy societies and foster needed change. Peacebuilder is the systematic building of peace in all its many realms. The builder part is especially significant for me, by the way, because my father was an architect and also because it’s vital to see peacebuilding as a professional endeavor.
- How do you define peace, then, and peacebuilding?
I see peace as holistic and comprehensive―not just the absence of war, but a range of policies, programs, systems, and attitudes that creates economic and environmental sustainability, well-being, equity, justice and good governance. It’s about creating supportive structures that enhance society and serve everyone.
Yet for me peacebuilding is also about values. Peacebuilding is living our lives authentically in congruence with our values, speaking up when we see injustice and taking a stand when we want to see change. It’s doing our inner healing work so we have a healthy foundation from which to serve others. It is taking responsibility to balance meeting our own needs with those of others. It is forgiving those who have hurt us. It is caring deeply about the well-being of our communities and our world.
Peacebuilding for me is closely inter-related with feminine values and spirituality―these are my core tenets. They represent collaboration, partnership, caring, and connection―core principles also at Peace X Peace.
- Of all your various peacebuilding achievements, what gives you the greatest satisfaction?
At least three high points come to mind.One was while I was living in South Africa during apartheid. (We had planned to stay a year there and wound up staying five, from 1975 to 1980.) I was a student, young, passionate, deeply troubled by the injustice I saw, and learning international development from the grassroots. I soon became aware of a large squatter community called Crossroads near Cape Town that the government planned to bulldoze. I was horrified since it was home to thousands of Africans who had nowhere else to live. I got involved with a group of professionals who worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of Crossroads, seeking assistance from community leaders and international Consulates. I tried to interest the media in our struggle, and the Time and Newsweek correspondents said “Call us when the bulldozers come.”
Finally after years of focused effort, we got the announcement that the government would not bulldoze and Crossroads residents could stay! The celebration was joyous, filled with singing and amazing harmonies. That community of over 20,000 people still exists, and it shows how consistent, team effort can make a difference. I wrote a book published by McGraw Hill in 1979, called Inside Crossroads, with an insider’s view of how that community came together and thrived, despite their meager conditions. My recent Voice from the Frontlines on ubuntu, unity in diversity, co-authored with Barbara Nussbaum, was inspired by this experience.
It’s time to listen to women, to encourage feminine leadership and do what is sustainable and best for the whole―for all stakeholders, not just the stockholders.
Another high point was at the UN Decade for Women Conference in 1985, standing on the lawn of the University of Nairobi, holding hands and singing with 12,000 women from every possible cultural, ethnic, and religious group. We shared so deeply, as women do, about our lives and concerns. Despite so many differences, there was no tension―just deep listening and grappling for the best ways to share and learn from each other. I felt viscerally that by harnessing the power of women we could heal the differences that divide us. I knew that women carry the wisdom and responsibility to be the peacebuilders. That has stayed with me all my life.
The third was the citizen diplomacy movement of the 1980s. I made seven trips to the former Soviet Union, leading exchange and grassroots efforts to reduce the tensions of the Cold War. I truly believe that the thousands of Americans who went to Russia as citizen diplomats, and put pressure on our governments to end the Cold War, provided the tipping point. I observed a nation in transition as Russia moved from communism through glasnost and perestroika. I experienced the power of citizen diplomacy, and its motto, “When the people lead, the leaders will follow,” has become a motto for my life.
- What is your greatest personal strength?
If I have to pick one word, it would be enthusiasm, which literally means being imbued with spirit. I feel I bring enthusiasm for life, for what I do, who I’m with, and for the potential of what we can do together.
- What drew you to Peace X Peace?
The work of Peace X Peace connects with the core tenets of my own personal purpose: building cultures of peace; supporting and working with women as leaders and carriers of the feminine, in collaboration with men; enhancing cross-cultural sharing and learning from each other; advocating for women; and encouraging women to step forward as peacebuilders in their communities.
- What is your vision for Peace X Peace in the years ahead?
I want to expand the Peace X Peace network and community to even more countries, deepening the conversation and sharing in different ways. Because we’re based in DC, I want to see us advocate for international policies and legislation affecting women and provide tips for how Community members and our global network can advocate for positive legislation in their own countries.
I’d like to develop an online classroom offering resources that women can share, as well as specific educational tools and skills on core topics of value to the Community. I want to encourage more collaboration with the United Nations, including with UNWomen as it takes shape this fall, on the UN conventions that deeply impact women, and on the Millennium Development Goals―especially goal number 3, gender equity. Because of the work I’ve done with the UN, I can hopefully be a bridge.
I would also like to continue the awards that Peace X Peace has given out to peacebuilders on the frontline. It’s important to honor people for their often unsung work. And I want to expand collaboration with other organizations and explore various types of partnerships to deepen the work of Peace X Peace. These are some near-term goals. Beyond that, I’m open to seeing what emerges.
- Why do women’s voices, women’s leadership matter?
Half of our society has been undervalued, underutilized, slotted into narrow categories throughout most of history. This has not just hurt women but has kept our whole society out of balance. I think it’s essential that we learn to value the attributes of the feminine, which I see as deeply connected with peace. The feminine is, as peace is, about collaboration, partnership, and long-term thinking (about the impact of our actions on future generations). It’s inclusive, generous, shares power rather than hoards power. Our society has continued down a track of consumerism, materialism, competition because we have undervalued the feminine. These values have not been sustainable or led to our well-being over time. While the feminine is in both men and women, it’s mostly embodied in women. It’s time to listen to women, to encourage feminine leadership and do what is sustainable and best for the whole―for all stakeholders, not just the stockholders.
This is not about tokenism, where companies can say, “We have a woman on our board.” It’s about deeply listening to the wisdom that women offer. It’s about women stepping forward as carriers of extraordinary potential and leadership. I studied the Iroquois Federation’s Great Law of Peace for several years and travelled the Path of the Peacemaker for 10 days with a Native American chief, visiting the Oneida and Seneca tribal lands. He kept saying, “The women have to get strong again.” He said women’s role had declined, which has greatly hurt all our societies, particularly the Native societies.
Under the Great Law of Peace, the Clan Mothers would elect the chiefs to carry out policies that the community decided. If those policies weren’t carried out, or if the men didn’t do the best for the whole, the clan mothers could depose the chiefs. This check and balance was left out of our Constitution. Our founding fathers adopted a number of components of The Great Law and it was a model for the United Nations, but the significant role of the clan mothers was lost. Let the women get strong again!
- What is your most audacious goal?
Two come up: One is to develop a system and structure for peacebuilding within our government, so when we make international decisions we have many skilled people at the highest levels exploring dialogue, negotiation, partnership as alternatives to going to war.
We have not been a peaceful society and violence continues to grow. We have way too quickly gone to war. I want to see systems in place that support a philosophy of peace as a foundation of our society. Let’s use the Nobel Peace Prize winners, the trained peacebuilders, and learn from positive examples of peacebuilding. I have been involved in helping to grow a National Peace Academy and would love to see this as a counterbalance to the War College. I’d love to see all our diplomats, all our military and our development professionals become equally trained in peacebuilding. And of course, it would be led by women!
Another big goal is to see a required life skills course offered in every school, K through 12, throughout this country. So many of our students graduate without basic ‘getting along’ skills and no wonder the divorce rate is so high and violence is on the rise. We need to teach core skills at an early age of communication, conflict resolution, empathy, emotional intelligence, financial literacy etc. This would create a foundation of skills and ability that would be invaluable both for the individuals and also for society.
- What do you do in your day to day life to promote inner peace, Kim, so you can stay strong for all this work?
Music is very important to me. I play the piano, guitar, sing in choirs. I love listening to music―music is soul-nurturing for me. It is a universal language and a way to connect with others and deeply with ourselves. I also value being out in nature with my husband and dog to begin our day with a morning walk. Another part of my practice is gratitude. Every day I offer up a few things I am grateful for. That keeps me centered.
- I remember talking to you during the big storm last winter, when other people were complaining about the power outage and you and your family were going cross-country skiing.
Yes, right from our front door―it was great! I’ve always been a believer in making lemonade out of lemons. Washington had closed down, and what an opportunity to get out in the beautiful snow and go skiing. I’ve always been an athletic, outdoors person and feel a spiritual connection with the beauty of nature.
- What gives you hope?
I see a real mystery in life. I have innate curiosity. I’m an optimist, a positive person by nature, and see the potential in people and situations, despite the circumstances. I focus on the breakthroughs rather than the breakdowns, on what works rather than what doesn’t, what we stand for rather than what we’re against. From my experience in South Africa, Russia, and elsewhere I’ve seen how working together we can overcome extreme adversity. And I have seen people overcome enormous personal obstacles. My innate spirituality provides a foundation of trust that keeps me hopeful and seeing the potential in every situation.
- Who has been your personal role model, your greatest inspiration?
Every human being has positives and negatives, so I prefer to identify qualities and characteristics rather than individuals. I love some of the values that President Obama embodies. “Yes We Can” is positive, forward thinking, and collaborative. I admire authenticity, walking one’s talk, commitment, creativity, taking action that is rooted in vision. Some of my friends model these qualities for me.
I focus on the breakthroughs rather than the breakdowns.
That said, my mother was my personal role model. I dedicate much of what I do to her. She was a professional musician and an artist who worked at what she loved. She painted in her own time and sold some of her art. She modeled for me to go for my passions.
What advice would you give to a woman who loves peace, wants to make a difference in the world, and doesn’t know where to start?
First, go to the inner well and listen to what’s going on inside. Seek that inner guidance. Look back over your life and notice the patterns. Ask yourself: What have I really enjoyed? What fulfills me? What am I good at? What haven’t I given myself permission to do? Not what you think your family wants you to do, or your community thinks you should do, but what do YOU want to do?
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