We had the good fortune of connecting with Deborah Lindholm and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Deborah, how does your business help the community?
I have been blessed to be a global citizen most all of this life. As the co-founder of an international financial research company, I traveled the world in the 80’s and 90’s, meeting people in so many countries. I listened and learned from all – and I saw a lot of poverty, particularly affecting women and girls. I never thought I personally could do anything about it – until I went to my Rotary Club breakfast one morning and learned about Dr. Muhammad Yunus and microfinance. I went up to the speaker after the program and asked for some referrals to some programs. I bought an around-the-world airplane ticket and went to visit, the first stop being in Nepal. I met a woman who had borrowed $4. She had never seen that much money in her life. She and her husband were laborers, and together with their two children they lived homeless by the side of a road. If they found work for the day, they ate; no work, no food. Finally a local microfinance program convinced her to take a loan. She bought a comb, a pair of scissors, and a mirror and put her husband in business as a barber. Within a short time, she and her family were living in a house and the two children were in school, all because of $4. After that trip, the Foundation for Women was birthed. We have been an advocate and funder of microfinance programs in Asia, Africa, and America since 1997. We have been operating a program in Liberia since 2007. We have impacted the lives of millions of women, touching the lives of more than 25 million impoverished people globally; helping them change the reality of their lives by giving them access to capital and business support. And we have advocated for all of their children to be in school. We are committed to hand-ups vs hand-outs, committed to significant social change in support of our one human family.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
The Foundation for Women (FFW) is my reason for being on the planet. When I speak of it, I always say, “God had a good idea and I was blessed to hear it – that’s why there is a Foundation for Women.” A core value of FFW is connection and service. It was our first statement of purpose 24 years ago and remains core to our being. I believe with all my heart that when people come together, especially when women come together, miracles happen. This quote from Margaret Mead is front and center for me always: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.” FFW is committed to partnerships, to the collective impact model. We are an expert in microfinance/business support so partner with the World Bank to get as much capital as possible into the hands of our clients. We partner with an education expert, Edify, in order to offer our support to low-fee independent schools. We partner with Benson Hospital in Liberia in order to support independent community clinics. We partner with Habitat for Humanity International in order to offer housing support to people. And we have numerous other partners, all of whom come together in what we call “Seats at the Table for Liberia” – firmly believing that we are better together. Over the many years, there have been many challenges. Ebola nearly dissolved our work and the people and country of Liberia. Now COVID. Trust and patience have, however, always prevailed – so we have continued – because our intention is clear: we are one human family and we must take care of one another.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
In these extraordinary times while I am forced to remain in San Diego, I would first visit the Self Realization Fellowship garden in Encinitas, CA. It is where I go to connect to the bigger picture, to quietly meditate on my personal and FFW’s commitment to connection and service. I would spend much talk walking by the sea and through Balboa Park, being with the beauty of San Diego… When I am able to return to my home in Africa, I will once again welcome visitors to the world of the Foundation for Women in Liberia – to the wonderful entrepreneurs who are making their lives better every day, to our treasured partners, and to the reality of our 5 million sisters and brothers who are Liberians. Now more than ever during this unprecedented time, I would stay in conversation about how we are all connected, all part of our one human family – how we need to help and support each, now more than ever.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
In 1995 I attended a Women Together Luncheon in San Diego. Three organizations all serving women who had experienced domestic violence came together annually to share their stories of success and to seek support. Sister Raymonda from Catholic Charities ended the program that day by saying, “There are women everywhere who are in situations that don’t support them, you just don’t know who they are.” I was suiting up and showing up that day. But my life was not supporting me. I so understood what Sister was saying. I made a commitment in that moment to find the women she was referring to. I “heard” – create something that supports women whose voices are not heard, just like mine had not been heard much of my life. I asked a few dear and special friends to gather with me to brainstorm on how to proceed. After months of musing, we offered the first Foundation for Women program. Without any expectations and no way of determining a response, we scheduled an evening for women with a speaker who had recently authored a book on creativity. We set up 150 chairs at the La Jolla Woman’s Club. And women came – standing room only, women came. That was the first of hundreds of programs in partnership with so many – women wanted community and purpose. The Foundation for Women provided just that.
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