Zainab Salbi is a celebrated Iraqi-American women’s rights activist, award-winning humanitarian, social entrepreneur, and one of People Magazine’s 25 Women Changing the World.
In the intricate web of challenges that our world faces today, the intersectionality of gender and environmental issues has emerged as a critical focal point. Among the myriad consequences of our changing climate, it is the impact on women that demands a discerning lens.
In this episode of The Founder Spirit, we meet Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi-American women's rights activist making significant strides in humanitarian work and accelerating women-led initiatives for climate actions at Daughters for Earth.
Growing up during the Iran-Iraq War, Zainab stresses the importance of recognizing women's experiences during times of conflict and highlights her mother's influence in nurturing her feminist beliefs. Zainab's discusses her passion for aiding women in founding Women for Women International, an organization that has connected a million women and distributed $150 million in 16 countries. Reflecting on her experiences in conflict zones, Zainab highlights the beauty and resilience of humanity amid the horrors of war, and shares inspiring stories of strength and love.
Transitioning into her new role as a climate activist and co-founder of Daughters for Earth, Zainab emphasizes the need for new value systems centered around Earth's health and advocates for regenerative agriculture and the importance of women's leadership in addressing climate change. Her latest campaign The Hummingbird Effect uses graphic novels to educate the public and inspire collective action.
How did someone who grew up under the shadows of Saddam Hussein went about to transform the lives of millions of people around the world impacted by war?
TUNE IN to this moving conversation with Zainab Salbi, and join the movement for positive change by supporting Daughters for Earth and fostering resilience in face of global challenges.
Zainab Salbi is a celebrated Iraqi-American women’s rights activist, award-winning humanitarian, public speaker, journalist and author of four books, including her best-selling memoir “Between Two Worlds: Growing Up in the Shadows of Saddam”.
Zainab is also a social entrepreneur, known for founding Women For Women International in 1993, an organization dedicated to women survivors of wars and was honored with the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. In March 2022, Zainab co-founded Daughters For Earth, a non-profit organization working to accelerate women-led initiatives for climate actions, making strides in protecting and regenerating the Earth, and ultimately transforming and funding local and international communities worldwide. Her latest campaign is called The Hummingbird Effect, which is a movement that aims to gamify climate change, highlighting the women working on the forefront and that all daughters of the earth hold the power to make an impact and take part in this collective movement.
Among her many distinctions, Zainab was identified by Oprah Winfrey as one of People Magazine’s “25 Women Changing the World”, presented with the 1st Visionary Leadership Award by President Bill Clinton, named one of the “100 Leading Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy Magazine, and recognized as one of "The Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company.
[00:04] Jennifer Wu: Hi everyone, thanks for listening to The Founder Spirit podcast. I'm your host, Jennifer Wu. In this podcast series, I interview exceptional individuals from all over the world with the Founder Spirit, ranging from social entrepreneurs, tech founders, to philanthropists, elite athletes, and more. Together, we'll uncover not only how they manage to succeed in face of multiple challenges, but also who they are as people and their human story.
If this podcast has been beneficial or valuable to you, feel free to become a patron and support us on Patreon.com, that is P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/TheFounderSpirit. As always, you can find us on Apple, Google, Amazon and Spotify, as well as social media and our website at TheFounderSpirit.com.
“War showed me the worst act of humanity, and it showed me the best act of humanity. And if I have not seen that and continue to see that, I would not be working in war zones or in the service sector for so long. But I have witnessed the beauty humans do for each other and to each other, despite the ugliness they do for each other and to each other. And that beauty is what keeps me going.”
“I feel the existence of nature saved me. And I came out of it saying, I don’t understand this climate change, but I understand the woman’s space, and I shall do everything in my life to thank nature and to protect nature and that is my personal gratitude to her. And I am utilizing my professional expertise to express that personal gratitude.”
“I'm someone who is committed to living in my truth, to speaking my truth, and to being my truth. That's ultimately my commitment… and to connecting to my heart, to nature, and to the divine and other humans in a new way.”
Joining us today is the celebrated Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi-American women’s rights activist, award-winning humanitarian, public speaker, journalist and author of four books, including her best-selling memoir “Between Two Worlds: Growing Up in the Shadows of Saddam”.
Zainab is also a social entrepreneur, known for founding Women For Women International in 1993, an organization dedicated to women survivors of wars and was honored with the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.
In March 2022, Zainab co-founded Daughters For Earth, a non-profit organization working to accelerate women-led initiatives for climate actions, making strides in protecting and regenerating the Earth, and ultimately transforming and funding local and international communities worldwide.
Her latest campaign is called The Hummingbird Effect, which is a movement that aims to gamify climate change, highlighting the women working on the forefront and that all daughters of the earth hold the power to make an impact and take part in this collective movement.
Among her many distinctions, Zainab was identified by Oprah Winfrey as one of People Magazine’s “25 Women Changing the World”, presented with the 1st Visionary Leadership Award by President Bill Clinton, named one of the “100 Leading Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy Magazine, and recognized as one of "The Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company.
Just how did someone who grew up under the shadows of Saddam Hussein went about to transform her life and the lives of millions of people around the world impacted by war? Well, let's talk to her and find out.
Hello Zainab, welcome to The Founder Spirit podcast! So wonderful to have you with us today and thank you for taking the time.
[03:57] Zainab Salbi: Thank you for having me, Jennifer, it's a pleasure to be here.
[04:01] Jennifer: Zainab, for some of the audience out there who are not yet familiar with your story, what was your life like growing up in Baghdad as the pilot's daughter?
[04:11] Zainab: There are three major influences in my life. One is, as you mentioned, my father was Saddam Hussein's private pilot and the head of Iraqi Civil Aviation.
And so I grew up close to Saddam Hussein, not necessarily because of the job, but behind the job was a relationship, a friendship that Saddam Hussein chose for my father and my family, particularly to be one of his three social friends. They were not politically-oriented, their role was much more socially-oriented. And we had no choice in that friendship, he chose us. And when a dictator chooses you, the equation is life and death, not do I like this person or not.
But that impacted me because that meant I grew up very close to power and with a lot of fear of that power. And so that really did impact my life in Iraq in so many ways, as in people feared us because we are close to the president, but we feared the people because we are close to the president - you know, all of that.
The second influence in my life was war, and I grew up in the Iran-Iraq War. I was eleven years old when the war started. And as a child, it was very clear to me that while the world talks about war as (how) men see it, fighting and military and all of that, no one was talking about war as (how) women see it and (how) women experience it, which was and still is.
I was a child, and everyone in my life was a woman - the teachers, the doctors, the policewomen, the doctor, the factory workers, my mother, the gardeners, everyone. They kept life going in the midst of war, and yet no one gave them an acknowledgment of the work they do. So that shaped how I view the world.
I still am obsessed - every time I go anywhere, I look at where are the women. I always believe that women see the world from a different perspective, not necessarily worse or better, just different. And that difference is actually very important to make the full picture on whatever we're trying to address.
And the third thing and the most important thing that impacted my growing up in Iraq is my mother and love. Because despite the fact that I grew up close to Saddam Hussein and in fear, and despite the fact that I grew up in war and in fear, I grew up in a very loving household, never doubted that my parents loved me. I say that because I ultimately think that this is the biggest gift my parents or any parents can give to their kids, because the circumstances are out of our hands, but the love is inside our hands. So I grew up in love.
And my mother, who was (a) very fierce woman, she’s the first feminist I met in my life, was adamant that I need to be strong, I need to be independent, I should never let anybody touch me or talk to me in the wrong way, and I have to be free. And she honestly trained me to be a feminist, I would say, in hindsight. She made me read all kinds of feminist books as a teenager, all kinds of books on social justice. And though it was an unfortunate circumstance on how I came to America, she was behind the story of me coming to America in an arranged marriage and basically said, just leave and do whatever you want to do once you arrive (in) America, but leave.
And so all of that imprinted who I am and imprinted my trajectory in life, I would say. And though I have freed myself from the pain and the sorrow that came with it, I live to be grateful for everything, because it helped me become the woman that I am today.
[07:41] Jennifer: You talked about in a previous interview that you grew up with war, fear and a dictator. So what did you fear the most as a child?
[07:52] Zainab: (chuckles) Let me tell you what comes to me. As a child, I remember the moment in which I realized that power was corrupt, and I do not want to be part of that. That was a very clear moment for me, because I insisted, with my parents' support, to go to a normal school and not to the palace school.
And in the normal school, I was witnessing and hearing students who were talking about family members coming with caskets from the front lines. They were talking about public executions in their neighborhood, they were talking about things that I was not witnessing in my upper class neighborhood. I was having very luxurious dinners, so I was not witnessing that in my public life. But I could see the discrepancy between what these girls at school were telling me and what I was witnessing in my own personal life, and they were very different stories.
And I remember going in the evening, and I would see the frivolousness, the lack of care about the poor and for the poor and obliviousness to the reality of the people. I just remember it was actually over lunch, and I remember looking at it and seeing how everyone is afraid of Saddam, afraid to say anything around him. And I just realized, oh, my God, power is… this is corrupt and I am in it, but I don't want to be in.
And I think that impacted me working with the poor all of my life, and on social injustices, because I saw the opposite of that, and I just did not want to be part of that. That was fear.
Of course we were afraid of Saddam himself - the whole family was very afraid of him, we had to be on our best behavior always with him. We're afraid to say anything wrong. And I'm oversensitive right now, what's happening in the world with censorship and sensitivities, especially in America where I live.
And it triggers for me my upbringing in Iraq, because it's like you don't know when you say right things or wrong things, and the minute you say anything that may be perceived as wrong by someone else, you can destroy your own family - it was massive punishment, public punishments for anything. So that's the biggest fear. It wasn't fear for me to be alive or dead, but much more (about) am I going to do something or say something wrong that will end up destroying my family.
And then the war, I mean, war is… you know, you're afraid of dying. I remember waking up in the middle of the night one time, and a missile fell, and it was very scary to have missiles, we discussed whether we should die in the same room. I have to admit what's happening in Gaza is really triggering a lot of these memories. And it's a very sad moment in our humanity, in my opinion, to witness such destruction and for a lot of people to stay silent about it, but it's triggering.
And I read stories of Gazans and discussing whether they should sleep in the same room or distributing their families, and that's how I grew up. And that's the fear of dying. It's almost embarrassing because we're all mortals, but there's a real fear of humans not wanting to die. And I had that as a child.
[11:03] Jennifer: beautiful, thank you for sharing.
At age 20, you had mentioned that your mother had arranged a marriage for you to a man in America who turned out later to be abusive. You left him with $400 in your pocket, as I understand, and then moved to Washington, DC to work as a translator. You also subsequently started studying at George Mason University. In that same year, as a student there, you decided to become a women's rights activist.
I understand that you're passionate about helping women in war, but founding an organization is very different. So what motivated you to found Women for Women International at such an early age and without much experience in the US at that point?
[11:46] Zainab: Well, goes back to my mother and all the books that she made me read about women's rights and all the stories that she told me, also about how women are oppressed from one generation to the other, including in my own family, from my grandmother to my mother. My mother would tell me that this is happening.
And I remember I was 16 years old at one point, and I told her, mama, when I grow up, I'm going to help all women. She said, honey, you can. And that really stayed in my memory, even though I ended up studying translation. And as you said, getting married in an arranged marriage, I have to clarify, I wasn't forced. If anything, my father was against it, my mother was begging me to accept it, and I wanted to be a good daughter and said okay okay. But it was by no means forced, and it took a long time to realize that she was trying to save me from the gazes of Saddam Hussein himself.
And I (had) actually forgotten about wanting to be a woman's rights activist, but I knew that I want to have meaning in my life. So it was the Bosnia war at that time. Two things happened to me - I went back to school, I was in a course about the Holocaust, and it was my first time to learn about what happened in the Holocaust. And that same month, there was the cover page of Time Magazine and Newsweek and frankly, all the major magazines, of concentration camps and rape camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I was like, well, that doesn't make sense, we need to do something about it. And I started demonstrating, as everyone would go to demonstrate, including right now, all the demonstrations that are happening. And I realized in the demonstrations, it made me feel good for 15 minutes, but then you go home and you're still not contributing. I mean, you're contributing to putting public pressure, but these people in Bosnia, they're still in the concentration camps and the rape camps, and they're still in a besiege, and we need to do something more.
And I called different organizations, they all said, well, if you can figure it out, please come and let us know. And anyway, I came up with the idea - it’s like, okay, I don't have money, let's see if we can help one woman at a time by sending her at that time was $20 a month and exchange letters and pictures with her to tell her, I see you, I'm here for you, you’re alive, I'm here.
I don't want to make a complicated story, but long story short, it was a very simple program, and I presented it to the Unitarian church at the time, who’s also looking to do something. And they said, okay, we'll support you for a year, and after the year, you're on your own. And that's how Women for Women International started. It was the Unitarian church holding my back. I didn't even know who they were. They saw something, I guess, in me that I didn't see at the time.
And that started with helping 33 women in September of 1993, which right now, as we speak, in November 2023, the organization has connected a million women to each other, directly helped about half a million women, raised and distributed $150 million to women in 16 countries. And that all started, literally from 33 women in September 1993, giving $20 to 33 women in Bosnia Herzegovina.
Now it is $30 a month - you still exchange letters and pictures with one woman. In the one year commitment that we ask of the donor, we put the women in a group of 25 other women - we teach her about women's rights, we teach her about vocational business skills.
My theory of change that I came up with is access to education plus access to resources lead to lasting change. It is not only about education, it is not only about money, it is the combination of the money and the awareness that leads to behavior change and a change that stays, that can stick. So that's how it started.
I came to learn that what distinguishes one idea from the other is not the idea, because there are lots of great ideas out there in the world. It's honestly… it's persistence, perseverance, because there's a lot of ups and downs in any initiative, especially as a founder, when you start something. And in my case I was 23 years old, I was a recent immigrant in America, I had no idea how the system works. It’s believing, persistent, perseverance, and ultimately believing, really (chuckles).
And I know this could be spiritual, which I am very spiritual, and for the longest time, I was very embarrassed or shy to talk about my spirituality - now I'm not. But watching the signs, there were many times in which I wanted to give up because I was tired, I was exhausted, I felt like I was not making momentum, and something (happened), and I was like, okay, God, you want me to continue. And boom, and I would continue. And so, watch the people who come to you, the signs come in different ways. Sometimes (it’s) a person telling you a word that makes me feel like, okay, I'm in the right trajectory. Sometimes I was about to give up, and a check (came) out of the blue, and I was like, okay, I'm supposed to stay.
So watch the sign that can tell you, are you in the right direction or are you not. And that's how Women for Women started, and that's how it continued 30 years later.
[17:05] Jennifer: I love that, I'm also very spiritual. Zainab, having worked in war-torn regions all over the world for nearly two decades, what did it teach you about humanity?
[17:16] Zainab: It's interesting because my heart is extremely broken at the moment because of what's happening in Gaza. It taught me that humans are capable of doing horrible things, and they are capable of doing beautiful things. And which one we pay attention to is our individual choice, and which one we put more energy and more microphone behind it is our individual choice. The two coexist.
War showed me the worst act of humanity, and it showed me the best act of humanity. And if I have not seen that and continue to see that, I would not be working in war zones or in the service sector for so long. But I have witnessed the beauty humans do for each other and to each other, despite the ugliness they do for each other and to each other. And that beauty is what keeps me going.
The human spirit is also resilient and strong and determined and beautiful. And if they are humans who are not giving up on the beauty of humanity, then I shall not. I know a lot of people get depressed and sad and down at some of the atrocities that take place around the world at the moment. As I said, it's a choice. Do we choose to see all the ugliness that we do to each other? Or do we choose to see all the human resilience and the beautiful spirits?
Honestly, for the longest time, I thought I got this from mostly women - that resilience and that humanity and that beauty. But at one point, ten years down my journey, I decided to actually focus also on men. And I went around the world and talked to men in war zones. That's my previous focus, and it's not only women. There are beautiful humans, there are ugly humans, so that resilience and that beauty comes in both sides.
[19:16] Jennifer: And then speaking of the beauty and the resilience of the human spirit, can you share with us some of the memorable moments that you had working with people in conflict zones?
[19:25] Zainab: Oh so many, a woman in Bosnia, carrying her husband on her back because she didn't want to leave him behind in the midst of fighting and help him get into a safe zone.
A woman again in Bosnia, who survived the concentration camp and was living on cardboard when I met her, sleeping on cardboards basically, that was their bed, and was determined to buy a pair of jeans for her son. I was like, what? A pair of jeans for your son? Well, who cares about (that)? You're sleeping on a cardboard. And she says, my teenage son wants a pair of jeans, and I need to be a good mother for him, that's what he wants, more important than the mattress, I will get him that.
Simple stories like that, it's so ironic. They're never big stories, they’re always simple stories about love and human connection. A woman in Congo whose leg was cut by the militias and now has an artificial leg and has danced fiercely in front of me, fiercely and said, I will not stop laughing. And she has rebuilt her life. And I was like, wow, if she can dance, who am I not to dance and not to smile?
Women in Afghanistan who… oh, my God, went through hell and Talibans were beating her because she was wearing a slipper and her toes were showing. And so they came and they whipped her in public and she held his hand and said, don't you beat me. And they were so shocked that a woman held his hand and said stop it, that his other Taliban members laughed at him and shamed him for a woman stopping him, and they left her alone. And I was like, what got into you? You stopped the Taliban? And she said it was the humiliation of being beaten in public, that I was like, no. And her saying no stopped him and let her go basically.
I didn't work in Gaza, but I did visit Gaza in 2009 and met an artist who was doing beautiful art in the middle of bombing. Beautiful art pieces that I still have in my home. But we talk about wars, we don't talk about the artists in wars and how they keep art going.
So they are small stories, none of them are big stories. I obviously worked with hundreds of thousands of people and witnessed them rebuilding their lives. But the stories that stayed with me, they were very small stories of resilience, of creating beauty and showing love in very small moments, never big moments.
I was in Bosnia recently celebrating the 30th anniversary of Women for Women International and met some of the women - I met them 30 years ago. And they said, when you came (to) visit us, we were hungry. And now they had a huge feast for me from their gardens, commercial gardens, they produce food commercially. And they're like, we're okay now. So that gives me hope.
And I'm sorry I'm so emotional. But I would lie to say what is happening in Gaza is not really piercing my heart fiercely. I would not have cried if I had this interview a year ago maybe. Because I also believe in hope and resilience and beauty, but to see such destruction happening again…
When I started Women For Women, I said the day we were thrown out of business would be a good day. And it hurts my heart that 30 years later we have more wars, awful wars, awful wars. (sobbing) And we have not learned as humanity that this doesn't work, this doesn't work. We have to find a new way of communicating with each other and solving our crisis. This is (a) dated way of dealing with our crisis.
And ironically, because I work on climate change now, and we all know that earth is hurting, we all know she is hurting, and yet we insist on putting more weapons on her. I don't understand it. I don't understand people who advocate for climate and for the health of Earth, but in the meantime, finance more weapons on Earth at the same moment. It doesn't make sense, this should be a wake up call for us, that we can have differences, but we have to solve them in different ways, because we have a bigger crisis at hand than our minor differences.
The Earth’s health, and actually our humanity's existence, that is much bigger than our differences right now, any other differences. And still we are not changing, and that is heartbreaking, truly heartbreaking. And still we're reverting to old methodologies of solving our problems rather than adapting to new ways.
The only hope right now I have is actually to ask for new value systems, and I learned that from my own home country, Iraq, when I went to visit Musa right after ISIS was overthrown. And people were walking to me and they said, we needed a new value system, because these old values of power and money don't work anymore, they failed us. And we need new value systems, we need to deal with our issues in new ways.
And we need to center everything based on the health of Earth, because without her, we are nonexistent and we are irrelevant. And yet it breaks my heart to see, frankly, so many men leaders not shifting that and not being aware of the shift that is needed.
[25:09] Jennifer: I think that's what we need right now. This is the perfect segue into your current project, Zainab.
You've now become a climate activist. In 2021, just two years ago, you co-founded Daughters for Earth, which is a New York based nonprofit working to accelerate women-led initiatives on climate action and land preservation. So how do you see women's role in the context of climate change?
[25:36] Zainab: Well, let me tell you why I co-founded with my co-founder, Jodie Allen, Daughters for Earth, was because to see what's going on with the story of women and climate change. And I am not a climate expert, I had to learn the journey and to understand what's going on.
And what I came to understand is, oh, my God, women are facing exactly the same arc of the story when it comes to climate, as in with other conflicts. So, as you know, I worked 20 years in conflict areas, so I know the arc of the story, that women are impacted the most by conflict, they do a lot of work to keep life going, they get $0.10 out of every humanitarian dollar, and they are rarely included in (the) decision-making table and negotiating on how to end conflicts. So this is my expertise - I wrote two books on the issue.
I come with a fresh eye on the climate issue to see what's going on in here. And I was really surprised to see the same arc of the story, that women are impacted the most or severely. According to the UN, 80% of climate refugees are women and children. Women are impacted severely by food insecurities and displacements that happen as a result of all the natural disasters. So we have that. What we don't know is that also women are taking leadership, magnificent leadership, in the protection of Earth.
And that is based on a scientific roadmap that we follow that's developed by One Earth, which says that we need three things to address climate change. One is to protect 50% of Earth - that includes biodiversity protection, that includes conservation of land and water and all of that. We need to shift to regenerative agriculture and we need to shift to renewable energy.
Well, when you hear the public sentiments talks addressing climate change in the media, it's mostly focused on renewable energy and a lot of technology in it, which is true and effective and valid. It's just the other two points of shifting to regenerative agriculture and needing to conserve the Earth. It just doesn't get as much airtime as the others, and it doesn't get as much energy or attention.
And that's where women are leading the most. Unbelievable, truly unbelievable, what they are doing in terms of land protections, animal protections, biodiversity protection. Women, as you know, when it comes to regen agriculture, women are the majority of small scale farmers in the world, have proven to be fast adopters to different techniques and skills. In general, we have data about that.
And yet, no one, I mean at the public sphere, not individual initiatives from civil society, is talking that actually women are essential part of climate solution in here and the protection of Earth. And women are getting two cents out of every environmental dollar that is going to environmental issues - two cents.
And so first, it was more like realizing the same arc of the story. And of course, we know women are not included in the negotiating tables on how do we address the climate change and the biodiversity protection. And I find it amazing that here we are doing exactly the same story, addressing the most existential crisis facing our humanity, again without the full inclusion of women.
And we can't, we really can't, because, and it goes back to my previous point, we need to turn this century into the feminine century, with new feminine values to combine with the masculine values that have led us thus far. But we need these new value systems, we need the inclusion of women in order to solve this most important crisis, and that we cannot do it again by only men doing it and saying, oh, we need to get some women on board and make it a checkpoint. This has to be a shift of relationship to power and to the power dynamics of how do we address this existential crisis.
And so what do we do at Daughters for Earth? And this is where my activism came, my feminism came. And but to be very honest, we talked about spirituality earlier, this is also comes from a very personal space in me. I was extremely sick about four years ago, And when I was very sick, I could only live in nature, I could not live in the city. And I came out of that illness with feeling indebted to nature, feeling deep gratitude to Mother Earth that I had not had before when I was alive and healthy and moving so fast.
But when you are frail and fragile, you notice everything. And when I felt nature saved me, not because I was eating healthy food, I feel the existence of nature saved me. And I came out of it saying, I don’t understand this climate change, but I understand the woman’s space, and I shall do everything in my life to thank nature and to protect nature and that is my personal gratitude to her. And I am utilizing my professional expertise to express that personal gratitude.
And so with that, I went to my co-founder Jodie Allen, who initially asked me the question of how can we mobilize women to be actively engaged in climate change? And I said, this is big, and we cannot wait, and we need to do something bold. And so with that, we launched Daughters For Earth, which is to mobilize $100 million to find and fund women-led climate actions.
So through the women's network, we find all these women’s initiatives who are doing amazing work on climate solutions, and we vet them, we do due diligence, and we invest in them, we fund them to see how we can accelerate their work.
We then celebrate them to popularize the story and ensure that the world knows about them. And we're doing that through a campaign we recently launched called the Hummingbird Effect, where we show their work through graphic novels, and the science behind their work, and tips for every individual reader on what they can do, basically. So to connect the dots for a lot of Individuals that may not connect the dots, that saving the rainforest is actually part of climate solutions, protecting the mangroves is part of climate solutions, protecting the pangolins is part of climate solutions.
And so we are turning that into a series of graphic novels where every individual can get on a weekly basis virtually, so they can learn about the stories of the women, as well as learn what they can do in their lives to protect nature.
And then we're developing toolkits for women at the grassroots level to understand what is going on. A lot of women say, no one is talking with us. Climate change discussion is very scientifically-oriented, it has a lot of jargon that most people don't understand, I would say, especially if you have basic education. So we're developing toolkits that disseminate that knowledge in a very basic way to women who are otherwise saying, someone talk to us, please. And we're mobilizing different women's networks around the world to be part of the solution.
So this only happened within the last year and half where we formally launched Daughters For Earth. And within that time, we have already found and funded 103 women-led efforts around the world, mobilized a quarter of our goals. And I'm just starting, and when people ask me about this, it's like, this is not only my third act, but this is personal. As was Women For Women was also personal, it was an expression of mobilizing women in wars, because I understood what it means to be isolated in wars, so Women For Women was (a) very personal journey of helping women stand up on their feet in war.
And now this is very personal gratitude and offering of gratitude to Mother Earth. We take her for granted. I think of Earth as a she, and I think if she was a friend, she would have broken up with us humans a long time ago for being the worst friend ever. I mean, we are narcissistic, selfish, self-centered, take her for granted, never listen to her. I mean, if you or I have a friend like this, we would break up with them. I think of Earth song is I will survive, walk out the door, I will survive. So we need to treat her as we could treat a friend.
I'm not a scientifically-oriented person, but when I read the science, it's like, okay, if we look at this as a person, so Earth needs to rest, Earth needs to have good nutrition, just like I need to rest when I'm sick, I need to eat healthy and I need to regenerate myself. And if we treat her with the respect we treat someone we love, then we probably would solve this issue faster than we are doing right now.
But here's the thing. In war zones, you work, and yes, you see the beautiful act of humanity - it’s true. But you also are working on empowering women in war zones, because there’s something breaks in your soul when you lose everything.
And in climate change, what gives me hope, I always say, as I learn about the work women do, is that women in climate movement do not need to be empowered, thank you very much. Women are in their power in protecting the Earth - what they need is for their power to be reinforced, to be supported, financed, celebrated, but they do not need to be empowered. And our job right now is to reinforce that power of the women on the front lines, saving and protecting Mother Earth and all the other beings in her.
[35:12] Jennifer: I love it. What I love is what you guys are now doing with the Hummingbird Campaign with Daughters For Earth, is that you're actually gamifying this climate change campaign.
So people, by the way, people, you can create your own avatars online, I created mine yesterday. And also checked out the graphics novels to share with the next generation, kids, family, Christmas gifts coming up. And that you created this Wise Daughter’s Council, which is time to bring back the sacred feminine.
But also I wanted to give you an opportunity to say, for the people who are listening, how can they support and contribute to the cause, both individually and also as a collective?
[35:53] Zainab: Great question, And thank you, Jennifer, for being a Daughter for Earth, a Hummingbird by getting your avatar - this is one way.
We are creating a movement and that takes everyone. So, for example In Europe, we have momentum of European women in Switzerland, in England, in France, in Germany. We’re getting together and actually building the momentum for the Hummingbird Effect and to find more hummingbirds in the world, more women-led efforts and to celebrate them and fund them.
The fund that we have, of the $100 million that we aim to get, we’ve already secured a quarter of that in a year and a half. We don’t want that to be from one individual, we want that to be from many individuals. And so there are people who are contributing to that fund who are giving $11 a month, and frankly, there are people who are giving $1,000,000 a year. And so for me, the most important thing is we do this and we accomplish that goal by (a) collective of women and yes, men, around the world to be part of this fund.
I am proud to get as much funders from the US as from Turkey, as from Sweden, as from different parts of the world, who are saying we are all part of Daughters For Earth and we are all going to push that possible.
So it has a spectrum of ways to engage. Become a hummingbird, you get a free graphic novel that you can read for your kids. Or frankly, yourself, because it's a simple way.
[37:25] Jennifer: Yeah, I read them myself.
[37:27] Zainab: Exactly, I read them myself because it's a simple way to understand the connection between what women are doing and climate actions. You can give $11 if that's what you have, or you can give a million dollars. We're making it available for everyone to engage at whatever capacity.
And if you are in Europe or in different parts of the world and want to be part of Daughters For Earth and create a community of Daughters For Earth, please let us know. I mean, again, we have a very active European presence and we are trying to grow it, and we have amazing women leading it who happen to be actually in Switzerland, so it was fantastic. And I really invite everyone to be part of this community, to build the momentum and grow it.
[38:06] Jennifer: Yes. And Zainab, after all these incredible accomplishments and lived experience, and I'm sure a lot more to come, who is Zainab Salbi really?
[38:16] Zainab: You know, you identified me at the beginning with a whole bunch of things that I've done, whether I'm an author or a journalist who's done several shows, or Founder of (Women For Women) and now Daughters for Earth.
The truth is, when I was really ill, I lost my ability to think and it impacted my cognitive abilities to walk, to breathe properly. And I was in that space, what I call between the land of the living and the land of the dead for a year and a half. And in that time, I did not know who is Zainab Salbi. And the biggest question that was confronting me is who am I? Because if I am not the activist, and if I'm not the writer, and if I'm not the communicator, then who am I?
And these identities were indeed taken away from me when I was ill. And I end up meditating a lot and being in nature a lot. That was the only thing that I could do, and frankly, playing music a lot, that helped me - art, nature and soul. And I end up realizing I just am, I am - Zainab Salbi is am. (chuckles) And that I am okay with being I am, just am, and grateful to be that and all of these things.
Life is going to be up and down, but as long as we are comfortable with who I am, without what I do. And if I am to summarize it in a different way, I'm someone who is committed to living in my truth, to speaking my truth, and to being my truth. That's ultimately my commitment, and to connecting to my heart, to nature, and to the divine and other humans in a new way.
Because when I was able to do that, I end up having so much joy in my heart, so much joy. I know this interview, I cried, but there's a lot of what's happening in the Middle East that is breaking my heart. But otherwise, so much joy and gratitude at living this life. So I'm grateful, I am. All of them (have) nothing to do with my professional capacity. It has to do very much with my spiritual journey. Who is Zainab Salbi is my spiritual journey rather than my professional one.
[40:34] Jennifer: Yes, and I am, it’s also a meditation mantra.
[40:38] Zainab: Ah, I did not know that, I shall implement it - thank you.
[40:42] Jennifer: Zainab, we're soon coming to the end of this episode. And where can people find you, your books and Daughters For Earth online?
[40:49] Zainab: Well, at DaughtersForEarth.org, that's easy. And my books, probably the easiest way is to go to my own website, ZainabSalbi.com. And that would be where you find all my books and my shows.
[41:02] Jennifer: Great, thank you.
We're now coming to the end of our interview, and as you know, we end every episode with a quote. And for this episode, we have a quote from Rumi, a 13th Century Persian poet, Islamic scholar and a Sufi mystic:
“Out beyond the worlds of right-doings and wrong-doings, there is a field. I will meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other' longer makes any sense."
Zainab, many thanks for coming on the Founder Spirit podcast today and taking us to that field where people and all sentient beings can meet.
[41:45] Zainab: Thank you, Jennifer, so much, it honestly has been a great pleasure. Thank you for seeing me, I appreciate that.
[41:55] Jennifer: And if this podcast has been beneficial or valuable to you, feel free to become a patron and support us on Patreon.com, that is P-A-T-R-E-O-N.com/TheFounderSpirit. As always, you can find us on Apple, Google, Amazon and Spotify, as well as social media and our website at TheFounderSpirit.com.
The Founder Spirit podcast is a partner of the Villars Institute, a nonprofit foundation focused on accelerating the transition to a net zero economy and restoring planetary health.
[42:33] END OF AUDIO
(04:01) Growing up in Baghdad under the Shadows of Saddam Hussein
(07:52) What did Zainab Fear the Most as a Child?
(11:46) Founding Women for Women International
(17:16) What War Taught Zainab about Humanity
(19:25) Memorable Moments - Beauty and Resilience of the Human Spirit
(25:36) Daughters for Earth & Personal Gratitude to Nature
(35:53) Join the Hummingbird Effect Campaign & How to Support Daughters for Earth
(38:16) Who is Zainab Salbi really?
Social Media Links: