It Takes a Village…

by Linda Alepin, Founder and Chair of the Board of Global Women’s Leadership Network

Linda Alepin

Linda Alepin

Anita Borg was a visionary, but she knew that it takes a village to “raise a child”. In this case, the “child” was her idea for an organization that would pave the road for women to both influence technology and participate in the creation of technology products. I was privileged to be part of the “village”.

I met Anita in a leadership seminar in the mid 1990’s. We shared the common objective of becoming better leaders so that we could contribute our ideas and energies to building society. In Anita’s case, that eventually resulted in the formation of the Anita Borg Institute. In my case, it resulted in birthing the Global Women’s Leadership Network.

But in those early days, the 1990’s, both of our visions were only vague pictures of women in the future.

I can remember Anita talking about how women needed to influence the design of consumer information devices. Her example of this requirement was that square, ugly black box called the “car phone”. I am sure that she would love the current cute designs that we wrap around our cell phones.

Anita intuitively knew that the information technology industry was a place where women could thrive – if only they would study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

We were both trying to move our vision to reality. How does one do that? Anita’s answer — enlist other people in forming a “community of support”.

Anita called on our leadership consultants – Barbara Fittipaldi and Elaine Fox of Center for New Futures – to help create a two-day strategic planning meeting in Princeton, N.J. Anita invited Nancy Ramsey and Pamela McCorduck, the authors of The Futures of Women: Scenarios for the 21st Century to join her. She reached out to me as a fellow traveler to attend and I invited my dear friend and consultant, Pam Dennis, to come. Momentum was built. Women from various walks of life agreed to be part of Anita’s community. Some came from the technology sector. Others were from academia. Even media (television) was represented.

Overlooking a lovely meadow at Elaine’s house in Princeton, about fifteen of us listened for the gold in Anita’s vision. This was a truly amazing contribution of time, money, frequent flier miles – we all stepped up to change the world through Anita’s vision.

It was an honor to be part of the community generating all these ideas and creating momentum.

Together we explored numerous opportunities and possibilities. Ultimately we built from the future of a great organization, looking back on the key accomplishments that would lead us forward.

I remember Anita found the exercise of looking from the top of the mountain extremely useful. The idea was to envision the successful result and look back at how to achieve that result. First, we generated possible pathways from the future back to the present. (Sort of like Merlin living his life backwards) Then we chose those pathways that seemed most promising. Anita was so excited. Not only had we helped her create an amazing vision for what is now the Anita Borg Institute, but also she started to see that it was doable. There were executable next steps that could be followed and multiple options as one made progress.

Personally, I vividly remember the funding conversation. I think Anita was looking for $50,000. In my mind, I was trying to figure out how many bake sales it would take for us to raise that amount. (Yes, even the most liberated of us think inside gender paradigms.) Suddenly, somebody said, “We need one million dollars in order to really get Anita’s idea off the ground!” In that bigger vision, I stopped thinking of bakery goods. Ideas about corporate sponsors, foundations, and other “out of the box” ideas – many of which (over the ensuing years) funded Anita’s vision – started flowing.

While we focused solely on Anita’s vision for those two days, I came away inspired. What I saw for myself and believe that every person there saw as well was that all of us have a role to play in improving the future of women. What Nancy and Pamela portrayed in their book, The Future of Women, was not pre-ordained. The future will be shaped by our actions. To the extent that we generate possibilities and live into those, we will influence the future of the world.

Years later, I have to say that I was fortunate to have known Anita as a wonderful friend. She was a fellow journeywoman in the quest to create a new future for women.

In the shadow of the greatest challenge of her life – her battle with her health — she gave me these words of wisdom, “Allow others to contribute to you and your vision. Dealing with cancer has taught me to ask for help. Doing everything myself is an issue. The growth of IWT will be influenced by my ability to get other resources working on the vision.”

If she were here today, she would encourage each of us to dream big and enroll others to contribute to our success. Anita, we are following in your footsteps.

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