Laurie Adams: CEO, Women for Women International (WfWI)

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Bio:

Laurie Adams is the Chief Executive Officer of Women for Women International (WfWI), a leading global organization dedicated to working with women survivors of war. With more than 25 years of experience working in international development and human rights, Ms. Adams is an innovative leader, strategist, and gender rights advocate.

(Photo Credit: Harriet Tolputt)

What do I do best?

I believe I have the power to inspire and motivate people to take action for change and equality.

What makes me the best version of myself?

Empathy. I try to always imagine myself in the position of other people and recognize first and foremost the humanity of the people I run into.

What are my aspirations?

My biggest aspiration is to make Women for Women International a household name and to connect people in the United States to women survivors of war so we can serve every marginalized and conflict-affected woman, regardless of where she is.  

My Biggest Success?

I am proud of the work I’ve been able to do with Women for Women International. In particular, I am proud of what a massive success our 2016 luncheon with Secretary Hillary Clinton and Christiane Amanpour was. To be on the same stage with trailblazers like them and raise more than a million dollars to serve women around the world was fantastic.

I am also proud of raising two sons who are allies in the fight for gender equality and unabashed in their support for my work.

My Most Challenging Moment?

The #MeToo movement has gotten my friends and I sharing our far too frequent experiences of sexual harassment and assault, and sometimes physical violence too. We laugh – but its not funny – that we don’t even count the times we’ve been flashed, or propositioned, because of the list of far more traumatic events. Growing up all over the world, I had a strong sense of agency and adventure, and believed I could travel anywhere a man could. However, surviving multiple separate rape and sexual assault experiences while travelling in my 20s has given me deep and personal insight into what sexualized violence does to women, and how prevalent it is. I’ve had to flee from a train station in Rome when a group of men watching porn propositioned me: only to be raped by someone else where I had fled to for protection. I had to flee from at hotel in South Africa when I was assaulted by its owner, to drive through the night on a very dangerous road known for attacks. And a friend I had to spend the night at a border post of Hungary, when the person giving us a ride dumped us when he didn’t get the ‘payment’ he expected. I’ve been in relationships where someone who actually really loved me, was also abusive. These experience – and the dozens of stories like them and worse that I have heard from friends and the thousands of women I have had the privilege of working with -   are what fuels the passion I have for my work. I don’t think many men realize how prevalent and damaging violence against women is. My experiences have impacted how I live my life in a profound way: I no longer am as free or trusting, but I certainly am determined! And I know that by coming together, we can end the most prevalent violence in the world, physical, sexualized, and emotional violence against women.  

(Photo Credit: Hazel Thompson)

My Motto?

- One woman can do anything. Women together can do everything.

-  “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is anyone of you.” – Audre Lorde

My Favorite People/Role Models?

My mom. She raised me in 1960s Korea in a house without the amenities she was used to. She had moved to Seoul to be with the love of her life, my father, and that meant she was two-days travel away from her neighborhood, family and friends. She was very aware of how difficult it was to raise a child without a support system. She was a civil rights activist who participated in sit-ins and protested racial inequality. She also worked in the military and what is inspiring to me was that she brings the same level of commitment and focus to everything she gives her time to. Whether she is marching or volunteering in her retirement, when she is passionate about something, she gives it all.

Beyond that, I am constantly inspired by the courage and resilience of women around the world, some of whom have survived the worst but turned their pain into treasure and power. Whether it is Nadia Murad fighting for justice for Yazidi women or Malala advocating for education for every child, there is no shortage of role models.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Among my favorite places on earth is South Africa. I moved there when Nelson Mandela was released and I learned how to be an activist, how to organize, how to work at the grassroots as well as national level. I met so many inspiring anti-apartheid and women’s rights activists and learned so much from them. I also had the opportunity to be part of the Other Foundation there to advocate for the rights of LGBT people. I associate South Africa with being full of energy for bringing change and being a little bit rebellious.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

I love books. I like the way the paper feels. I like exchanging them with others and reading them again and again and making notes on them. I always carry two or three. It is not great for my back, but one has to do what one has to do.

My Current Passions?

My constant passion is gender equality, however this summer I had the chance to learn beekeeping from Women for Women International graduates in Bosnia. It was really fun and a great way to contribute to sustainable economic growth. Besides, who doesn’t love honey?

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(photo credit: Rada Akbar)