Global Thought Leaders: She Helps War Victims Start Over

  • By DailyWorth Team
  • October 19, 2011

Photo of Zainab Salbi

Photo of Zainab Salbi

The DailyWorth Global Thought Leader series features exclusive interviews with remarkable entrepreneurs and activists who are striving to improve women's lives around the world.

The idea emerged one night at a Denny’s, of all places, some 18 years ago.

Zainab Salbi, then a young student, was brainstorming with a colleague about how to help Bosnian and Croatian women who had survived devastating regional wars.

Money would be part of the equation, “but we recognized there was also an emotional need to know the world was still a good place,” Salbi, now 41, recalls.

Salbi, a survivor of the Iran-Iraq wars herself, realized that helping women reconstruct their lives after the trauma of war meant giving them—ideally—the ability to rebuild their livelihoods, communities and relationships.

And so the unique premise of Women for Women International (WfWI) was born. First, the organization matches women in war-torn countries like Rwanda and Afghanistan with a “sister” in another country who provides financial support and encouraging letters “that become a window of hope that life can become normal again,” Salbi says.

Second, women enter a year-long training program that enables them to learn new skills, find paid work, understand their rights, and build solidarity with other women and families.

“Our program is designed to help a woman stand on her own feet, and not to make her dependent on charity,” says Salbi, the author of The Other Side of War.

The WfWI method has proven to be powerful: to date, the organization has distributed $103 million, and more than 253,000 women have successfully gone through the program. Among other accolades, in 2006 the group became the first women’s organization to win the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

It’s a modern cliche to say “we’re all connected,” but Zainab Salbi’s work is a potent reminder of what can be accomplished when we make those connections real.

Reach out. Could you imagine directly helping a woman overseas?