Abigail Disney is in Australia this week and last night she was the guest of honour at the Australian Women Donors’ Network dinner in Melbourne. The evening took the format of a film night with clips from Abigail’s powerful documentaries, Women, War and Peace and Pray the Devil Back to Hell, as well as an inspiring talk from a woman much more humble than your correspondent had imagined. I found myself quietly chastised as Abigail said how in her 20s people had assumed they knew her politics and thoughts because of her name.
AWDN will be presenting the dinner again in Sydney on Thursday and there is an accompanying workshop (this afternoon in Melbourne, facilitated by Genevieve Timmons, Philanthropic Executive of the Portland House Foundation and in Sydney on Friday moderated by Dr Catriona Wallace).
After a rousing introduction from the Melbourne Gospel Choir and a welcome from MC Tracy Bartram, who made sure the evening moved along smoothly, Teresa Zolnierkiewicz from ANZ Trustees spoke about the power of the purse, philanthropy through the gender lens and the advantage of time afforded to perpetual charitable foundations. I took the last of these as a small plug for the evening sponsor but didn’t quite see its relevance to the topic at hand.
Eve Mahlab AO, Chair of the Australian Women Donors’ Network spoke about arguing the affirmative action ask for women and girls and reminded us of the AWDN mission to drive donors to invest in projects for women and girls because – quoting Jennifer Buffett (not Mrs Warren but a daughter in law), “half the population are women . . . and are the mothers of the other half”.
We also enjoyed a filmed message from the PM noting the importance of gender sensitive philanthropy.
Finally we got to Abigail E Disney herself, and the wait was worth it. She spoke in length about Pray the Devil Back to Hell, telling the story of women in Liberia deciding to take action through non-violence to end the war in their country, and of it being the first time the Christian and Moslem women had worked together – “mining their respective faith traditions to find something in common” – the story of Esther and how she worked to save her own people. The film highlights Leymah Gbowee who led the women of Liberia to call for peace (and this year was a joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize).
Abigail’s talk was humble and humorous (she talked about growing up with privilege and being careful not to meet anyone you didn’t already know) and how she came to be involved with not for profits, NGOs and philanthropy. She was also quite self deprecating, saying that announcing she would be making a film (with her name and family background) was like putting a kick me sign on her forehead.
Of great poignancy was her view that women are made invisible and erased throughout history and her tale of the lost footage of the women of Liberia’s protest (finally found as an old videotape holding up a broken window and barely salvageable).
Abigail’s view is that peace is not the putting down of guns, but the building of community and civilisation – that is what women do, and that peace is the necessary precondition to succeed in life.
She encouraged the audience to “chuck the idea of saving the world, because nothing that ever happened that matters happened because of one person, but because of community“.
This was a challenging and empowering event, if you can get to it in Sydney I encourage you to go. I’m not sure if it has sold out but you can check that with Australian Women Donors’ Network.
Thanks to the Australian Women Donors’ Network for again bringing out such an amazing speaker.
Did you go? Were you there? Will you be attending in Sydney? What are your thoughts? I would love to hear some other perspectives on the evening and the workshop/masterclasses.
PS I omitted to mention that the evening was also supported by the Documentary Australia Foundation (a good fit I must say), which facilitates donations for documentary films from individuals and not for profits.
and click here for the 7.30Report clip with Abigail.