We sat down with Ramone Segree, our new US Executive Director and Vice President, Marketing, Development, and Communications, to chat about where his experience lies, his philosophy of philanthropy, and what he looks forward to in our future together.
As an ally, what do you think you’ve done or what will you do to further gender equality through both our work and in your life?
As a man, as women, regardless of gender, being a human being, I think we have a responsibility to humanity. And part of the responsibility is to continue to learn, grow, and allow one to come under the tent of others and hope we’ll be invited into others’ tents. I don’t necessarily like my tent metaphor because it has a sense of segregation, but what I mean is there is philosophy, history, advocacy, justice, research in a specific tent that informs what the members of that tent do. And there are others who are looking in and want to participate and gain from that tent.
Whatever I know now about feminism and justice and survivors of abuse, I can and should learn more. Being male aside, I want to further equality; that’s absolutely what I’m all about. The way I can help that, even though I cannot control my gender, is if people can see and understand my genuineness, sincerity, empathy, and humanity. It’s in how I lead, it’s what I say, it’s what I do, it’s what I write, and how I advocate in spite of being a male. I think there is an opportunity for me, as a male, not just in being seen as genuine by women in the organization, either as employees or participants, but as a model for other men.
Why are men vital to the movement for women’s rights?
Why not? We all need to be in, regardless of gender and interests, it’s about humanity. Men have been and are part of the problem. When you think about women coming into our program and being so excited for the possibilities and, at the same time skeptical, worried about how their partners or communities may respond, they think ‘will this put me in a situation of even greater abuse?’ So, we’re part of the problem here.
Men are often part of the problem, but they’re also part of the solution. It’s easy for men, as allies, to fall into apathy.
You know there’s something I sometimes say to my teams, the word “perfect” is in the dictionary, but there’s no such thing. We all have our foibles, but we learn. There is this history and we shouldn’t punish ourselves for it, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be part of a solution and learn and grow and help.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you ended up in the international development field?
This is a career progression for me, and it’s also a life progression. My rooting and how I’ve been informed in my life are through my parenting and civic involvement with an emphasis on participation and service. That focus on civic participation and service falls under the heading of philanthropy, love of humankind, service to individuals, proliferation of humanity and community. And it extends to countries and around the world.
My DNA has been in the fields of philanthropy and voluntarism through the practice of fundraising. I’ve wanted to be involved in various types of organizations because I never saw my learning or career as they relate to philanthropy and voluntarism as being limited by the type of organization [that I work with] because all organizations are helping humanity. I felt I would be an even better human being and professional by learning about the needs that people have, and what better way to do that than with organizations that help human advancement and spirit? So, where I am in my career, ability to have an impact, and interests led me to Women for Women International.
You talked a little bit about your parenting. Did your parents have a philanthropic mindset?
Absolutely. Philanthropy, philosophically and practically, is not limited to giving. When we hear the word, I think we tend to default to making gift or dollar associations. That’s limiting.
Human beings, by nature, are philanthropists.
We have a love of humankind; we want to proliferate the species as well as the world. My parents were that way, yes, they believed in giving, but they also strongly believed in service.
My father had a philanthropic bent to himself, but my mother, who had more time than he to be involved in community organizations, was living out philanthropy through participation in and contribution to the civic advancement of our community. The concept was and still is that there’s a community chest, and it’s stewarded by everyone in the community who are the shareholders, investors, and beneficiaries of the chest. The way they make it better is to participate, and my mother not only participated, she was quite active and strongly believed in it. I think what you’re hearing is it definitely rubbed off on me!
You talked about your philosophy of philanthropy, but why did Women for Women International appeal to you?
If you go back to my philosophy of giving, it comes to where is the need? Where can the greatest impact be? Also, where can I be better challenged?
As a young child I was given a freeform understanding of equity and humanity so that my mother, a strong woman who could be defined in a number of ways, provided a model for myself and my brother and sister. As she walked in life and groups we were involved in, she never expected anything from us without human equity and women’s empowerment. That was never a question. It was never a definition of what we should or shouldn’t do, it was ‘why wouldn’t we be in favor of women’s causes and needs and the fact that women are being disenfranchised?’ because it goes to human equity.
When I think of learning about what Women for Women International does, I knew the challenges that women around the world have been facing since the beginning of time. I thought ‘how do you address that in countries that are not only challenged by conflict and war, but have a history and culture of disenfranchisement,’—and that is a soft word—'of women?’
When this opportunity was put in front of me, you could say that was a defining moment for me. Aside from taking this as an opportunity to do XYZ, I was called right away by the mission and saw this pulling together things I’m interested in, my education, my mother, and as I began to look at it closely, I thought ‘woah, this is where I want to be.’
In February, we rebranded, and our new brand is tied even closer to women reclaiming their inherent power. What does power mean to you?
Power means that you have a responsibility to serve, but it also involves servants and dominance and caste systems and place and use of people. Power is something that we each have to varying degrees based on how we perceive ourselves. The fact that we have titles, we have a position, we’re a man, we’re a woman, those are devices of power and they’re fragile and they’re fleeting. Power we have as individuals. It is used in varying ways and recognized in varying ways by individuals, but it is also abused in varying ways by individuals and that’s the balance between servants and service.
We have the ability to change the negative forces and imbalance of power, amongst others and within ourselves.
Finally, what do you envision for the future of the organization?
We talked about the organization’s strategic direction, but what I envision for the future of Women for Women International and ultimately the world is increased awakening and valuing and equity. We get at that through this increasing dialogue that we’re having, using our voices, and being open to that; we don’t get at that simply by being functionaries and doing what we do, albeit doing it well. We get at it by this dialogue and communing around that which will take us to greater levels of awakening and greater levels of valuing not only ourselves but others. I think that takes us to greater levels of equity. So, that’s not only our organization and contributing to the world, but it’s also the world itself.
What I see for us in that is human existence and existence of the planet and its health. It’s not just about sustainability, which is very important, it’s also about what humans are learning about and how we’re advancing our world as humans. All of this comes about because of our contributions to this continuing dialogue and what we do in the dialogue: Active participation, active advocacy, writing, philosophy, research, service. It’s leading to greater awakening, greater valuing, greater equity, and greater proliferation of humankind and our planet—philanthropy.
I’m an eternal optimist and I don’t think we’d be having the robust dialogue we’re currently having around economic, social, sustainability, and equity needs in our country and the world if there wasn’t hope for the future. I think we are focused on human beings, service, and the world.