AJ: One of the inspirational stories you tell in your book is of Edna Adan of Somaliland, who succeeded in raising enough funds to build a maternity hospital in her fragile country. PSI/Somaliland is collaborating with the Somaliland Ministry of Health to prevent and treat postpartum hemorrhage by increasing access to misoprostol and training healthcare providers on its use. PSI is fortunate to partner with the "Edna Maternity Hospital." Where should donor efforts be placed in order to empower women like Edna to save women's lives in their own countries?
NK: Aid efforts usually go farther where there is local leadership and knowledge. As Americans, our efforts are most likely to succeed where we are the Sherpas who assist local heroes like Edna as they climb their summits. For example, Edna is trying to fight female genital mutilation (FGM), and that works because she's a Muslim woman who was herself cut as a child. When you get Americans denouncing FGM, there's sometimes a backlash. So I think that to the extent possible we should aim to support local efforts like Edna's, with everything from accounting and fundraising help to technical support like the postpartum hemorrhage treatments that you describe.
AJ: PSI follows evidence in developing our health interventions. When we look more closely at those we serve, we find the majority are women and girls. Do you think it's more advantageous to have an overarching strategy to address the needs of girls or allow the solutions to come from evidence, research and the country and community levels?
NK: I'm a believer in step-by-step evidence-based solutions. There's a Chinese expression, "Mozhe shitou, guo he," suggesting that the way you cross a stream is to feel for the stones, step by step—and that's an excellent approach to aid and development. Grand theories woven in New York or Washington rarely work very well, so it's crucial to go and listen and self-correct and build on what works.
AJ: How excited are you about the documentaries being made about the exquisitely resilient women to whom you introduced the world in Half the Sky?
NK: The documentaries are another way to reach beyond the choir to a new audience, and that makes us very excited. The plan is for the documentaries to air on national television in the fall of 2011, along with a traveling museum exhibit and an online game to draw people into these issues. The other thing that is exciting is that Half the Sky is now coming out in many foreign languages, including Arabic, and we hope that it'll have the same impact abroad and will build support for great groups like PSI that are on the front lines.
Read more interviews with visionary leaders in PSI's Impact magazine.
Ashley Judd shares the power of change in Africa
The power of microcredit—read an excerpt of Half of the Sky
Change women's lives around the world with $5—or 5 minutes
Anna Kournikova's PSI-sponsored HIV education mission to Russia