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VIP Corner: Mary Ellen Iskenderian on being a smart philanthropist

SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking.

A strong philanthropist leader in her own right, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking, said she believes that individual leaders can affect not only the lives of others, but also the world at large.

“In coming to Women’s World Banking, I’d say, the greatest privilege is that I meet — literally, daily — women who are clients, who are leaders of our institutions, founders of our organizations, whose lives, if left to their own devices, would have gone in a very, very different path,” Iskenderian said.

Those women, she said, have made an enormous impact on the world because of “their commitment, their dedication, their seeing a wrong, and not allowing it to stand.”

“I am a great believer in the individual’s impact, and the individual’s impact on the system, and to change the system,” she added.

In setting up the WWB’s network, Iskendarian found that many did not explicitly state their commitment to helping impoverished women — poverty in general, yes, but they did not share a specific focus on women, which was the focus for WWB.

Philanthropy is a noble responsibility, but merely giving money away is not a solution to global problems.

“We in the United States are the most generous in the world. But being smart about what your money is actually out there doing, I think, is a real responsibility of the philanthropist,” she said.

Big Think is a forum in which top experts explore big ideas and core skills defining the 21st century. Learn more from its editors, fellows and guest speakers.