Profiles - I
"I learned that your own integrity
only thing that will sustain you."
Dr. Judy KURIANSKY
the Light Millennium
|This is the first of a series of profiles of significant figures
in the UN NGO community. Today we
welcome Michaela Walsh,
activist, scholar, mentor, educator,
and author. Her credentials as a
pioneer are impressive: she was the first female partner of a
brokerage firm, the first female
manager of Merrill Lynch International,
and the founder and past president
of Women's World Banking. Michaela
is the founder of the Global Student
Leadership Program and currently
Director of Women and Community
Leadership at Manhattanville College.
Michaela is serving
as chairperson of the 59th
conference of the DPI/NGOs
at the United Nations, coming up
The interviewer is internationally known psychologist, college
professor, newspaper columnist,
and radio and TV reporter, Dr.
Judy Kuriansky. Dr. Judy is
also a UN NGO representative for
two international organizations:
the International Association
of Applied Psychology and the World
Council for Psychotherapy.
you are well known and respected throughout
many fields of finance, academia, and
international relations. One of your major
achievements is founding the Women's World
Bank. How did you arrive at doing that?
Michaela: A lot of it stems from the fact that I love to
learn. And I think also I'm kind of known
as -- a trouble maker. Im more comfortable
breaking new ground than I am being comfortable
with same old, same old. I'm
not an expert in anything. I just enjoy
people and trying to create new ground.
Dr. Judy: Still,
you are a risk-taker and an inspiration.
How does the Women's World Banking work?
Michaela: Women's World Banking was set up as a financial
institution designed to help low-income
women around the world set up their business
by providing microcredit and business
Dr. Judy: WWB is appropriate for small businesses, whether
you are selling cows or running a bicycle
shop. Isn't that so?
Michaela: Absolutely. It has grown in the environment of
what has now come to be known as the microfinance
industry. It's unique and different from
other microfinance projects in that it
is in fact registered as a financial institution
linked through local affiliates in forty-six
countries around the world where women
are primarily the managers and the owners.
They are legally registered with access
to the central banks and the ministries
of finance in every country where there
is a Women's World Banking. Independent
of some outside organizations, each one
of those affiliates belongs to Women's
World Banking. Fifty percent of the global
board of Women's World Banking has representatives
from those affiliates, working side-by-side
with representatives from major financial
institutions and banks on a global basis.
We provide capital to these small
financial institutions. Some of them are
banks; some are not-for-profit organizations,
and some are for-profit organization.
It doesn't matter, so long as they run
as a real business. Each one of those
groups has been trained to manage their
loan portfolio so that on a daily basis
they know how to make a profit from the
loans they are making.
Dr. Judy: Speaking of profits, you have used the term "relationship
banking," referring to the importance
of keeping the money warm. What does it
mean, that money is "warm" or
money is "cold"?
I first got into this field in 1975, I
realized that you cannot have a developing
economy if 50% of the workforce or the
producers had no access to the tools of
Michaela: Money is warm when it keeps being turned over
and over, and the savings and profits
from the small business and the loans
go back to the local community to help
other neighbors, friends, colleagues,
and whatever. It's not put into a computer
and whisked away to a capital city; it
is reinvested and reused at that local
community level. This is the way big businesses,
big banking, and governments work. It's
very important that the least common denominator
of a developing economy understands how
the money works. When I first got into
this field in 1975, I realized that you
cannot have a developing economy if 50%
of the workforce or the producers had
no access to the tools of production.
It was a pretty basic and simple principle.
Now I am working to extend what we learned from Women's World Banking
to the younger generation, so we don't
have to wait until women are married and
already locked into a certain lifestyle.
We need to start to educate them at a
very formative time in their lives, to
teach them to take responsibility for
their own leadership, and to know how
to use modern technology so that they
can work locally but have a link to global
networks where they can learn to problem-solve
and to connect with colleagues. It's like
the "old boys network"; now
we are doing it for local women.
Dr. Judy: Obviously you made a big contribution in women's
finance around the world, especially in
developing nations. Now you are making
similar contributions to students.
In what way are students so important
purpose of using resources, access and
connection is to help empower other people."
Michaela: Yes. When I was a student, my key sense of life
was that I wanted to go to Wall Street
to work, since power is where the money
was, so women had to go where the money
is, to get the power. It wasn't until
when I went to Mexico City, to the first
women's conference, that I began to realize
that power wasn't for me; it was the empowerment
of other people that really matters. The
purpose of using resources, access and
connection is to help empower other people.
That is the only way to achieve environmental
protection, developing economies and human
security in the world. Ever since that
meeting, I keep stepping into arenas that
I did not plan to step into. A good example
is my current teaching position at Manhattanville
College. I never even thought of myself
as teaching on a college campus; but I
have learned so much, and I am so enriched
by students. It really changed my own life in terms
of enrichment by learning from young people,
their energy, and honesty.
Dr. Judy: You are very dedicated to young women and young
people in general. One of the Millennium
Development Goals for the UN is to promote
gender equality in education.
At the Commission on the Status
of Women, males also participated. What role should men play?
Michaela: I realize that men have to be a part of this women's
movement, if it's really going to succeed
and change the way the world works.
Dr. Judy: You've
been an example of blazing the way for
women and gender equality early in your
I understand that when you were
at Merrill Lynch and you wanted to go
to the Middle East and they didn't want
to send you, you went anyway. You paid
your own way. That's a beautiful story.
Michaela: I was working for Merrill Lynch in the international
division here in New York. And I met some
people who were going to go over to open
up a Merrill Lynch office there. A couple
of them said, "Why don't you come?"
So, I went to the personnel department
but they said, "We can't send a woman.
That's too dangerous." So, the only
alternative I had was to resign from Merrill
Lynch USA, pay my own way to Beirut, Lebanon
and then I was hired by Merrill Lynch
International, and I never thought anything
of it; it wasn't a problem to me. It was
an opportunity that I can go learn something.
I didn't even know where Beirut was on
Dr. Judy: How did the idea come to you? What was going on
in your mind that you said this is something
I want to do?
Michaela: It was an opportunity to learn and travel to see
the world. It turned out to be a wonderful
learning experience. I couldn't understand
how people would apply for a job and all
they were interested in was what kind
of benefits were available; I didn't care
about that for a certain time. Of course,
it was a different world then, compared
to what we are living with now. I did
not have a fear of going. I've always
been adventuresome. The idea of getting
on an airplane and flying to Europe and
then flying to the Middle East was just
an adventure. I got off the airplane in
Beirut and I felt there was a cloud of
passion floating around in the air.
I had the most wonderful time. I found my own identity. And I worked
very, very hard. I used to work seven
days a week for long hours. After the
office got set up, I would go in to work
early in the morning and then go out to
lunch, go swimming, come back to the office
in the late afternoon when the New York
Stock Exchange would open. Then at 10
or 11 o'clock at night when the market
would close, I changed my clothes in the
office and went out and danced all night.
Then I'd take a shower and go back to
work. Sleep didn't matter. It was just
a whole other world I didn't know.
Dr. Judy: Your life was round the clock with no sleeping
those days. That was the typical day of
Michaela Walsh then. What's the typical
Michaela: During the preparation for this UN DPI/NGO conference,
there is a lot of paper work and many,
many e-mails everyday. It's a challenge
for me to take a tradition like this UN
NGO conference and input new ideas and
new personalities and to talk about what
the future might be. It was a big accomplishment just even
to get the agreement that 30% of the participants
and the speakers will be under 30 year
of age. The public doesn't know what kind
of effort goes into accomplishing such
Dr. Judy: You are the chair person of the 59th conference
at the UN DPI/ NGO conference, under the
auspices of the UN Department of Public
Information. There are thousands of NGO's
around the world. The title is "Unfinished
Business: Effective partnership for human
security and sustainable development."
What will the conference entail?
Michaela is during the Plenaray Meeting
Walsh is the Chair of the upcoming UN
DPI/NGO - 59th
May 4, 2006
at the United Nations
I'm hoping to see during these three days
of the conference is that we see new faces
and hear new voices talking about things
that are working to effect change."
will be six round tables, three plenaries,
and thirty workshops. Participants will hear about effective
partnerships to help the UN obtain the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by
the year 2015. I believe that we have
had enough of negative aspects of what
happens in our world, and of numbers and
theories. What I'm hoping to see during
these three days of the conference is
that we see new faces and hear new voices
talking about things that are working
to effect change. I think if we can create
that kind of positive energy into the
imagery of the 2,000 people attending,
then hopefully we can make a difference
to eradicate poverty and stop the depletion
of our environment and resources, and
improve human security.
Dr. Judy: When
people hear of those MDGs, and associated
words they sound like very lofty goals.
What does "human security" and
what does "sustainable development"
Michaela: It means different things to different people.
In a broad sense, I think "sustainable
development" means that we do not
continue to rape the environment.
Even though big buildings increase
development, we need to learn how to preserve
the natural system, and we need to stop
global warming and find ways to produce
food and clean water to feed people throughout
the world. There is enough information
around so that we can live without abject
poverty and end the fact that a third
of the world's population is deserted
refugees. We have a chance over the next
very short period of time to stop global
warming, but it's going to take major
commitment from every individual on the
face of this earth. We also require a
much different attitude towards the UN's
role, the role of the NGOs, corporations,
and academia - especially academia geared
towards the younger generation to increase
their sense of responsibility. We all
have to try to work towards the goals
together. The UN conference offers an
opportunity to do that. Last year, there
were about 3,000 people registered and
1,800 attendees at the UN DPI/NGO conference.
The meetings offer an opportunity for
positive change and not just dealing with
Dr. Judy: The Millennium Development Goals are meant to
be accomplished in 2015. Are you optimistic
Michaela: I'm very optimistic about the views and the attitudes
of the younger generation. I'm too old.
They are the ones who have to go out and
make the change. We need encourage them
and step out of the way and let them take
responsibility. What I have learned from
this particular participation of mine
is how often and how difficult it is to
get people to change their minds about
things that they have believed for years
and years. That is the challenge that
we are faced with; how do we change our
perception of peace, security, and how
much we need of things or food? What are
the issues of health that we don't know
about? I think the younger generation
understands, but we don't, the impact
of new technology, new information of
DNA, and the complexity of the way the
world is put together.
Dr. Judy: One of the areas you are interested in with this
UN conference is new media.
Michaela: To understand the new media, new information,
and technology, just watch the younger
generation deal with the computer. I'm
thrilled that I can do e-mail. But there
is a lot of information that the younger
generation can process and understand
much faster and in a more complex way
then we in the older generation can. That's
where my hope is for them. Basically I
do believe that people are good, even
if I don't always agree with all of them.
But there aren't any reasons why we all
aren't good. That's a very positive and
optimistic way of looking at the world.
If people can survive working inside the
UN system which is the most complex system
I have ever dealt with, then they can
deal with their own environment.
Dr. Judy: What do you hope the participants from the NGOs who come to the
conference bring back to their country?
Michaela: I have been asked that question two or three times.
I hesitate to answer because I strongly
believe that what one person is going
to take away, another person won't even
know about. The most important thing that
usually has come out of this conference
is the networking that goes on. That's
hard to evaluate and judge in terms of
the larger picture. This year we are bringing
in new corporate personalities to make
presentations, and people from as many
countries as we can possibly get to the
table. I'm hoping that it becomes much
more of a learning experience then it
has been. I think if an NGO can play an
equal role in listening and learning,
as well as speaking, they have a chance
to find new ways and new avenues to develop
a really working partnership. There is
an enormous effort in the world today
to build such initiatives between large
major organizations. My sense is that
money is not going to be used effectively
if it's not engaged with NGOs who really
know how to work at the grass roots and
community level. This is the time for
the NGOs to understand that they are partners
with the UN, not dependent with the UN.
Often the smaller NGOs feel quite dependent
on their connections in the UN rather
then saying, "Look, we are a strong
voice, we do a lot of the UN work; therefore
we are entitled to sit down at the table
as equal partners in finding ways to solve
the problems". So, we all hope to
change the ways in which to work together.
Just because somebody is in government
does not necessarily mean that they have
the capacity for problem-solving. We all
have different information. Was it Oscar
Wilde who said, "We are all ignorant,
we are just ignorant about different things"?
So, we have to figure out a ways of learning
from each other. The younger generation
is much more comfortable with working
and sharing information then their parent's
and grandparent's generation.
Dr. Judy: Partnership is an important word for you, and
an issue addressed in the upcoming DPI/NGO
conference and in the 8th MDG,
which calls for creating partnership between
civil society and business. How can the
individual do something to reach out,
to make those links happen, to gets kids
involved and to reach out to business.
Most people think, "They'll never
listen to me."
the world as a cylinder. If you poke a
hole in the tire, nothing works."
Michaela: That's where you start. You get beyond the idea
that they are not going to listen to you.
I teach my students that they are not
going to learn unless they are going to
understand that learning is the relationship
between "me" and "them."
They must be confident knowing who they
are as leaders. What's the use of saying,
"What can I do?" I say, "Go
plant a tree." Just get involved
in something you are comfortable with,
because from that you will learn other
things, and from that, you will build
on other things. We have evolved into
this modern era of society where there
is a queen bee or a king and a hierarchical
structure. Instead, I see the world as
a cylinder. If you poke a hole in the
tire, nothing works.
Therefore, we have to re-image
the way we see the world. I think there
is a huge need for us to step back and
say, "What am I a leader of?""How
can I be a leader of myself?" "What
can I do, and not ask tell someone else
what to do"; they have to decide
for themselves. I think we are going to
see a rebirth of small business because
I think that large corporations can't
do it all anymore. Statistics shows there
are an increasing number of entrepreneurs,
but more small business fail. But a lot
of big businesses have failed. Look at
Enron, it has made a lot of people suffer.
But we can't think of Enron as one business
because individual control like that does
Dr. Judy: Where did all these thoughts and ambitions come
from in your childhood? As a psychologist
I find this fascinating. You decided you
were going to go to the Middle East and
you went. You have an amazing view of
partnering. Who brought you up? What happened
in your childhood?
Michaela: I grew up sitting up at the dinning room table
and not talking because everybody at the
table knew so much more then I did. It
took me a long time to grow up; but once
I did, there was no stopping me to look
at life as though I was such a very lucky,
fortunate person. I always felt the best
time of life I could have ever been born
in was during the women's movement, at
the end of the twentieth century. It was
a golden age in a way. I was lucky to
be born then. I was also lucky to be born
into an environment where I knew my parents
and grandparents had made a contribution
to the world. My grandfather was the first
chairman of the New York State College
Board many years ago, and was very close
to Roosevelt and the Irish politicians
in New York City, and my father was a
congressman in the state of Missouri.
I grew up in Kansas City. I had a mother
who wanted everyone to love her and a
father who was a liberal, and I just wanted
to stir up trouble. I drifted through
life thinking I don't have to go to headhunters;
I just have to be myself and sooner or
later something would come along and will
give me an opportunity to use my words.
Dr. Judy: What about President Truman do you remember that
was pivotal to you?
Michaela: I loved his folksiness in a sense that I can see
him walking on the street. He was friendly;
he spoke to people. He had a mother in-law
who treated him terribly but he went on
and did his thing. He didn't care whether
people really loved him or not. He was
totally honest about who he was and even
in his politicizing in the state of Missouri
he went for it. He was extremely loyal.
Even took people you may not totally trust
yourself. He represented a lot of things
that I could trust as a leader. I wish
we could have that kind of leadership
"I learned that your own integrity is the only thing
that will sustain you."
Dr. Judy: What other people do you admire?
Michaela: Eleanor Roosevelt had an impact on me. She wasn't
a beauty model, and yet she had the courage.
I also have many mentors in my career
as I moved through many different careers,
and many of them are friends. My ambition
was not for my own success and my own
career. I think that when I left Wall
Street I knew I was trusted because I
didn't take fees so people knew what I
said they can trust. And I kept that open
mindedness in terms of my integrity so
that I don't have a hidden agenda. This
is how you get longevity particular in
the world of finance which is where my
grounding was. I learned that your own
integrity is the only thing that will
sustain you. Also, the market taught me
to take risks. Risks are not a scary thing;
in most cases you will win. People take
risks in the market; people have losses
but basically most of the time you will
win. If you take calculated risks, and
risks that you believe in, and if also
you agree willing to hang in there to
finish your job, people will trust you.
If you want to do something, and you agree
to do something, then do not leave until
the job is done.
Dr. Judy: You are not afraid of taking risks because of
a fear of a failure and losing everything.
How would people get rid of that fear?
Michaela: I see that operating in many of the younger professional
women, with regard to being professionals
in the business world. Men and women don't
want to be associated with things that
don't represent huge success, and that
represents possible failure. But how do
you define failure? Because it's a small
NGO, because it's a small borrower, or
whatever, that doesn't necessarily mean
failure. Professional people don't like
to be attached to the unknown and I don't
understand that. These are not people
I would like to be around. I like to be
around successes and I have been around
many of them in my life. But that isn't
what motivates me.
Dr. Judy: What motivates you?
Michaela: Having an impact on the empowerment of other people
definitely motivates me. It runs through
everything I do, whether it's been my
nieces or nephew, my friend's children
or my own teaching. That is a great strain
of hope for me, in terms of seeing and
being able to find themselves, and make
a contribution a lot earlier than I did.
All of us have to move faster and faster.
The goal is to send them out the door
with a level of confidence and not being
afraid of taking a risk, and being willing
to explore and give back. Similarly, the
empowerment was a motivation factor when
I went to Wall Street, because that's
where the money was and money in my pocket
gave me an opportunity to buy presents
for people and to empower me. Then I realized
that empowerment in other people was much
more interesting to me and much more satisfying.
Dr. Judy: You've won many awards in your career, most recently
from the Club of Rome. What is the Club
Michaela: That was quite a surprise. Years ago, I came back
from Mexico City and had been working
on Women's World Banking. Hazel Henderson
invited me to go to Berlin to a Club of
Rome meeting. On my way, I went to Holland
to visit a law firm who ultimately set
up Women's World Banking. It was like
a weekend trip to Europe, and it was the
first time I had been to the Club of Rome.
After that, I was involved with setting
up the United States' Club of Rome. As
you know, the first report of the Club
of Rome was to grow.
It was a wonderful, wonderful startup. I remember one of the first
Club of Rome meetings I went to in Washington.
All the women were sitting around the
table, such as Hazel Henderson and Danielle
Meadows, talking. I was so curious, "What
were these women talking about?"
This was a long time ago. Of course it
is different now but it was quite fun.
One of the women scientists struggled
to make sure Club of Rome wouldn't lose
its identity here in the United States
because it still remains in Europe. The
Club of Rome awarded me. It was a very
touching experience because many of the
members are much older than I am.
That was the first time anyone began to think about sustainability.
It was started by a man who was the head
of Volkswagon. He and a group of businessmen
in Europe began to say, "What is
this growth? Where is it going? How long
can you keep it up and make it grow every
year?" It has taken thirty years
to reach a universal understanding of
what we were really talking about at the
Dr. Judy: And it will still take longer for people to understand
There is another group, the Lindisfarne
Fellows, which is another international
think tank that has honored you.
Michaela: I was a partner of that, and it was like going
to graduate school for me. When I was
working for the Rockefeller Brothers,
I went to go see Bill Thompson. It was
just like man of from heaven; it was just
a glorious time with meetings with Gregory
Basin, Margaret Need, and John and Nancy
Todd. My students don't even know who
these people are and yet they were very
Recently I have been going through my library and I have a whole
library of books from that era. Now I
am trying to find a school or institute
where I can donate them so they can be
used, not to go in some big library somewhere,
but to be really used for young people
who are beginning to think about these
issues in a new way. It really was grounding
for historical moments when those issues
became relevant and surfaced as important
aspects for the future.
Dr. Judy: Michaela, you care about so many important issues
and have accomplished so much. You are
a pioneer and an inspiration. Businesses
and institutes of all kinds in developed
and developing countries are indebted
to you. Thank you, Michaela Walsh, current
chairperson for the 59th
UN/DPI Department of Public Information
and NGO Non-Governmental Organization
Conference coming up this September.
(This interview was realized on May 3,
2006 at the United Nations.)
* * * * *
Additional bio info on
|Michaela Walsh was President and Chair of Women's
Asset Management, Ltd.. In 1975,
following the conference that marked
the beginning of the United Nations
Decade for Women, Ms. Walsh and
a small group of delegates to that
conference founded Women's World
Banking (WWB), a private, non-profit
organization which serves as an
intermediary between community organizations,
individuals and lending institutions,
and provides business management
and skill training. She served as
President of WWB from 1980 to 1990.
Prior to 1980, Michaela Walsh served
as Project Director for the U.S.
Congressional Office of Technology
Assessment, and as a Program Associate
with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
She was the first woman partner
of Boettcher & Company and the
first woman manager of Merrill Lynch
International to work in its New
York, London and Beirut offices.
She serves on the Boards of Directors
of several organizations including
the Synergos Institute and WorldWide,
and as a member of the Advisory
Board to the Overseas Development
Council, the World Resources Institute,
the Energy and Education Study Institution
and USAID. She is a member of the
Committee of 200, the Financial
Women's Association and other institutions
which support and encourage the
advancement of women in the economy
Inteview Transcribed by:
Minhajul MEJE, student, Fordam
University, and intern for the Media Committee
of the UNDPI-NGO 59th NGO Conference.
Malyna Kettavong, student, Smith College,
and intern for Dr Judy and the International
Association of Applied Psychology, who
also helped for the transcription.
Special Thanks to:
Joan LEVY, Co-Chair of the Media Committee of the UNDPI-NGO
Isolda OCA, Co-Chair of the Department
of Public Information of the United Nations.
Mona GILLETT, DPI/NGO Resource Center
Bircan Unver, for the interview
arrangment and videography.
* * * * *
might be quoted or reproduced by given
its full credits and related hyper link's
as follow>UN NGO Profile:
Michaela WALSH, Interviewed by Dr. Judy
in the Light Millennium's Summer 2006,
#19 Issue> http://www.lightmillennium.org/2006_18th/drjudyk_mwalsh_interview.html"
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