For me one of the many inspiring and affirming aspects of being a woman is the incredible generosity afforded to me by other women, particularly in the 13 years since I started ROAR AFRICA. Starting a business is a tricky endeavor at the best of times – but starting one as a woman in the male-dominated landscape of African travel is a process fraught with jumping through hoops. That I’m still here (with my largely female team) is as much testament to our indomitable passion and vision as it is to the very many women who have joined me on this journey, lending their support, guidance and invaluable insights every step of the way. Pat Mitchell is one of those women.
I was first introduced to Pat when two friends declared: ‘You need to meet Pat, she has a fierce mind and a brave heart.’ Today Pat is not only a ROAR AFRICA board member but also a steadfast mentor, fearless teacher and a cherished friend. Pat’s own life reads like a tale of character and calling. Her early childhood years were spent on her grandparents farm in southern Georgia where Pat and her Mother lived while her father fought in World War II. Her grandmother was a big influence, engaging her curiosity with nightly stories and telling her when she fell-which was often as she was always running as a child-“Remember falling on your face is at least a forward movement.”
From her earliest memories, Pat knew that she wanted to move forward from the small town where they moved to when her father returned from the war. What she dreamed of being and doing was in sharp contrast to the expectations of those around her. ‘I certainly had big dreams but with little money and no connections, I had to take some leaps of faith in myself,” she says. I’d hazard a guess that sheer determination, passion and purpose were hugely significant factors in Pat’s trajectory too.
A defining moment for Pat came in the early 70s when she found herself a single mother, broke and unemployed in NYC, after the magazine she was writing for and having left a comfortable college teaching career for, went bankrupt. ‘With encouragement, I pursued the opportunities that were opening up (by mandate from the government) for women in television.” She never looked back, breaking new ground from early on in her broadcast career by prioritizing women’s stories. She went on to become an award-winning producer and journalist creating the first national series in the US produced and hosted by women (Woman to Woman) and the first on the history of American Women (A Century of Women). She was also the first woman President of PBS, CNN Productions and the Paley Center for Media and today is the chair of the Women’s Media Center and Sundance Institute Boards. In short, Pat is a tour de force whose continued advocacy for access and equal opportunities for women is to be applauded.
Her latest venture – at the age of 76, I might add – is a memoir entitled Becoming A Dangerous Woman. Due out in October this year, the book is very much a call to action with the aim of empowering and inspiring others to be braver, bolder and daring enough to take the kind of risks necessary to shape an equitable world. ‘We live in dangerous times the world over where women still vastly under-represented in all decision-making processes, are now witnessing some of our hard-earned rights being undermined.’ Pat’s version of dangerous may be different to what you understand it to be. It’s a call to engage, and fearlessly share our power as women to empower others by speaking up and showing up for those without a voice or representation.
Pat’s work has evolved from being among the first to challenge gender stereotypes and barriers to advocating for more women’s voices, stories, issues and interests to be seen and heard. ‘Women’s leadership brings with it a different perspective to all the major global challenges in life,’ she explains. ‘Acting as caretakers of this precious planet requires all of us to do more to restore the balance between the natural world and humankind, and perhaps talk less.’ Because we know that those most affected by weather disturbances, environmental degradation, loss of our keystone species and the disintegration of community are women and children.
Pat has collaborated with me on a series of ‘Learning Journeys’ that we curate and lead, where the focus on conservation and women’s empowerment is designed to be transformative, powerful and a catalyst for action. Because as Pat so succinctly puts it: ‘you can’t be dangerous from the sidelines.’ We will host the first of its kind ever, Women’s Empowerment: Roar & Restore retreat early next month in South Africa, which I hope will provide a much needed platform to share stories of inspiration and success, fostering more “dangerous” Women.
If you’d like more information on the learning journeys that Pat Mitchell leads with ROAR AFRICA, email firstname.lastname@example.org