The Dream That Helped a 13-year-old Girl Survive The Holocaust

The Dream That Helped a 13-year-old Girl Survive The Holocaust

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Seventy years ago today, the prisoners of Auschwitz were liberated. Irene Weiss is one of those survivors. She was 13 years old when she was captured in Czechoslovakia, her long blond braids shaved off and her family killed in the gas chambers. Weiss sat down with me to share her inspirational story. Remarkably, it was her vivid daydreams that helped her stay alive. Listen to our conversation here:

“There will never be any hate or discrimination after this, because we will tell the world what happened: This is what a 13-year-old was daydreaming about,” she told me.

Irene shared some powerful descriptions of her time at Auschwitz. Here are some excerpts of our conversation.

On the sights and sounds:

“At night we could hear the steam engine, which makes a lot of hissing noise. We’d hear the whistle of the train arriving. Then we could hear the hum of human beings, a huge hum of sounds. And then I’d look up the road and see them coming: a huge column of women and children and elderly moving toward the gate of the gas chamber…. You could see flames, like the whole forest was burning…. The screams were blood curdling. I would stuff my fingers in my ears. I couldn’t stand it.”

On how she dealt with the pain:

“I cannot say to you that all I wanted to do is die. No! I pushed that out of my immediate grief. It was like a stone — you know, without feeling. It’s the way we deal with death…. We grieve and find a way to distance ourselves from the real, painful part of grief. You have to do that; otherwise you have to stop living, or you cry all the time … or commit suicide. Some did…. It was quite easy, by just touching the electrified fence.”

On never crying:

Holocaust survivor, Irene Weiss at 13 years oldWeiss has never let herself cry about her experiences, even to this day, despite having her beautiful braids of long, blond hair shaved off; being told by her fellow prisoners that the rest of her family had been killed (they just pointed to the chimneys); and finding a shawl belonging to her late aunt as she sorted through the mountains of prisoners’ belongings.

I asked her if she ever cries for joy, for example when she saw her children getting married.

“Well I do experience great joy from my children, endless joy,” she said. “Like all parents, it’s mixed with a little bit of fear that it should last and nothing should spoil it.”

One day soon there will be no more survivors who can tell us their story, which is all the more reason to listen closely and learn from brave women like Irene Weiss. What would it take to make her daydream a reality?

To find out more about Irene Weiss’ remarkable story, go to the Holocaust Museum site.

This interview was part of the Let’s Never Forget Series honoring author Arnost Lustig.

 

 

Fear Is Not An Option

Fear Is Not An Option

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Diane von Furstenberg says that the greatest gift she’s ever been given was the lesson that fear is not an option.

With 2015 off to a fearful start in Paris and its impact reverberating globally, especially within Jewish communities, it’s a lesson worth exploring.

I sat down with von Furstenberg, Queen of the Wrap Dress and the DVF brand, and found a down-to-earth woman with a powerful story that resonates far beyond the world of fashion.

As a small child, von Furstenberg learned her lesson in a rather brutal way from her mother, a Holocaust survivor.

“She’d lock me in a closet and wait til I stopped being afraid,” says von Furstenberg.

Her mother experienced atrocities at Auschwitz and her challenging life shaped von Furstenberg’s to this day.

“Fear is not an option is everything: fear of flying, living, confronting the truth…fear of anything,” says von Furstenberg, who has made some courageous choices in her personal and business life, as chronicled in her new book “The Woman I Wanted To Be.”

DVF Warhol She recounts the many periods of self doubt and challenges she faced as her career soared then flopped, rose again from the ashes, battled to stay relevant and then triumphed in China and globally, ensuring DVF a place in the design history books. She’s done it all: married (and divorced) a prince, been painted by Andy Warhol, made front page of Newsweek, survived cancer, faced bankruptcy and become a doting grandmother.

In a conversation with Maria Shriver the day before our interview, she urged women to be hard on themselves. I asked her what she meant by that. Although some journalists claim she’s impossible to interview, DVF answered my question directly.

“The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself,” says von Furstenberg. “See yourself for what you really are…for the good and the bad, whatever. Once you have accepted that, then you can also begin to like yourself.”

Along with Tina Brown and Sally Field, von Furstenberg is part of Vital Voices, a network that supports female community and business leaders around the world, both politically and financially.

 

The interview took place at The Foreign Cinema in San Francisco on November 20, 2014. Many thanks to Julian Guthrie and Martin Muller for the invitation.

Check out our archives of Fresh Dialogues interviews with inspiring women like Meryl Streep, Maureen Dowd and Belva Davis.

BBC Report: Tech Women Flock to Silicon Valley “Mecca”

BBC Report: Tech Women Flock to Silicon Valley “Mecca”

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Silicon Valley is well known as the global hub of innovative technology. Can four weeks immersed in its unique ecosystem help inspire a new generation of global tech leaders? That’s the hope behind a program called Tech Women, launched by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and now sponsored by the State Department.

Last month, over seventy tech women from Africa and the Middle East made a month-long visit to Silicon Valley. I met with several of them to explore what they learned, and how they plan to leverage technology to tackle their countries’ challenges when they return home.

A version of this story aired on BBC’s Tech Tent on Nov. 14, 2014. Listen to the podcast below:  @20.00

 
Here is the full length transcript:

BBC Tech Tent logoTech Tent Host, Rory Cellan-Jones: One interesting aspect of the tech revolution is that women are playing a bigger role in the developing world than in places like the U.S. and U.K. Over 70 women from Africa and the Middle Easter have just wrapped up a month long visit to Silicon Valley, with the aim of picking up ideas for the technology they can use to tackle their country’s challenges when they return home. Alison van Diggelen met two of them…

Alison van Diggelen: They are two women with ambitious missions. They’ve got the tech savvy and now, after a month building connections and wisdom in Silicon Valley, they’re eager to launch their dreams back home.

Meet Asal Ibrahim who wants to bring massive deployment of solar power to Jordan; and Serah Kahiu from Kenya who wants to jumpstart the science and tech economy in Africa by developing a network of science museums and labs across the entire continent.

Both have lofty goals, but they talk with such conviction and enthusiasm, it’s hard not to believe that these young women will change the world, at least their little corner of it.

I start by asking Kahiu about the current state of technology in Kenya.

Kahiu: “I use mobile technology in Kenya, it’s HUGE. It’s like magic because you can do transactions, money transactions on your mobile. You can pay someone from wherever in a country: school fees, bills. That one has revolutionized life in Kenya.”

She explains how Facebook is a vital tech tool for small businesses in Kenya.

Kahiu: “You can use your phone for Internet. That has really sparked business because you can advertise your product on Facebook, get someone to pay you through M-pesa and then put stuff on a public transport system and it’s transported to your client. That has made it so easy for people like farmers. You cut out the middleman. The farmer gets all the profit. This is huge, especially for women. The majority of small scale farmers in Kenya are women, so that has improved standards of living for many women in rural areas.”

Serah Kahiu Think Different Fresh DialoguesWe discuss her grand vision of creating a network of hands-on science and tech centers across Africa, starting in Juja, Kenya, a university town she describes as having “the same vibe as Silicon Valley.”

Kahiu: “We need to embrace more technology because 60% of Africans and youth in Kenya are under 35. We have a bulge of youth who’re not employed. Science and technology is the last frontier for job creation. We must prepare people for that. We import 80% of whatever we’re using. Why do we import? Why not make it in Kenya?

“If the governments of Africa invest in science and technology and put it on its pedestal as an accelerator of development, youth are encouraged to understand science better, and more importantly, to start companies.”

van Diggelen: “So you feel it needs an entrepreneurship spirit kick-started?”

Kahiu: “Yes, kick-started! There’s a need for that entrepreneurship. They’re learning theory, theory, theory.”

van Diggelen: “So commercializing these ideas?”

Kahiu: “It’s very hard…That’s what I want to do. I’ll sit in the gap between the education system and the industry and help people to see the possibilities that there are in science, technology, engineering and math.”

“Every Kenyan child that is being born deserves to know and understand technology. We don’t have a choice. If the world is accelerating the way it is doing, we’ll be left so far behind, we won’t even see the dust. I’m serious.”

“Science and technology should answer your problems. So, I meet people where they are and then we walk together …People care about drinking water, safer roads and availability of healthy foods for their kids. So these are their needs. So I’ll walk with my people from that point and we’ll walk towards particle physics…flying to the moon, or Mars…who knows? (laughter)”

The way to Silicon Valley, Los Altos Museum, Fresh Dialogues(This interview took place at the Los Altos History Museum, which is currently featuring an interactive Silicon Valley exhibit, now through April 2015)

 

 

 

Asal Ibrahim is a 24 year-old student from Amman, Jordan. She’s been working at a (Vista Solar) solar company in Silicon Valley, soaking up the “can do” attitude.Asal Ibrahim interviewed by Alison van Diggelen Fresh Dialogues Oct 2014

Ibrahim is enthusiastic about the state of technology in Jordan today, but admits there are many opportunities for improvement.

I asked her how Silicon Valley’s tech obsessed culture compares to that of Jordan.

Ibrahim: “It’s very similar. Everyone is obsessed with technology: holding a smart phone, interacting on social media, using it in almost every aspect of life. On an infrastructure level it needs to be improved: transportation, education is employing technology a lot…we need to improve it way more.

 “You can find anything from high tech schools to poor schools in Jordan. We have schools that are winning international competitions like Intel Science Fair or Microsoft Imagine Cup and compete worldwide with their Robotech, with their programming skills, website software. Some schools are more advanced than some universities in Jordan. We’re still lacking equipped labs for example, not only technological advances like IT, but also scientific labs.

 “Jordanians are very into technology. They can contribute a lot if they get the chance. We have a lot of international companies that have offices in Jordan, and employ large amount of engineers, like Microsoft, Sony, Yahoo.”

 Ibrahim’s goal is to encourage the massive deployment of solar power in Jordan, but she faces an uphill struggle.

“It’s not easy to push this kind of alternate power and challenge the big oil companies. We have to combine all the manpower we have, all the technology, knowledge, NGOs, advocates, to make this happen. It’s a dream that needs to be worked on at a national level.”

Ibrahim was part of a public private partnership that brought 200 Mega Watts of solar power online this year, but she’s determined to keep up the momentum.

“97% of our energy is imported, so if any of surrounding countries that provide us with oil or electricity have bad political situations, which is the case most of the times, we will be out of energy. Renewables are now 2% of energy share. It’s mostly oil now.”

So how has Ibrahim’s month in Silicon Valley inspired her?

“The most special spirit of Silicon Valley is how diverse it is. Having people from all over the world working for the state of technology, for the sake of entrepreneuring, for the sake of innovating, creating new things. How excited people are on the train in the morning – they feel happy, on a mission to accomplish…it has reached me.”

She’s learned an important lesson from her month in Silicon Valley:

Ibrahim: “No idea is bad. If you have a single idea, whether it’s a website, app, any innovation you think can change the face of technology, you should pursue this, because an idea dies if you don’t pursue it.

 “It’s all inspiring to me. Everything is possible if you have the persistence and determination to make it happen. The Jordanian culture encourages girls and boys, men to study equally; they’re very encouraged to pursue careers in STEM, to pursue technological and scientific degrees. Being in a male dominated environment in technological companies, can be a bit frightening for girls and women…there is no challenge if you show confidence and if you have a dream to pursue, no one will stand in your way.”

 Check back soon for my interview with Sierra Leone’s Fatmata Kamara who wants to bring solar power to rural areas of her country to improve the livelihood of rural communities and help in the fight against Ebola.

Find out about more inspiring women at Fresh Dialogues

Kiva cofounder Jessica Jackley shares 3 startup tips

Kiva cofounder Jessica Jackley shares 3 startup tips

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Kiva cofounder, Jessica Jackley received a Visionary Award at SVForum in Silicon Valley this month. She joined an impressive roster of former award winners that includes Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Padmasree Warrior.
Jackley took a few moments with me to share tips for aspiring entrepreneurs and some clues about her latest startup, launching this Fall.
She enthuses about Silicon Valley being “an incredibly special pocket of the world” where “people have a great capacity to imagine new futures.”
“So many people here have the resources and skills to make these new stories unfold, become real,” she adds.

Here are some highlights of our conversation.

Tips for aspiring entrepreneurs:

1. Be passionate

Do something you are passionate about and have a vision for.

2. Start small

Remember Kiva began with seven entrepreneurs and a little over $3000. It recently surpassed the $500,000,000 mark in microloans to entrepreneurs around the world, serving almost 2 million Kiva users in 76 countries. The average loan amount is $10.

3. Be excellent

Serve one person, or one community well and build from there. Be thoughtful, intentional and think about the details. Study and absorb what’s unfolding in front of you, and be present.

On her new startup

1. Focus

I’m excited to focus on serving working parents…I’m in the trenches right now and that’s the people I want to serve.

2. The Problem

I hope to consult with companies on their policies, culture that supports or doesn’t support working parents. There’s a lot of room for improvement in existing companies.

3. The Solution

My goal is to make it easier and provide options for working parents to prioritize and design their own work and lives around that. Parenting is one of the most entrepreneurial things that I’ll ever do. There’s so much that maps from my experience into motherhood that I want to share with other people. I want to work at the company level and with individuals to demand what they want.

4. The Context

In Europe, it’s top down, (working parents) are taken care of by institutions. I don’t want to wait for that (policy change) to happen here. It’s the better and faster way to go here, in this (US) culture.

Find out more about other SVForum visionary award winners and check back soon for interviews with Stanford’s Tina Seilig, VC Tim Draper and Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America.

Come join the conversation on Facebook

This video is part of a special “Inspiring Women” series at Fresh Dialogues featuring Meryl Streep, Sheryl Sandberg, Jennifer Granholm, Maureen Dowd, and Belva Davis. Check out the YouTube video series here

How to be a Tech Visionary? 5 Lessons from Oscars of Silicon Valley

How to be a Tech Visionary? 5 Lessons from Oscars of Silicon Valley

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

The dynamic new CEO of SVForum, Adiba Barney rolled out the red carpet this week for the 17th Visionary Awards. But despite all the glitz and glamor, there was a strong message: use tech to make the world better. Of course, each recipient has an impressive resume:  Jessica Jackley, cofounder of Kiva; Tim O’Reilly, open source advocate and media producer; Tina Seelig, director of Stanford Tech Ventures Program; and Tim Draper, founder of Draper University and partner at DFJ Ventures.  But how did each get where they are today and what can you learn from their journey?

Here are some of the lessons the visionaries shared at Tuesday’s event:

1. Ask: what if?

Jackley witnessed a new level of poverty while working in Africa and when she returned to Silicon Valley, she wanted to help change some lives, especially those with an entrepreneurial drive. She said, “People in Silicon Valley are always talking about the future…so ask: what if?”

Her inspiration? She was killing time at Stanford University one evening, and just happened to attend a talk by Muhammad Yunis, the Nobel Prize winning founder of “banker to the poor” Grameen Bank. His success helped launch the microlending phenomenon and inspired Kiva, a nonprofit microlender that’s now shared over half a billion dollars in startup funds with entrepreneurs around the world.

2. Have some accidents

Tim Draper confessed that he often discovered and backed companies like Skype by complete accident. Often he was actually looking for, or working on something else. His message: “If you want to be a visionary, go out and have some accidents!” And he proceeded to fling his glass of water into the crowd. Fortunately there were no injuries, though fellow journalist, Tom Foremski got the brunt of the baptism.

3. Go for love not money

Tim O’Reilly said “I urge you all:  do things for love, with no expectation of return…celebrate the success of people who make a difference.” He described Silicon Valley as a place “for people who dream, who care…about stuff other than making an exit.”

Although he’s a big believer in the power of the markets, he underlined the obligation to “give back” and in his great literary style, he even quoted a passage from Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” to underline his point that an entrepreneur should think “much of others, and little of him (or her) self.” He’s recently embraced the vision of Jennifer Pahlka’s Code for America. It helps bring more top tech talent into government (e.g. the tech team that went to D.C. to help rescue HealthCare.Gov’s disastrous rollout).

“We need to fix government, not abandon it!” said O’Reilly.

Steven Levy interviewed by Alison van Diggelen, SVForum Visionaries 2014, photo credit: Tom Foremski4. Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous

Tina Seelig is the epitome of Silicon Valley passion for entrepreneurship and technology; and urges us all to ask big questions. Her mantra is “never miss an opportunity to be fabulous” and although she didn’t say it, her energetic body language seemed to be chanelling Adele’s line from Rolling in the Deep: “Throw your soul through every open door!

5. Have a passion for “Yes”

Steven Levy, a senior writer at Wired Magazine, and former honoree himself, introduced Tim O’Reilly and reminded everyone that behind every “no” is a “yes.”

“At the core of Silicon Valley is a passion for yes,” he said. “This is the place where people don’t look for reasons to say no…(instead) someone comes up with a crazy idea and they have permission to do it.”

Presumably he means, if you want to be a real tech visionary, there’s no place like Silicon Valley.

Check back soon for Fresh Dialogues interviews with Jessica Jackley, Tina Seelig, Jennifer Pahlka and Tim Draper.

This SVForum event took place at the home of Kelly Porter in Los Altos Hills on Tuesday June 3rd, 2014.

Photo credit: Tom Foremski

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

One day after the sweeping new rules to limit power plant emissions were announced by the EPA’s Gina McCarthy, China just announced a major carbon emissions cap. Yet the climate change deniers and the the coal lobby are campaigning to preserve carbon polluting energy. It’s valuable to reflect on why these new rules are critical to the future of mankind.

As McCarthy described it, “We have a moral obligation to the next generation to ensure the world we leave is healthy & vibrant.”

Others might be more direct: It’s climate change, stupid.

I recently interviewed CBS 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl and she shared her emotional reaction to climate change. She witnessed the rapid ice melt in Greenland and reported about it for Years of Living Dangerously, the documentary series on climate change.

“I thought global warming needed an alarm bell rung before I went, but it was extremely emotional for me to see first hand the ice melt,” says Stahl. “…knowing what it’s going to do for the rest of the planet.”

She’s talking primarily about global sea level rises, but there’s also the devastation that will occur due to rising temperatures, widespread drought and the increasing frequency of deadly storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Find out more about Stahl’s report for the Years of Living Dangerously series here. It’s produced by David Cameron and features reports from Tom Friedman, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle.

The interview was recorded at the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series in Silicon Valley on May 15, 2014.

Check out my interview with Lesley Stahl on Barbara Walters’ legacy.