Paradigm Found: Leading and Managing for Positive Change

At first glance, it may seem as if the dedication in Anne Firth Murray's Paradigm Found is provocatively exclusionary: "To the women and gentle men (emphasis added) who dare to follow principles for positive change." Read the book, though, and you will come to understand Murray's careful choice of words.

Murray is unapologetically a feminist at a time when many women have turned their back on that politically charged term, and in Paradigm Found she recounts her journey from unassertive Berkeley undergraduate in the 1950s to founding president of the Global Fund for Women, a public foundation that by early 2006 "had provided $47 million in grants to 2,991 women's groups in 162 countries." Now retired from the fund and a consulting professor at Stanford University, Murray was urged by friends and colleagues to record her memories of that time, "to describe a 'paradigm found,' a way of doing business that may not be entirely new but appears to have been hidden or perhaps lost...less harsh, less violent, more graceful, and more loving."

The result is a memoir as well as a manual for new activists, and the story of Murray's life does much to explain her dedication, determination, and downright stubbornness in fighting for women's causes. Murray (then Firth), the daughter of a prominent New Zealand government official, grew up in a privileged but traditional environment that restricted her possibilities for growth in a male-dominated society. Counseled by her mother not to become "too educated" but determined to make a difference in the world, she deferred her dreams of graduate school after graduating from college to join the United Nations as a document clerk — women were not considered for professional positions at that time — only to be dismayed by the organization's pervasive atmosphere of sexual harassment. Following her stint at the UN, Murray traveled, married and divorced, raised a daughter, completed a graduate degree, and held a variety of teaching and editorial positions before becoming director of environment and international population programs at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. During those years, her feminist consciousness blossomed, along with a growing resolve to help women worldwide in their struggle for equality and power.

After unsuccessfully urging the Hewlett Foundation to increase its support of women's programs, Murray decided in 1987 that the time had come to create an organization devoted exclusively to helping women's groups throughout the world, one that rejected patriarchal hierarchy in favor of "shared, caring, and respectful leadership." Thus was born the Global Fund for Women, conceived during a dinner conversation with friends and growing from wistful dream to robust reality in an astonishingly short period of time.

As Murray envisioned it, the fund would be a "garden" in which "every plant gets the space, the nutrients, and the care it needs." Instead of awarding large grants with strict, patriarchal guidelines to well-established organizations, her organization would offer small general support grants to struggling, nascent women's groups, allowing them to spend the money as they saw fit. It was a modest, trusting vision of the way civil society should work, liberating and empowering women by giving them the freedom to make their own decisions and to tackle politically and socially charged issues such as HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, bride burnings, forced prostitution, and sexism in religion.

Were men invited to the party? The fund's grants were limited to groups "governed and directed primarily by women" — necessarily, in Murray's view, to ensure that their power would not be diluted or usurped. But Murray is not a "men are our enemy" feminist; the enemy, as she sees it, is the existing hierarchical system of dominance and submission, and men as well as women have the power to reject it. "I would not argue that women have a corner on this different kind of leadership," she writes.

Murray's description of how her dream became reality makes for a fascinating read, and as a roadmap for others seeking new approaches to building a more just and equitable society, Paradigm Found offers a useful combination of personal reminiscences and practical suggestions regarding such issues as building trust, developing guiding principles, celebrating diversity, managing stress, and promoting leadership. Each chapter also contains bulleted lists of clearly articulated strategies for cultivating growth, ranging from simple brainstorming among friends to ingenious and non-traditional methods of fundraising. All share the common theme of rejecting patriarchal notions of authority in favor of cooperation and sharing.

The book is beautifully designed by Tona Pearce Myers and well-indexed, and endnotes supply sources for the many quotations scattered throughout the chapters. In general, Murray's writing is graceful; however, her extensive use of epigrams sometimes distracts from her clear, calm tone, especially when they are edited (sometimes clumsily) to remove traces of sexism. And the title, while appropriately evocative of the book's principal metaphor of the Global Fund as a garden, is vague enough to perhaps cause the book to be overlooked among the dozens of other books with the overused "Paradigm" in their titles.

Still, these are small quibbles with a book that is both inspirational and determinedly practical, a book that all women — and gentle men! — can turn to again and again as a manual for achieving positive social change.

Chuck Bartelt
Editorial Associate, Grants Processing
Foundation Center
New York, New York