Veteran Feminists of America


"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness
has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."

- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

I have lived my life by Goethe's dictum. I thought if I worked hard enough and long enough my dreams would come true. I have not wavered from my mission to realize the dream of Women's Day Live, an unprecedented global gathering of women. The confluence of world events at this time marks a historic milestone for women, giving us a once in a lifetime opportunity to invigorate a global movement to empower women.

Living on the edge is not always a comfortable place to live but it's the only way I know how, though I wouldn't recommend it to most. So how did I get to this place?

I was born in Transylvania, Romania, and grew up under communism for a good part of the 1950s, until we emigrated to Israel. The first memory I have as a child was attending a parade in honor of Stalin's funeral. Growing up I lived three simultaneous identities. On the street I was Hungarian, at school I was Romanian, and at home I was Jewish. The only thing the Hungarians and Romanians hated more than each other was the Jews. So I learned early how to dance on my feet and to get along with and respect different cultures. I also learned about man's inhumanity to man at this time, when I asked why I had no grandparents or family like other kids. Both my parents were survivors of the Holocaust, and had lost everyone in Auschwitz and similar unfathomable places. My mother was lucky to have discovered an older sister who survived and managed to find refuge in Canada. She used to send me chocolate, a great luxury, which my mother kept for me, never succumbing to selling it on the black market.

My father was one of the last to keep a private business, before he was forced to work for the state bakery. I'll never forget the day I decided to go visit him there, as it became a defining moment, in retrospect. I mustered up all the courage of a 7 year old to steal a loaf of bread and put it inside my coat and calmly walk out. When I got home I presented this to my mother as a surprise, telling her I had wanted to save her from standing in line for hours. She nearly fainted. She explained that if I had been caught my father would have been sent to prison in Siberia.

When I was seven we left Romania for Israel. I found the freedom of Israel thrilling, never having to look over my shoulder again, and be afraid to speak up. I loved the bonfires, singing and dancing. One of my proudest moments that I remember is that the school principal chose me to welcome Prime Minister Ben Gurion when he came to visit our school. When the papers to leave for Canada arrived, I was nearly ten, and was devastated.

We moved to Toronto. On my first trip to New York on my own, at 17, I fell in love with a soccer player, a Robert Redford type, who was born in the same place. Ours was a tumultuous relationship amidst adventurous romantic New York weekends. He thought we should get married and have kids, so why did I need a university education. Just like my Dad. In the end I realized that with the power and control issues between us it would have been akin to marrying my father. So goodbye to the Long Island country club life. Then as now, I believe that everyone regardless of gender, race or whatever has the right to have a dream and pursue that dream in freedom. I cherish my freedom of choice above all else.

I went on to enrol at York University and the following year met my husband-to-be purely by accident. He was visiting his alma mater for lunch, having just returned from a year travelling in Europe. He was striking, witty, talented, and he let me be me. Trouble was I had to do the unthinkable and marry outside my faith, but I knew I'd never meet such a beautiful soul again. He turned out to be the love of my life, my pillar, my strength. Not to mention the best father in the world. A few weeks after our wedding we left for a trip around the world, gloriously rock bottom all the way, that lasted 14 months. We were footloose and great adventurers, going wherever the spirit led us. I fell in love with so many cultures and the women especially, who did so much with so little. We ended the trip in Japan when the first oil crisis hit, which we sadly called "The Day the Music Died", because it was the first real act of international terrorism, and marked the end of this carefree style of travel.

I graduated in town planning but got a job at a Television network, and soon left after my training to work on numerous TV series and major Hollywood movies. In those days on a big crew of 100, five would be women. In the late 70's my daughter was born, which rocked my world. It was the happiest time of my life. When she was six weeks old I took her on location to film a Christmas special, and hired a nanny there. Nobody had heard of this before. In the early 80's I became a lifestyle columnist for one of the newspapers and a lifestyle expert guest on TV and radio shows, started the best gourmet shop in town, and got into investment real estate. I was offered the Associate Director position on Pygmalion, a major multiple camera drama for Twentieth Century Fox starring Peter O'Toole. I couldn't turn it down. So at one month of age my newborn son accompanied me on location to Ireland, which almost got me fired.

We were planning to film a pilot show in India and were scheduled to go as guests of the Indian Tourist office. They over-booked; we were knocked off the flight because we were journalists travelling for free. This deep disappointment soon turned into a miracle from our point of view - the plane was blown up over the Irish Sea by terrorists! This was a huge turning point in my life. In gratitude for being alive to raise our children, I vowed that I would find a way to create television with substance, television that mattered. So I quit being a cog in the wheel, an exceptionally well paid one.

In 1992 I produced the By My Spirit concert celebrating the Quintincennario (1492-1992) with Zubin Mehta and Placido Domingo in the presence of Queen Sofia of Spain, with thousands of people and world dignitaries on the hilltop fortress in Toledo. At the same time I managed to also shoot a documentary, filmed on three continents, called "Expulsion and Memory," which featured the historic reconciliation, marking the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, represented by the King of Spain and the President of Israel. The Concert and Universal Spiritual Gathering were broadcast internationally, a tribute to peace and co-existence. Everything I care about. I had risked everything to make this happen.

I hosted and produced a two hour special on Women in the Media, featuring stars like Sharon Stone, and Oscar winning Hollywood Producers intercut with a live panel for the Toronto Film Festival and Women in Film, which aired on Cable TV. I was not surprised to discover that women still only made up less than 10% of directors, given my challenges as the first female assistant director in Canada. At this time I launched the highly successful mentorship program for Women in Film, while I spent two years trying to raise broadcast support for The Quest. I was consistently turned down, so I decided that I was not taking one more rejection. At that moment of commitment and conviction, everyone I needed showed up, all the biggest names in the human potential movement. I mortgaged my house, and took another leap of faith, the first of many. Quest: Discovering Your Human Potential aired on PBS and was critically acclaimed for pioneering spirituality on the airwaves, the mind/body concept being revolutionary at the time.

The trajectory of my life changed once again when I produced, hosted and directed a 2 part special called Women of Wisdom and Power which aired on PBS. In the making of it, I discovered that it was the severe subjugation of women in many parts of the world that kept poverty in place. I had lived with these women in villages all over the world. Why had I not realized this core issue before? At the time the Taliban were stoning women. The world did not speak up. The world was outraged when some Buddha statues they didn't even know existed were blown up. Where was the outrage about stoning women? I couldn't sleep or eat for months, and felt enormous guilt that this was going on, and I was not doing anything about it. It was like the question I asked as a child, how could the world stand by and let the Holocaust happen?

At this time I was shocked to discover that my shows had received half the broadcast carriage that my other shows had, which had successfully raised millions for PBS's fundraising efforts. I soon discovered why. One of the programmers told me that she had scheduled my new shows, as she always did, but her boss said "who is going to watch a show all about women", so I got pulled from the schedule. At this time I learned that in 2000, the "World March of Women" marched in over 150 countries around the world on International Women's Day and it barely made the news. I thought how could this be? A sucker for punishment, I decided I would make another hour, called the Power Within, featuring some of today's most fascinating women, from Jane Goodall, to Alanis Morissette, Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem, to Shirley MacLaine and I would put this World March of Women, and International Women's Day on the Map. So I called every PBS programmer city by city, to ensure that I was going to have a prime time broadcast for Women's History Month.

The effort had paid off. At this time I also did a live 2 hour pledge special out of WLIW in New York celebrating women's leadership, featuring Erica Jong, Lynne Twist, and myself in studio, giving us a five hour broadcast in New York City. The trilogy aired prime across the country in most of the major markets in March 2005. We received a sensational response from women across the U.S. saying how profoundly the shows had effected and changed their lives. So I thought that's the answer, the media.

Now the "World March of Women" planned to march again in 2005, in 159 countries. I offered to help reach out to all the networks. Despite the promises, it did not make the news. It's as if it never happened. Why? I made a vow, a decision right then and there to commit to producing Live AID for the Women of the World, a global benefit concert to broadcast worldwide. I shared this mission with Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop, and she thought it a splendid idea and sent out letters on my behalf. I loved her gutsiness. A true woman of vision and action, one who walked her talk. She died all too soon. She had a great line about people asking what difference can one person make, and she'd say "then you've never been to bed with a mosquito". I remain grateful for her mentorship, and all the great women who have helped along the way, most especially Marilyn Tedeschi.

It's taken every ounce of courage, life energy and all my resources to honor my fierce determination to use the power of media to accelerate the advancement of women's equality and human rights and to keep going - bringing reality every day one step at a time to meet my vision.

I realized that I needed a powerful ally if I had any hope of producing Women's Day Live (WDL). I got a phone call from a committee chair to attend a fundraising dinner for Hillary Clinton at Ron Burkle's house in L.A. I called the airlines and there was one seat, leaving in two hours, if I was going to make it. I asked Gerard if he could drive me to the airport. He asked "when?" I said "now". He said "let's go". That's my man. I don't think anyone else could have survived me all these decades. I walked into the tent in L.A. as dessert was being served. It was like a candy store with every major star and producer in attendance. My focus was in meeting President Clinton. I mustered up all my courage and went up to share my vision. He invited me to make WDL a Clinton Global Initiative commitment. I then spent ten minutes alone with Hillary Clinton as she was changing outside the tent for the concert right after, and she said "Absolutely brilliant, let me know how I can help."

That September of 2006, I attended CGI, and was not able to rouse any funding, but had started building strategic alliances. Chris Grumm, head of the Women's Funding Network was the first to come on board, followed by the Global Fund for Women, Women for Women International, et al. Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE, lent her support as Honorary Co-Chair, as did Musimbi Kanyoro who was then head of the World YWCA, and is now the newly appointed head of the Global Fund for Women. Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, the General Secretary of the World YWCA, joined us as Honorary Co-Chair last year.

I realized that I was becoming an obsessive about this mission, yet the idea, though gaining support, was not moving. So having let my business go, I went back to making another PBS special, Quest for Success, which featured some of the world's foremost spiritual and business visionaries from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sir Richard Branson, Russell Simmons to Stephen Covey, on what it takes to achieve a life of authentic success. They truly ignite your spirit and passion for what is possible. I believe we each have to find the courage to take what mythologist, Joseph Campbell, referred to as the Hero's Journey. So this is what my philosophy of life is. This is not a dress rehearsal of the movie called 'Your Life' where you sit back and wait to see how it turns out. This is it. You are the star, the director and the writer, so make it epic. Make it count. What you do matters.

I've lived a rather tumultuous life, seemingly always on a mission, passionately committed to helping people realize their potential, and to stand up to injustice. I've been called many things, from infamous, to who does she think she is, to she is not one of us, to a spiritual revolutionary. I have taken enormous risks all my life, always taking a stand for what I believed in, because it was the right thing to do, and never more so than now when so much is at stake. Some things are worth fighting for.

We must not fail to open the heart of humanity to the plight of women now, no matter what the sacrifice.

As I look back over my life, I can see the major turning points that led to my current leap of faith to take on this big bold and ambitious mission to gather the women in every city and town around the world to celebrate the women of the world and over 100 years of progress on International Women's Day, March 8th, 2012. The benefit concert will capture the worldwide media to galvanize a global movement to alleviate poverty by empowering women with education, technology and economic opportunity, the key to meeting the millennium development goals.

At its most ambitious trajectory, Women's Day Live will have multi-venue concerts from Washington Mall, Washington D.C., to Mumbai, Rio, London and Kigali, and maybe even China. International Women's Day is a national holiday in 30 countries, including China, Russia, Rwanda. The past year there were 1000 self created events in over 100 countries.

Imagine the excitement! The biggest multi-media digital hook of women in history, which will result in a global communications Network for the Women of the World.

Think Live AID. Global Impact. Lasting Legacy.

Last year Michael Olmstead and I presented to the Global Partnership Initiative of the State Department, who expressed interest in partnering with us. Despite all the efforts in reaching out to global brands, and all the interest, funding did not come through. I decided to sell my luxury office condo to keep going. I thought I would be devastated, but a few days later my son was hit by taxi. Living in eternal gratitude that he recovered, after that I never gave it a thought.

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day. World Nations have come together this year to create a new powerhouse called UN Women, and have pledged their commitment to champion the cause of women's advancement worldwide. This is the cause of our times. We can't just be paying lip service anymore. Women are key to many of the critical issues facing humanity, from ending poverty to spreading democracy around the world. The Inaugural Women's Day Live Celebration will put International Women's Day on the map in 2012, and every year thereafter. In 2015 we can be ready for the next World Congress of Women, to be held in Mumbai, given we successfully lobby the UN. Most important is to put women front row center in global consciousness.

This past January my team said it was time to give it up. Given that the world is experiencing famine and the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history, my conscience wouldn't let me quit. I thought one more try. I would fly to the historic launch of UN Women at the UN Assembly and share this with Michelle Bachelet, the Undersecretary General of the UN. She said, "I got it", and agreed to a partnership in principle with UN Women, given that I got her team's approval. I filmed the event and made a short trailer, which you can see below. My patron, Archbishop Desmond Tutu filmed an intro for me in South Africa, his last recording, God bless his heart, before retiring. I flew back to N.Y. the next month, with my team, to present to a meeting convening women leaders and the UN Women team. Their concern is the risk, and they are right; there is no guarantee of how much money we would raise. However, I think the greatest risk right now is not to take one.

We have sourced a stellar team who can deliver an epic event, including a powerful advocacy and global media team who recently did the Tck Tck Tck, Copenhagen Climate Campaign aggregating 17 million sign ups. The major portals expressed interest in launching the "heart in action" humanitarian campaign. They reach more people worldwide than all the networks combined. The "Heart in Action" campaign would allow every Charity to promote their brand and engage their community in taking action. We have encountered two global brands interested in spreading financial literacy and literacy to women, so we believe the potential funding is there.

What we need is an enlightening lightning rod, and the funding to be able to engage the team and have all systems go now. The men did it. They pulled off Live AID in six weeks, because they had the will. We have 7 months and Washington Mall, Washington, D.C. on hold.

Imagine this iconic moment in history as hundreds of thousands of American women come together on Washington Mall to celebrate women's global leadership, kicking off the International women's day celebrations in capitals around the world!

Streamlined if need be, we could do it as a Google-You Tube concert, linking up digitally with women's events around the world.

The Women's Day Live platform offers incredible convening power to bring together visionary world leaders, celebrities, governments, corporations, NGO's and multi-media platforms in a unifying moment for humanity - to champion the cause of women's advancement planet wide, the key to global economic growth.

I met with the head of UN Partnership, the President of the UN Assembly, who all said WDL clearly fits everyone's mission, including that of the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who is passionately committed to the success of UN Women. Chef de Cabinet, Ambassador Armin Ritz, said they could engage world leaders at the UN Assembly to support this global celebration of women and humanitarian campaign in their countries given Michelle Bachelet's initiative.

It simply ignites the imagination! On this coming International Women's Day, women's vital voices will ring out around the world. I have to believe that something extraordinary is possible.

We need each other to energize each other. We cannot do it alone.

We invite all the powerful women in media, and visionary women and men everywhere to join us in a dynamic partnership to realize this bold vision. Just like our brave and dedicated sisters did a hundred years ago in challenging the status quo, forcing the world to see women and their worth in a totally new and daring light, so we must stand up for women and girls the world over.
We stand poised at a pivotal moment in history. It is up to us now.

see Women's Day Live interim video featuring Patron Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Contact Lili Fournier:
Women's Day Live Website:

Comments to: Jacqui Ceballos -

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