By Lauren Herman
Editor’s Note: This blog post is the second of a five-part series profiling women leadership in the Sacramento region. It serves as a prelude to our upcoming event, "This Changes Everything: WOMEN." These women were selected based on their contributions and participation in their community and industry. By means of this series, we hope to broaden our understanding of what constitutes a leader and provide a platform for ideas worth spreading.
Dr. Soheir Stolba: Professor, Non-Profit Director, and Philanthropist
Think globally, act locally is a strong belief of Dr. Soheir Stolba. It’s no wonder that this belief became the mission of the SHARE Institute, a grassroots non-profit organization that she founded over ten years ago with the help of two other liked-minded women in the Sacramento region. These women came together with the purpose of partnering and supporting small non-profit organizations around the world that work within their communities for the health and welfare of women and children.
Over the last 14 years, SHARE has funded 220 projects in 30 countries - an impressive outreach for a small non-profit operated mainly by volunteers and supported by private individual donors or other small organizations.
After gaining her doctorate in political anthropology from U.C. Davis, Dr. Stolba learned the strength of local ownership and accountability during her work as a consultant for United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She found that big donors and large-scale outreach are not always required to make a difference; bigger is not always better.
Dr. Stolba also tries to foster a sense of ownership and empowerment by helping college students to volunteer abroad and to develop philanthropic projects in their Sacramento communities. By means of the SHARE Institute Intern Program, she helps these college students experience the results of improving their communities.
Dr. Stolba strives to teach future generations in both the United States and aboard that anyone can make a difference no matter how big or small their contributions may seem.
The Interview: Dr. Stolba’s Ideas Worth Spreading
TEDxSacramento: Why did you choose your career?
Dr. Stolba: I came to the United States with a degree in English, but I took a Cultural Anthropology course at a community college. I found a disciple I was passionate about. I thought that with my experience traveling and growing up in Egypt, I could teach it. I already knew a lot about the cultures that I was learning about from my instructor. I had the travel experience and the language needed to give a unique perspective different than the instructor.
TEDxSacramento: Why did you start the SHARE Institute?
Dr. Stolba: I have done a great deal of international consulting for USAID, the World Bank and many other international organizations. I learned that there is a great need for the advancement of women in terms of poverty. I became a big believer in microcredit. I wanted to establish a people to people organization that helps make visible issues that affect poor women and children.
I used my international contacts with women, whom I thought had the potential to change or were already changing their communities but lacked funding. Later, I made contacts through the Internet and social media to expand SHARE’s reach. I did not want SHARE to become a big donor. I thought it should only fund community-based groups that need help.
TEDxSacramento: Why did you choose to be a part of the non-profit world?
Dr. Stolba: Because I am a firm believer that small organizations working with other small organizations can make a difference in the lives of women without big funding. Big funding can attract unwelcome individuals who may have motives other than helping women. Individuals working to help their community know the problems and can propose possible solutions better than anyone else.
TEDxSacramento: What motivates you to push forward during difficult moments in your career?
Dr. Stolba: What helps me during difficult times is my firm belief that the SHARE Institute has the right mission and approach to improving the lives of women and their communities. It helps that I have the support of the [SHARE Institute] board, other women who are in full support of the organization’s programs.
TEDxSacramento: What advice do you have for others who would like to work in the non-profit industry?
Dr. Stolba: You have to be passionate about the mission of the organization you are working in because it’s a lot of work with little pay. So, you have to believe that what you are doing is making a difference in the lives of others.
TEDxSacramento: Does anyone in your field inspire you? If so, who and why?
Dr. Stolba: Today [the day of the interview] is the anniversary of the death of my dear friend, Barbara Pillsbury, who was my colleague at USAID. She was a big believer in helping women. We became good friends, and I owe it to her that I am here now. We remained friends, and our lives intertwined for the next 20 years. She inspired me to start SHARE and to continue to help women worldwide.
TEDxSacramento: What do you like most about working in the Sacramento region?
Dr. Stolba: I enjoy the weather and the rural feeling of living in Fair Oaks with my horses and dog, yet I am so close to town. Living in the Sacramento region has many possibilities, and you don’t miss out on cultural experiences.
TEDxSacramento: What is your favorite TED Talk?
Dr. Stolba: I enjoyed watching Sheikha Al Mayassa's TEDTalk, “Globalizing the Local, Localizing the Global,” because she talks about cultural identity in a new and fresh way. She manages to maintain tradition but have a dialogue with the West.
TEDxSacramento: If you have the opportunity to speak on the TED stage, what would be your idea worth spreading?
Dr. Stolba: I would talk about the importance of volunteering in a small non-profit organization that has a mission you can identify with. It’s an important, life changing experience to seek solutions and remain active in your community.