It’s not often you find a person who feels so passionately about a cause they go well beyond talking about it, volunteering or even making donations. A person who sees an injustice and makes it her life mission to resolve it is obviously a person who is the epitome of productive feminism- the ideal woman taking over.
Maz Kessler is all those things and more. A former musician in New York’s downtown music scene, Kessler joined Microsoft’s Social Interface Group in the ’90s, and was a co-founder of FunArts Software, a pioneer in the world of socially intelligent and voice user interfaces. She went on to help create Keep A Child Alive, an HIV/AIDS foundation focusing on families and children.
But Kessler’s knack for giving back in bold ways doesn’t stop there. To address the growing global problem of gender inequality, she launched Catapult, a crowdfunding platform that supports projects advancing the lives of girls and women around the world. With several global endeavors available to choose from and every penny going towards the project, Catapult is changing the landscape of women entrepreneurs around the world and the way we can support them.
How did Catapult get its start?
Catapult is built to fight gender inequality. It’s designed from the ground up to overcome massive barriers and entrenched obstacles.
I was angered by how under-resourced girls’ and women’s rights organizations were, and I saw a way that a crowdfunding platform could help to change this, and get support to the people working on the frontlines. So I made a short video, and was lucky to attract some seed funding. Short videos are a fantastic way to pitch your ideas.
I also was very fortunate to work closely with Jill Sheffield, an incredible advocate for girls and women and President of Women Deliver. Women Deliver incubated Catapult through the early stages of development, and was willing to take the leap with us into unknown territory. It’s impressive that a small NGO can be so innovative!
What has been the most exciting impact you’ve seen because of Catapult?
We’re kicking ass for girls and women rights!
Already in our first year, our community has crowdfunded more than 280 projects in 81 countries! That’s real impact. And it includes huge impact for girls – 207 girl-centric projects, including education, health, leadership training, and many other issues. This includes projects here in the US, where there’s still so much that needs to be done.
Getting money to the frontlines is just the beginning of the story. Catapult makes sure that each project reports back to its online supporters, sharing stories of success, but also sharing the challenges of their work. We’re using the open democracy of the web so that people can track progress and see the results of their donations. We think it’s the key to today’s rising global citizenship movement.
What has it been like to be a part of the tech industry as a woman?
I want to say it’s a meritocracy, but it isn’t. If you don’t believe me, check out @WomenInLine for a start. In my own work life I’ve had varied experiences on tech teams, many of them good, and I’ve worked on some very cool projects. But it would be a mistake to extrapolate my experience too broadly… the truth is that there are still many idiotic blockages out there. However there is lots of progress, and more and more excellent organizations offering STEM programs to girls. It’s really important to reach girls as early as possible, before negative cultural forces have taken over.
How do you define feminism?
Equal and human rights of girls and women.
What can we do as women to be more supportive of one another?
Stop the “tear-down” culture. Don’t we have enough to deal with? Tear-down culture is pointless, and counter-productive. What we need are more multi-generational coalitions across the entire women’s movement.
How do you think we can make the world a better place?
Boys and men need to stand with girls and women for equality. Until they do, we won’t make enough progress.
Who inspires you?
Bjork – a true artist. Eve Ensler – a transformational activist.
What’s your favorite thing about yourself?
I’ve got balls. I’m creative. I learn fast. I’m tenacious and don’t give up. My mother calls me “The Terrier.”
What was your Lean In moment?
When I invested all my savings in my first tech start-up.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Fear isn’t necessarily the barrier… I’ve done lots of things that absolutely terrified me – but I did them anyway. What gets in the way more often is lack of time.
Image by Rachael Wright.