Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hope Katz Gibbs talks about Truly Amazing Women

Hope Katz Gibbs, is a truly amazing woman. And she's also the author of the book, Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing The World (check out the website). I was so enamored of this project, I asked Hope if I could pepper her with questions. Thanks, Hope!

Where did the idea for Truly Amazing Women come from?

Having been a journalist since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986, I got used to being the only woman at the editorial meeting. When we'd be pitching story ideas, I'd be the one saying, "You know, we really should write about more women."

Luckily for me, when the editors gave the nod (persistence is one of my gifts), I was the one assigned to write the story. And I have had the honor of profiling hundreds of amazing women in my career.

But the idea to write the book came to me in April 2008 after attending two events filled with amazing women in one single day. The first was a luncheon hosted by Nechama Shemtov, the leader of an influential Jewish DC organization called Aura, held at the DC residence of the Ambassador of Colombia. Speakers included Fran Drescher, Hadassah Lieberman, Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, and Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin. More than 200 of Washington's elite ladies filled the room.

Hours later, I headed over to a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton at the home of DC philanthropist Edie Fraser. I again found myself in the presence of dozens of amazing women — all of them banding together in an effort get a truly amazing politician elected president.

Over coffee the next morning, as I recounted the previous day over coffee with my husband, illustrator Michael Gibbs, he said, "You know, you should write a book." That day, the website was born. So I credit the creation of Truly Amazing Women to my amazing man.

I’ve been loving your website,, particularly the reasons "why she did it," which really illuminate the whole creative process. What do you, personally, think makes an amazing woman?

I am so glad you like this approach, because my goal is to give time-strapped readers a snapshot of what the women do, and why they do it, as a way to inspire others to step up and become the amazing women they can be.

As for what makes someone "truly amazing," well, that's a little tricky. On the one hand, it's pretty obvious that Oprah Winfrey is amazing — especially with her Angel Network. Ditto for other women in the public stratosphere who are doing incredible, tireless work, such as Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Jordan’s Queen Noor, among others.

But they really don’t need any more press. So the goal for this book is to highlight women who are making changes in their own way. Sometimes it is a smaller contribution, such as Kim Valentini who founded the Smile Network International and brings in doctors to do plastic surgery on poor children with cleft lips. And there is Carolyn Kellams, founder of Keep Your Freedom, Keep Your Dreams, which trains teen parents in California to teach others how to prevent teen pregnancy.

In addition to featuring incredible nonprofit founders, I also highlight entrepreneurs, authors, educators, and other women who are making a difference in the lives of others. For me, an amazing woman is someone who has dug deep inside, pushed past her demons, and sticks to her mission despite the obstacles.

You have a proposal for women to fill out, on how they are amazing, which I want to tell everyone here about. Have you found that women are reticent about promoting themselves or that they might think they are not amazing (when they clearly are?)

Of course! We're women, right? We are conditioned to promote others, shy away from the limelight, and downplay our amazingness. Of the 100-plus profiles that I have posted so far on, nearly half of them required me begging, cajoling, sharing a bottle of wine, and (twice) doing a little dance to convince her.

Believe me, I understand the reason some women hold themselves back. But one of the things that I think I do well is to see the brilliance in others. I have made it my mission to bring that to light. It's a fascinating sociological aspect of this project, isn't it? That so many truly amazing women don't admit to, or fail to see, their amazingness? And perhaps worse, they don't think they are making a difference. If I can accomplish anything with this project, it would be to shift how women think of themselves.

There is something incredibly empowering about claiming your power, saying, “Yes, I’m amazing,” which I love. It's also incredibly empowering to realize that you can make a living at what you love to do. Do you find, in a way, that these tough economic times are in a way a gift, a now-or-never moment for people to find and follow their bliss?

Well, nothing polishes the diamond like adversity, right? In fact, I compare the bad economy to a forest fire that has burned down our old ideas about what is right and necessary. In its place is a fresh landscape where we can reinvent ourselves. It's not a pretty process, but it's fundamental to the nature of how society works. Personally, I love the idea of throwing off old models that, if we are being honest, didn't work so well in the first place, or have outlived their usefulness. Change is painful for all of us. But, for perhaps the first time in our adult lives, we can all try a new approach. I can't wait to see what all the truly amazing women out there do with this opportunity.

Tell us about the documentary you are planning to do?

As with everything worth doing, it's a process. Right now, I am diving into a world that I never fathomed I'd be invited into, and am currently talking to a major cable network about turning the profiles into a TV series.

And how I got to this place demonstrates the power of women. Through Facebook, I met San Francisco video editor Susan Utell, who gave me the idea to turn the book into a documentary. That led me to connect with video and TV producer Ann-Marie McHugh of Quincy Productions in New York – whom is the new videographer working with my PR firm, Inkandescent Public Relations. Another girlfriend suggested we pitch it to this well-known cable company where she has a contact. Amazing, huh?

Here's the idea for the show:

I want to profile three women in each episode. The first would be a woman who is high profile, such as Fran Drescher, who founded Cancer Schmancer; or journalist, author, and first lady historian Cokie Roberts.

The second would be a woman who is also known, but not a household name, such as Gail McGovern, who heads up the American Red Cross, and Josette Sheeran, the leader of the UN World Food Programme.

The third woman is one who is flying under the radar, yet making tremendous changes in people's lives, including cancer researcher Stephanie Bunt, who created a fundraiser called "Miles for Miles" to raise money for a friend with the fatal disease, progeria. And there's Molly Barker, founder of the international nonprofit organization, Girls on the Run, which encourages middle schoolers to put on their running shoes and stay fit.

Each would be featured, documentary-style, and share their story, dreams, and accomplishments. Each woman will also offer a leadership lesson that others can apply in their own lives. To me, the most interesting element of each segment will be the teaching component, so that viewers come away saying, "If she can do it, I can do it." I hope to start a revolution!

Are there any questions I didn't ask that I should have?

I think you covered everything. I can't thank you enough for helping me spread the word, and forencouraging more women to appreciate their own awesomeness. Anyone who is interested in being included in this amazing project can submit a proposal at And, I encourage everyone to read the January 2011 issue of The Costco Connection, where I had the privilege of interviewing you about your new book, "Pictures of You:" Congrats on being the Penny's Book Pick of the Month!


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