It was in Ethiopia. A woman WCI had worked with walked into a bank looking to get a loan to start her own business. She explained her situation, but the man across the desk told her she didn’t earn enough money to be approved. She argued that she had plenty in her savings account. The man would not budge. He would not give her the loan, he said.
“You’re making a mistake,” the woman replied.
Resolute, she walked into the president of the bank’s office, marching past his protesting secretary, put her card on his desk and made her case.
“You should be loaning to people like me.”
On her way home, the president of the bank called her cell phone to tell her that her loan had been approved.
WCI is an organization devoted to the empowerment of women around the globe. While Margolies’ anecdote focuses on the development of entrepreneurial skills, WCI’s initiatives are broad, having implemented programs in more than 45 countries spanning across nearly every continent, each one carefully crafted and unique to every community WCI enters.
“We will go in and we will listen,” Margolies said.
For example, recent programs have focused on legal literacy in Malawi, financial literacy in Liberia, and economic development and conflict prevention in Timor-Leste. Margolies also mentioned that WCI is exploring getting involved in expanding access to detailed information for certain communities through internet and radio initiatives.
Though WCI’s work is diverse, the organization centers on four main pillars:
Peacebuilding and conflict mitigation,
Political participation and civic engagement,
And social mobilization.
To date, WCI has worked to empower more than 500,000 individuals, aiming to break down barriers and get women seats at the table in local, regional and national decision-making processes.
“Getting women to the table is very, very important,” Margolies said. “We really do feel if you’re not at the table, you’re serving it.”
With this perspective comes an understandable disappointment in the national political conversation, embroiled in the misogynistic aspects of President Donald Trump’s administration, which she believes is working to push the country backwards.
“I really do think that if we’re going to find unity and peace, the conversation has to be inclusive and diplomatic,” Margolies said. “That’s the way to do it, and we’re not doing it now.”
“The tone is something that we’re lacking, and it makes me profoundly sad,” she continued. “And it makes women around the word profoundly sad that this administration is marginalizing women.”
Still, Margolies, who has strived to provide women the tools to empower themselves throughout her lifetime, knows that women in the U.S. won’t stand to be treated as less than.
“I think women won’t put up with it,” Margolies said. “I think there will be huge pushback.”
In 1995, Margolies served as the Director of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. There, 189 countries committed to achieving equality for women around the world. This event inspired Margolies to start WCI.
Aside from her philanthropic work, Margolies is a former politician. She served one-term in the House of Representatives, serving Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District, from 1993 to 1995. A deciding vote approving President Bill Clinton’s unpopular economic plan in 1993 is widely blamed for cutting her political career short. She ran for office again unsuccessfully in 2014.
Prior to politics, she was a television journalist. She’s also credited as the first single American woman to adopt a foreign child, adopting a girl from Korea in 1970. It's a distinction you can see holds a fond place in her heart. Four years later, Margolies adopted another daughter from Vietnam. She chronicled these experiences in her 1976 book They Came to Stay.
With her ex-husband, former Congressman Ed Mezvinsky, Margolies raised 11 children in total and sponsored a number of refugee families.
Margolies’ son, Marc, is married to Chelsea Clinton.
Margolies currently teaches media studies at the University of Pennsylvania.