Uncertainty Is the Mother of Invention

Uncertainty Is the Mother of Invention – S. Mona Sinha

How do we respond in uncertain times? A colleague shared these lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring:I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’ 

mother of invention
S. Mona Sinha, Board Chair of Women Moving Millions, discusses listening deeply to grantees in the time of COVID. (Image credit: Dayne Topkin at Unsplash)

I have found the simple principles that underlie what we do at Women Moving Millions – Learn, Listen, Connect, and Collaborate – to be valuable tools to guide us towards gender equality and to keep us grounded. In these times of uncertainty, this framework works for me as I try to make sense of my own emotions and how best I can share my skills in this world. Ironically, a month ago, I wrote an article titled,  ‘Discovering the Highest and Best Use of my Worth’, and today, it seems more relevant than ever before.

Many of us, especially women, are lifelong learners. We have learned how to multitask, how to deal with adversity, and how to pivot in so many parts of our lives. Now those skills are being put to use in a way they never were before. Each hour, each day, we are bombarded with news and statistics that turn our brains into anxious mush. We search in vain for the knowledge that can help us combat the fear of the unknown. It does not exist.

I have learned to be discerning about what information I absorb that allows me to be proactive and not reactive. If the science tells you to wash your hands and stay apart, then do it. Being alone can be a great gift to rediscover parts of ourselves that have been lost in the busyness of our collective lives. Despite its discomforts, spending time alone is the basis for cultivating our connection with the world; you can step into a new place that can be both exciting and scary, and allow for new discovery. For me, carving out routines is important, and I have continued to build structure to my day. Time for work, which allows me to be useful to my causes in the world, time with family, which is so precious and a real gift, “me” time to be vulnerable but also to dream about building a world through a feminist lens, and time for community and sharing my fears and fantasies with them.  

Radical listening is probably the most important tool. I have found myself doing more of it than ever before. As I reach out to my grantees, I listen to their fears and validate their concerns. Rather than talk a lot about myself or my anxieties, I listen deeply, often discovering gems in what I am hearing that I can feed back, clarify, and use to assuage their fears. Listen to what these frontline organizations are passionate about and how you can help them re-shape their narratives at this time. Listen to what they need from you, as a supporter and as an advocate. Listen also to what you yourself can do. I made the choice to double down on supporting the many organizations that I currently sponsor and to not add new ones at this time. Instead, I will support my essential network of cleaning staff, dog walkers, dry cleaners, and postal/bank workers, all mostly women who are still working despite having their routines upended or not being allowed to work at all.

Listening allows anxious partners to feel valued and supported. You share the burden of what they are experiencing, and you can empathize with the challenges that will emerge in the new normal. I have responded to every person who has reached out wanting to talk. Not that I have solutions for each person, but maybe I can be helpful and support them. Perhaps even see things from a different perspective and realize together that a pivot may be a blessing in disguise.

I have most enjoyed connecting during this time. Of course, connecting with those who have reached out, but also reaching out myself. New technologies have allowed us to see each other and feel the warmth of a virtual hug and a big smile. Each day, we hear heartwarming stories of communities hosting “Zoom” gatherings, and at WMM we have done the same. Our emails are filled with virtual sessions, ranging from access to innovators who are working at breakneck speed to find solutions, to catching up with friends we have not connected with in years. 

Connecting is powerful, and community in these times is uplifting. In our WMM community, we have shared many ideas that we want to carry forward from this moment of crisis to rebalance the status quo and create a new world. Could moving to partial online education mean lower costs that allows greater access to learning? Could removing the burden of reporting and grant proposals allow us to be nimble in getting money to where it is most needed? Could bringing our member expertise to the forefront allow them to advise on new models of doing business? Could we change systems of inequity by instituting basic minimum earnings for families? All questions are now valid and must be asked.

Collaborative philanthropy can be a powerful tool. We have an incredible pool of talent and treasure in our midst. Thinking outside of the box and supporting fundraising efforts as teams can help uplift important causes by knitting together individual contributions to achieve gender justice. Beyond money, we can bring access to expertise, skill sets, and organizing heft to the issues at hand. Our networks are vast and diverse. Our interests are multi-faceted but coalesce around uplifting gender. We can invest our own assets with a gender lens by collaborating and sharing opportunities that we have had success with in the past. We can look at the collapse of the stock markets as an opportunity to reshape our portfolios in a fresh way.

Feminist philanthropy and gender lens investing can breathe innovation into systems that are patriarchal and flawed. Empathy and collaboration can replace greed and individuality. The world is ready, and I believe that women are as well. The time is now to put our collective brains together to create a world that we have imagined for decades. Women control $70 trillion of financial assets. Mother Earth, we stand by to create the world you are demanding.


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Author: S. Mona Sinha

S. Mona Sinha is an advocate for gender equality in business and society. She is the Board Chair of Women Moving Millions, a community of women who fund big and bold ($1 million+) to create a gender equal world. She is also the Board Chair of the ERA Fund for Women's Equality. She is a trustee emerita of Smith College, where she was Vice Chair of the Board and led the Women for the World campaign that raised $486 million to support women’s education.

One thought on “Uncertainty Is the Mother of Invention”

  1. Dealing with uncertainty is a skill. To make a decision you need information. But how much? You cannot know everything about every move to make so you must develop the skill to know when you have enough information to move and when you don’t. The old saying about “analysis paralysis” is valid, but it doesn’t have to define you. Decisions are directly related to risk. What is the risk in not knowing? Can you take the hit and still keep going? Not every decision is life or death of the business, but some are. Knowing when to go ahead and when take it slow is directly related to the risk/reward tradeoff. A skill that can be learned and I encourage you all to be good students of risk.

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