Samantha Karlin is an impassioned leader for social change and has equipped herself with experiences that show how women use power to lead in different ways. She saw her mother behave fiercely and fearlessly when she testified before Congress to get permission for experimental treatment to save her disabled daughter’s life. She learned how women are used as pawns in a world “created by and for white, western, property-owning men.” And she amassed an education with a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy with a specialization in global gender analysis and conflict resolution from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, became a trained mediator, and immersed herself in global engagement with social entrepreneurs on women’s issues around the world.
As founder and CEO of Empower Global, Samantha facilitates training on diversity, equity and inclusion for Fortune 500 companies and oversees a groundbreaking women’s leadership challenge for women leaders around the world. She also hosts Samanthropolitics, a cutting-edge talk show about global politics and women’s rights, where she interviews Washington heavy-weights and feminist activists about foreign policy.
What Compels People to Work for Social Change?
Samantha describes a scene where 15 women social entrepreneurs from around the world, gathered in Bellagio, Italy for a retreat. The conversation shifted to why people will turn from caring only about money to caring about the environment or some social change that would make the world a better place. They concluded it was emotional. When people engage emotionally with a cause, like Samantha’s experience with her handicapped sister, people will move heaven and earth to make change.
In Samantha’s case, the next change-experience happened when she met two “amazing men” at an incubator in Washington, D.C., where they were experimenting with virtual reality to create “equal reality” for diversity and inclusion training. They put a headset on Samantha, and she was completely immersed in the experience. When she looked at her arm, she saw a black arm. She says the script that came with it put her “in the shoes of a black woman, or a handicapped person, somebody who’s not like you.” Really feeling what it was like to be marginalized and treated differently inspired Samantha to do training for them. With her graduate studies in conflict resolution, mediation, gender, and U.S. foreign policy, she saw the potential for how this tool could be used globally on different types of populations. Fortunately, they also needed a trainer.
Women’s Leadership Challenge
Samantha began her Women’s Leadership Challenge during COVID. Like many of us, she realized how much we needed human connection. She also saw how that could be transformed into creating cohorts of women leaders using the tools she had been using in her corporate workshops on women’s leadership, women’s empowerment, and storytelling for women. She created a group course with a curriculum based on her knowledge of the international world and how to create change.
Two challenges are being developed now: one in-person in Washington, D.C. and one virtual. Eight to ten women are chosen to be part of each challenge. Samantha says she keeps the groups small so that everyone will participate. Each person in the group gets to know the other women really well, and there is a lot of time built in for discussion. Samantha says that while she teaches the theory that she has developed to create institutional change, she only creates the framework for learning. She expects the participants to add their ideas and expertise and she can also bring in guest speakers to fill in gaps. There have been enough groups now to create a group of 50 women who have continued to connect beyond their challenge experience. She hopes this ripple effect will keep going and create changemakers throughout the world able to lead in empowering ways.
Samanthropolitics and TEDx “The Power of the Powerless” and More
Listen or watch this interview for more of Samantha’s personal stories to learn how she became impassioned for making social change at the core, where leaders are created. Samantha says that women can gain power by giving their power away and sharing power, which she calls “power with.” In her TEDx talk she explains that this is not inherent, but a learned skill. Giving power away creates more power.