Kathleen Bonk (KNFP 9), Executive Director, Communications Consortium Media Center, Washington, D.C.
This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
Women’s and family issues have been central to much of Kathy Bonk’s life’s work. As co-founder of a public interest media center that collaborates with nonprofits in communications strategies for public change, Kathy says, ”I have been lucky to work on the issues nationally and globally.”
Her center’s first project in 1987 was a nationwide campaign with The Great American Family Tour to put children’s and family’s issues on the national agenda. The results included cover stories about family issues in Newsweek and USA Today and on the major TV networks, as well as passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993.
Recent projects have taken Kathy to Chile, where she met with President Michelle Bachelet to observe ”how leadership by a woman at this level, and whose cabinet includes several women, was playing out;” and to a conference in London, Women Deliver, on maternal and infant mortality, focusing on preventable deaths worldwide.
”It’s exciting to work at the global level because the needs are so basic,” she says, adding as an example, ”More than 500,000 women die unnecessarily during pregnancy and childbirth each year, and a large percentage of those are preventable.”
Among Kathy’s many accomplishments, she is most proud of one that resulted directly from her Kellogg Fellowship: establishing the first family planning clinics in the then Soviet Union. ”My fellowship enabled me to get to know a woman in Gorbachov’s cabinet who was passionate about making birth control accessible, particularly to low-income, working-class women. To reach them, we set up clinics in factories.”
As a foster parent, in the late 1980s and early 90s, Kathy and her team worked in collaboration with a number of groups to revamp the nation’s child welfare and adoption laws, making it easier to move tens of thousands more children out of foster care and into permanent homes each year.
Kathy claims that she learned the benefits of planning and working as a team from the Outward Bound program during her fellowship. She recounts, ”Our small group failed miserably in nearly all of the activities on the obstacle course because we all did it without consulting each other first. But for the final and most difficult exercise, we had to get each person in our group over the top of an 8-foot vertical wall. We took the time to plan out our strategy, making sure the two strongest members were the first and last to go up (the first would help the others up, and the last could get up the wall himself). And we did it!”
She continues, ”Our Center continually collaborates with other groups and we regularly use 'getting to yes’ conflict-resolution strategies so that we cooperate instead of compete with each other.”
Kathy also credits her Kellogg Fellowship for helping her understand and develop a servant leadership style. ”Keeping a low profile in a high-profile city, we can get a lot accomplished because we’re helping others and not competing for the limelight,” she says. ”We want our issues, not us, in the headlines that’s one critical element of moving policy these days.”