Paola Gianturco inspired Walla Walla crowd at Leadership Luncheon

Wednesday, May 2, YWCA Walla Walla had the pleasure of hosting Paola Gianturco, our keynote speaker at the YWCA Leadership Luncheon. The theme of the 2018 event? FEARLESS. 

Paola recently published Wonder Girls: Changing Our World in collaboration with her 11-year-old granddaughter Alex Sangster. The pair documented the work of 15 girl-led nonprofit groups in 13 countries in Asia and Central Asia, North and Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania.  Alex traveled with her grandmother to Mexico and within the U.S., meeting with the girls and helping take photos.

During her presentation, Paola introduced us to the Wonder Girls of the book’s title. These included sisters Melati and Isabel, founders of Bye Bye Plastic Bags, who were determined to stop tourists and residents from destroying their beautiful Bali with cast-off bags. When the governor refused to see them, they called the press to announce a hunger strike. “Talk about fearless!” Paola said. The governor met with them the next day.

Another Wonder Girl, Memory from Malawi, was a committed member of the Girls Empowerment Network who has addressed the United Nations and been featured in a TED Talk. Her country is extremely poor, with three-quarters of its people living on less than $1.25 a day. Because raising children is such a struggle, half the girls in Malawi marry before age 18, most before 15, and some as young as 9. Memory’s sister became pregnant at age 11. Girls who marry so young almost never finish school or achieve financial independence. The Girls Empowerment Network fought five years for a law that would make child marriage illegal, finally seeing Parliament pass the law in  2015.

Thirteen other girl-led groups are featured in the book, working to help end a wide variety of global social problems, including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, child abuse, exploitation of domestic workers, gender discrimination and more.

Because Alex was in school most of the year, she interviewed 70 girls using email, Skype, or Face Time. In addition  to taking many of the  photos for the U.S. and Mexico sections of the book, Alex’s contribution is a section at the end of each chapter that describes how readers can help — even girls who may, like the girls in the book, still be in middle school or high school.

Paola, an American photojournalist and former business executive, is no stranger to Walla Walla, having been the speaker for our 2010 luncheon. While we always name our speaker an honorary member of the YWCA Leadership Circle, Paola joined as a dues-paying member as well during her 2010 visit. She attended this year as a friend and supporter, not accepting any speaking fees for her appearance. 

After the luncheon, 75 signed copies of Wonder Girls sold out in 10 minutes. Eighty more were ordered, and a small number are still available as of this writing (email Faith at to inquire about  a copy). Of the $50 purchase price, 100% of the author’s royalties go to the Global Fund for Women and $25 goes to carry on the work of YWCA Walla Walla.

Just before the luncheon, Paola was notified that her book was chosen to receive a Gold Nautilus Award in the category of Social Change/Social Justice.