What Is Grandmother Power?

By May 7, 2013 11 Comments

About a year ago, I went to a blogging workshop taught by my friend Britt Bravo.

The room was filled with wonderful women – artsy women with beautiful blogs, women writing for social change, women considering starting a blog…but just not sure.

Sitting in a cirlce, we introduced ourselves. Five or six people in, I heard a woman say, “I’m Paola Gianturco and…

What? Paola was here?!

I was 14 years old when my beloved childhood dance teacher opened up her photography book in class one day, before our wide eyes. The pictures showed craftswomen from all over the world. The photos emanated a mystery and grandeur that I still remember.

Then, over the years, again and again I’d hear women referring to Paola’s work documenting the unseen, hopeful truths about women’s lives.

After the blogging workshop, starstruck though I was, Paola and I got to talking. She told me her latest project was about Grandmother Power: the power of grandmothers and grandOthers – of all older women – to change the world.

Paola’s photos about Grandmother Power revealed a little known, world-wide phenomenon: activist groups of older women making positive change.

I decided that this would be the topic of my next blogging campaign, where I invite bloggers from around the world devote a day on their blogs to writing about an important big idea. (Some of you might remember when I did this in 2010-11 on The Girl Effect).

From today, May 7th, through May 14th, bloggers all around the world will be writing about Grandmother Power – about the unique power of all elder women. If you are a blogger, I really hope you’ll join us, and if you aren’t, I hope you’ll enjoy the reading some of the diverse posts – there are already more than 40 to check out!

Today, I want to share with you one remarkable Grandmother Power story, from Paola Gianturco’s Grandmother Power, from powerHouse Books.


You and I don’t think about it much, but light means everything to a community. Midwives can deliver babies at night. People can charge cell phones and preserve food in refrigerators. Children can do their homework without getting black lung disease from kerosene lamps.

But of course, many live without all of this.

Leaders at a college in India had an idea for a solution: they would teach young men to be solar engineers, hoping they would bring light to their rural villages.

The plan didn’t work: after they got their training, the men went straight to the city to find jobs, not back to the villages that so desperately needed their expertise.

The training program made a course correction: they invited village grandmothers to learn how to bring light to their communities.

The grandmothers were illiterate and existed on less than fifty cents a day but they were mature and gutsy, and wouldn’t dream of moving away from their grandchildren. After six months, the student grandmothers could build, install, repair and maintain solar lighting systems. They could assemble solar lanterns, solar water heaters and parabolic solar cookers.

The Indian grandmothers brought light to a whopping 9,833 households in 16 Indian states. Some stayed and became teachers for the grandmothers who took the training next.

The UN began sending grandmothers from other developing countries to learn from the Indian grandmothers. Together, grandmother solar engineers have brought solar electricity to 45,000 households in 64 countries in the Middle East, Africa, South America and Asia.

Grandmother solar engineers are VIPs in their communities. Bunker Roy, head of the Barefoot College where the training happens, said, “I meet them as grandmothers. But they return to their villages as tigers.”

The concept of Grandmother Power excites me for so many reasons. We see so much “Grandfather Power” – older, male power – in our society (think Congress, think the Fortune 500 CEO’s) and we see almost no older female power. We see a barage of media images of young women, and almost no images of older women. There has been a lot of conversation about empowering girls and younger women (women in their child-bearing years) in the developing world. There has not been much conversation about the impact of educating and empowering older women – and yet it’s clear the impact of that would be immense.

And, a Paola has taught me, there have never been so many healthy, educated, and economically empowered older women on the planet. This moment is unprecedented in terms of the potential for this group to lead change.

If you are a blogger, I hope you’ll write about Grandmother Power this week and join us in the campaign. (Lots of great writing prompts here)

If you’ve been thinking about starting a blog – hey, this is the time to start! You already have your first post topic! Get tips for writing your post here.

And if you are a reader, I hope you’ll join us in exploring the topic this week and in spreading the word about the campaign. You can browse the other Grandmother Power posts here – more and more will be added through the week.

For today, I invite you to consider: what does the phrase “Grandmother Power” mean to you?



Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • My grandmother made a big difference in how I saw the world. She may have been a country woman, but she was never afraid to push into whatever part of life that beckoned to her. I hope to influence my grands with as much love and hope as she did for me.

  • Carole says:

    What a fabulous idea Tara. Looking forward to reading all the great stories.

  • Marcy Clausen says:

    This brings back many wonderful memories of spending summers with my grandmother Harris- who never left the state of Texas, so we went to see her on every military transfer across the US and my grandmother Thompson, who immigrated from Indianna to Canada to honmestead a farm in 1911. Thesde women and two great aunts had a huge impact on my life- and now that I am a grandmother, I try to be a stable , loving, understanding perxence in my 13 grand children’s lives.
    I will share your Gradnmother Power with my AAUW Santa Rosa brnach. Thank you, Marcy Clausen

  • Very inspirational! I plan to contribute a story later this week! Thank you so much for doing this!

  • Tricia says:

    Such a wonderful idea, not to mention a huge potential resource. It boggles the mind to think what could be accomplished. Thanks for spreading the word on such a hopeful idea!

  • ALICE says:

    i would love to become a solar engineer.
    Wonderful idea

  • […] India there’s a University training program recruiting grandmothers to learn to build, install, repair and maintain solar lighting systems, bringing &#8220…. These elderly women were so successful at what they did that the United Nations began sending […]

  • mmdenton says:

    Millicent was my grandmother, she was a very proper lady, and died at 104 in 1988. She held a gold medal award from New York State Teacher’s College, and was an English teacher. She could spell, and recite long, long poetry for hours. I’d wake at night to hear her saying Hiawatha or The Lady of Shalott. Millicent suffered insomnia, and it was her outlet many nights as she passed the hours awake in bed to recite. I regret to say, I saw a word that need to be spell checked in the article. Being a Dyslexia “victim”, I hate even pointing this out. So many people are critical, and never understand that we are all formed differently. I can know what a 8 x10 foot space looks like… I just can’t spell, or catch my mistakes for the most part. It takes reading many times, sometimes letting time pass helps when I review. Having been taught to sight read in the 1950″s did me no service!
    Would you please send the image in another format…? I could not see the image.
    Thank you for enriching my days.

  • Connie says:

    What an inspiration! Lit’ for Life held our second “Grammas Read” “event. We brought grandmothers and their grands 0-8 years old for storytelling and reading crafts! Had great lunch for grandmothers and kids lunch! Ended with free books for grandmothers and free books for the children! It was a great time sharing the love of stories, reading and the love of grands and grandmothers! Grandmothers and a few godmothers left inspired and looking forward to another reading event!

    This article renewed my hope to increase early literacy by working with caregivers, grandmothers, godmothers, parents!

    Thank you
    Lit’ for Life

  • Erin Brandt says:

    Blew me out of the water.

    What I’d love is to find grandmothers in the US who will mentor on business. When struggling women, single moms (like me), etc. are switching careers, wanting to know more about business and the financial world, and cannot currently afford a mentoring program… and would LOVE to be nurtured through a scary learning process… god, a grandmother here would be PERFECT!!!

We are on a mission to help you realize your playing big dream.
Dive into our resources here: