Susan Burton: founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Project
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Susan Burton to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Susan Burton: I’m helping formerly incarcerated women heal from some of society’s ills. The vast majority of women imprisoned in America are victims of sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse. We criminalize their response to those traumas. The organization I founded, A New Way of Life Reentry Project, provides support, safety and stability for women coming out of prison so they can find their own sense of dignity, respect and power.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
SB: I don’t know that I feel like what I do is a breakthrough. Our model is simply about treating women with love, respect and trust. I realized that women were being treated wrong by the system, and I wanted to treat them right. What I do know is that what I do, other people can do too. Treating your fellow humans the way you want to be treated isn’t revolutionary.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
SB: The way society wanted me to operate and treat formerly incarcerated women was an obstacle. My own experience serving six prison terms in the ‘80s and ‘90s informed what I thought needed to be done, and it took a lot of determination for me to do what I believed I was supposed to be doing versus what people tried to persuade me to do.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
SB: Watching the wealth of healing that comes through our work, watching the transformation of individuals, watching the bubbling up of women’s commitment to themselves, to their community, to a better world — all of that inspires me daily. There are also challenges in that, but for the most part, the inspiration comes out of the challenge.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
SB: What’s going to make the world a better place is young women putting their skills and passion toward alleviating the pain and suffering of others.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
SB: It’s important to have women in innovation because when you really look at it, we rule the world and we heal the world. Nothing happens without us! Planting the seeds, growing the seeds and sharing the seeds is part of our role in the world, if we choose to wear that role.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.