Meet the Member Behind the Passing the Torch Event

Innovative Fundraiser for FWSF’s Endowment—Passing the Torch—Comes to Life August 26th

Passing the torchMichelle Alberda, a financial planner for the past 20 years and head of a woman-owned business with offices in San Francisco and North Carolina, has relied on her long-time membership in the Financial Women of San Francisco to support her success through learning and connecting with likeminded women.

When she joined the organization in 2005, Alberda served as the first co-chair of the Lifestyles Committee, vice president in 2006, and president of FWSF in 2007. In 2009, Alberda cofounded the scholarship endowment and has been involved with it ever since. Among her many contributions to the organization, Michelle also served as a scholarship recipient mentor.

Passing the Torch, a virtual celebration on August 26, 2020 that celebrates women’s firsts and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment becoming law, is a product of Michelle’s leadership. For years, the endowment team discussed creating a special event to raise money for the scholarship fund. In 2017 Leanne Karns, another FWSF member, came up with the idea for celebrating the 100-year anniversary. After brainstorming with several FWSF members and non-members, this unique celebration was born.


We caught up with Michelle to talk more about the event.

Michelle A1.) What do you hope women will take away from your creation?

I hope that people will learn that the vote was not ‘given’ to women. The vote was hard fought for and took over 70 years to achieve. It took Native American, Asian American, and African American women even longer to get the right to vote. There is still a lot of work to do to achieve equality and that change does not just happen—people need to stand up for the change they want to see happen.

Most importantly, I want this to be a celebration of how far women have come and to be inspired to support each other to achieve those remaining “firsts.”

2.) Do you have any firsts from your own experiences?

Yes, I was a women’s “first.” I was the first non-Japanese man or woman to work for Toyota Automatic Loom Works in the engineering department in Japan in 1992. When I attended a meeting with a major US automaker, they said they had never allowed women in on their team for a meeting with a Japanese company until they saw my name representing the Japanese on the agenda. It was a big deal back then.

3.) What inspires you about the suffragettes who worked to get women the vote?

The suffragettes had incredible tenacity and a winning strategy. There were big reasons why they could have held back—the Spanish Flu and the Civil War, for example—but the suffragettes persisted for over 70 years.

4.) What is it about people who are able to break new ground that inspires you—and should inspire us? Do they have a common trait?

In 2006 I helped put together a panel for the FWSF. Mary Cranston was on it. She is one of the firsts in our production. She talked about overcoming fear. It was mind-blowing to me. She talked about how success rarely has anything to do with being smart enough or good enough, but instead about overcoming our own fears. 

When I look at all of the women we are celebrating who achieved great things, I think about what fears and challenges they had and how they overcame them. Several women who were “first” discussed pushing through difficulty because they did not want others to think women could not do it. This is what Passing the Torch is all about, making the path a little bit easier for the next women who come along behind them.

5.) How has the process of creating the Passing the Torch Herstory event changed since you first envisioned it, due COVID-19? How does that change your intended effect?

The original event was to be a live celebration. We were about to sign the contract for the Yerba Buena Theater, we had chosen our caterer, dance troupe, choirs and had already started writing the content of the live performance. We were going to have “Selfies with the Suffragists” and it was going to be the event of the year.

It was a tough decision to pivot and do a video instead. There was a lot of emotion and disappointment around this. However, I was determined to celebrate this milestone in 2020, no matter what. 

Having said that, the event would have been a one-night event that could have only been shared with 750 people and now we have a video that can be shared with many, many more and will last forever. The original live show would have been more of an immersive celebration, but this video feels like a more inspiring social statement.

We are having a private FWSF members-only viewing on August 18, 2020, at 5 pm and we have already confirmed Rosie Rios (the 43rd US Treasurer and the first Latina to have her portrait commissioned by Harvard) as a live panelist after the video. We are still waiting to confirm the panelists for the August 26 event.

We hope that people have watch parties and celebrate this milestone together. It would be a great event for parents to experience with their children and obviously, perfect with a glass of wine with a group of girlfriends. While the event is free, we hope viewers will consider donating to the future of women through the FWSF scholarship fund. Information on how to do so will be included at the end of the video.

6.) In your research to find “Women Firsts,” do you have an example of a woman or women who stood out, maybe inspired you, or touched your heart?

I’m most inspired by the suffragettes because women had few rights in those days and it was like pushing a boulder up a hill for 70 years. I am also mindful of the fact the black suffragettes had to fight so much harder and longer—I cannot even imagine having that kind of tenacity.

7.) What do you see for the future for women in today’s climate?  What other things do women have to fight for?

Now, and in the recent past, we have experienced #MeToo and #BLM and I have a strong feeling we have hit our stride and are in the process of peeling back the messy layers of the onion and making real changes in our society. We have room to work on pay equality, eradication of domestic violence, equal representation in the Supreme Court, on company boards, and all levels of decision-making in most spheres. There are a lot of things we can chip away at, but it is important to understand how far we have come in just two of my lifetimes!

8.) How has this process of working to create this event affected you personally?

I learned so much while creating this event. I realized I did not understand much about women’s history. I have been active with FWSF for fifteen years, but my research made me realize our organization is even more important than I thought. 

Also, I have always stayed away from controversy, but through this process, I realized without a bit of controversy, change does not happen. I am putting myself out there with this video and have decided I am prepared to be a more vocal agent of change.

9.) Are there any sponsors or champions you want to honor for helping you make this happen?

So many people made this happen in no particular order.

  • Kristen Taylor, Co-Chair and Co/Executive Producer
  • Kathy Rose, Producer
  • Rebecca Novick, Director & Dramaturg
  • Erin Gilley, Editor and Source Material
  • Rami Margon, Narrator
  • Joan Yokom and Sandra Shuhert, the incredible logo designers and Facebook content creators

As we were doing our research and we came across information that was cool, inspiring, or upsetting, we would send text messages to each other. We experienced an exciting journey as we all learned about the last 100 years of our history.

Rosie Rios, the 43rd Treasurer of the United States, has been a big supporter and inspiration for this event, both in the content and in our communications. Our original brainstorming team in July of 2017 must also be honored: Julie Abrams, Charlotte Wall, Marie Berggren, Bill Haraf, Anne Chambers, Alyssa Zagrobski, Maureen Young, and Maureen Broderick.

10.) Anything else you would like to add?

The Financial Women of San Francisco is the first organization of its kind in the country, with 60+ years of history. And, in 2020, we have our first African American president leading us through this milestone year. This is such an honor. 

In addition to celebrating this important milestone and raising money for scholarships, I hope each person that watches this video challenges themself to do something a little different going forward. If the suffragettes had not fought for us, who knows when we would have won the right to vote. We need to be mindful of how we pass the torch to the next generation of women. It’s exciting to see who else will be a “first.”

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