Lisa Shannon

Don't wait for "real leaders" to change the world — do it yourself.

Founder of Run for Congo Women

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Lisa Shannon | Founder of Run for Congo Women
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Lisa Shannon has devoted herself to helping women in the Congo. One of O Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Women on the Planet, she is an emphatic speaker who explores the world’s deadliest war through the intimate lens of friendship, and shares her thoughts on the new politics of do-it-yourself foreign aid: “It’s never too late to change the world—or yourself.” Shannon’s new book is Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen

Lisa Shannon had what many would consider a good life—a successful company, a fiance, security. But one day, while watching Oprah, she was awakened to the atrocities in the Congo: women gang-raped and demoralized, millions dead from the worst war since World War II. She decided, at that moment, to become an activist and a sister. As the first grassroots activist in the U.S. working to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the Congo, often called “the worst place on earth to be a woman,” she began with a lone 30-mile run. From there she founded Run for Congo Women and penned the striking book, A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman. Her new book, Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen: An Ordinary Family’s Extraordinary Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in Congo, was so described by Booklist: “This compelling narrative is not easily forgotten, nor are the many people whose stories she collected. This is a valiant record of the testimonies of vital witnesses; readers will not be able to look away.”


“In Mama Koko, Lisa Shannon has managed a rare feat of empathy: a character who is so strong and centered, and whose journey through difficulty is not sentimental but a real and complicated transformation. This is a small miracle of life and love that we can all believe in. This is a lovely book and a deeply human one.”

— Chris Abani, author of The Secret History of Las Vegas and GraceLand

At Run for Congo Women, Shannon has sponsored more than a thousand Congolese women through Women for Women International, where she is an ambassador. (The money goes to help them obtain an education.) In 2007 and 2008 and 2010, Shannon visited with women in the Eastern Congo. Rather fittingly, her appearance on an episode of Oprah dedicated to the greatest moral imperative of our time: the empowerment of women worldwide. With Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, she was ranked as one of Oprah’s most inspiring moments of 2009, and was named one of Oprah’s 100 Most Influential Women in 2010. Shannon has been profiled in The New York Times, on NPR, CNN, ABC, Time, and many others. Her incredible story is featured in Daniel Karslake’s documentary Every Three Seconds. Shannon’s new project, Sister Somalia, was profiled on the front page of The New York Times.    


“It’s not everyday that I get to hear a woman tell her story about how she’s trying to make a difference. Women these days are praised in the media for doing outrageous things, and I think more women, like Lisa Shannon, deserve some recognition for the impact they are creating ... She really inspired me because often times, I feel that I don’t know where to begin to try to make a difference. Her story changed my outlook on what I can do to help.”

Kent State University

Speech Topics

Do-It-Yourself World Leadership

Many of us dream of changing the world. But most decide to wait for “real leaders”—those with formal authority and influence—to do the right thing. But real leadership often emerges from the places society least expects. In this inspiring talk, Lisa Shannon shares lessons learned from her journey from lapsed idealist to some of the most dangerous places on earth like Congo and Somalia, to launching successful mass movements to stop atrocities too often ignored by the powers that be. With grace and integrity, she shares the harrowing but hopeful stories of the women she’s helped, and where anyone—even you—can find the courage to step up and lead the world.

Conscious Activism
How do our narratives of Africa shape the world’s complex relationship with the region, and influence violence unfolding there? When is the only narrative more dangerous than “the single story” no story at all? How do we tell the truth about atrocities in places like Congo or Somalia—so easily framed as “cultural” or “tribal savagery”—without reinforcing old world stereotypes about Africa? For those concerned with human rights in faraway places, it can feel like a trap, like one must choose between action some frame as the “soft bigotry” of the “white savior industrial complex,” and the hard racism that allows war criminals free reign as the world turns away in discomfort, assuming the inevitability of violence in Africa.

In this talk, Lisa Shannon explores her trial-by-fire evolution as an American human rights activist and author, how concerned citizens can overcome the real, but paralyzing fear of doing more harm than good, and how we might move beyond these poles toward a more conscious activism.