Natalie Rekstad is what Meg Jay, the clinical psychologist and a bestselling narrative nonfiction writer, calls ‘Supernormal’: One who reaches unexpected heights after childhood adversity.
Natalie was raised in a household with a single mother and five siblings, and together they faced more than their share of hardships. While financial poverty was central to their lives, it was the emotional poverty of living in an environment of survival that had the greatest effect upon the young Natalie.
Because of her intimate experience with suffering from the early years, including large swaths of it through her adulthood, she cannot bear to witness suffering in others. At her core, this is what drives her in her work leading a social enterprise to help the world’s most vulnerable populations live with dignity, safety and choice.
Today Natalie is the Founder of Black Fox Philanthropy, a leading fundraising strategy firm that exists to accelerate the social sector’s effectiveness in solving complex problems on a global scale.
As a B Corp, Black Fox Philanthropy measures the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit, and was named by B Lab as “Best for the World” in the category of Changemaker. She is featured in numerous publications including feature stories. Most recently Natalie was recognized by Conscious Company Media as a 2020 “World Changing Woman.” She is also a newly minted member of The Founders Pledge.
An active supporter of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado since 2007, Natalie is a former board trustee and is making significant investments in advancing their mission of catalyzing community to advance and accelerate economic opportunities for women and their families. Natalie is a member of Women Moving Millions, an MCE Social Capital Guarantor, a delegate for the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, a delegate and ecosystem contributor to the Skoll World Forum, a delegate and speaker at Opportunity Collaboration, and is on the Global Advisory Board of World Pulse. Her latest activism role includes being a Council Member of the Digital Economist, with its first convening in Davos at the 2020 World Economic Forum.
Natalie is also an award-winning children’s book author of the Social Emotional Learn-ing (SEL) book “The Secret Adventures of Anonymouse” that is being translated into over a dozen languages and reaching 100 million children worldwide through the SEL curriculum of Think Equal based in the UK.
An Interview with Natalie:
Q: What really matters to you?
A: My core belief is that the future hinges upon a more just and gender balanced world. What matters is that we include everyone in this conversation and this movement, particularly men who are holding up the other Half the Sky (Kristof and WuDunn, 2008). I’ve noticed that many fathers of daughters are some of the fiercest warriors of all for gender equity, and I love that they channel their power in this way. It gives me joy to see my former husband being so intentional with the messages our daughter receives about her worth and strength. And however audacious her dreams, he supports her ability to bring them to life. But to truly bring about lasting change, there is a need among men to come to terms with the great loss of being victims of their era(s) and the myth of superiority.
Q: What brings you happiness?
A: The short answer as to what brings me happiness is living a fully expressed life.
That said, I find it’s more complex than that. Happiness, to me, is an inside job. I say this from the perspective of having grown up in American poverty (which clearly does not compare to third-world poverty). Yet the real issue wasn’t financial poverty; it was the emotional poverty of being raised by a single mother with five children under the age of five. While working several jobs, she pursued higher education, succeeding in lifting us out of dependence upon government assistance and food stamps. But the cost of her relative absence was high, not only for us but for her as well.
Another form of suffering was being female in the corporate arena in an era and culture of rampant sexual harassment. If you’ve ever seen the film or read the book Charlie Wilson’s War (Crile, 2007) you’ll get a sense of the environment for women at that time in Washington, D.C. This time period was also marked by the demonization by men and women of Anita Hill, who spoke truth to power about her struggle with sexual harassment by now Chief Justice Clarence Thomas. My experience of living through an unhealthy (former) marriage was also the source of great despair for more years than I care to count.
I share this because working in the global social sector and having spent time in the developing world, I’ve observed that while our exterior lives look very different indeed, our interior lives can be remarkably similar. All of us have a capacity for great suffering, joy, love, despair, hope, resilience, and triumph. As a Westerner, it can be profoundly humbling to see a village fraught with domestic violence, child marriage, and actively practicing Female Genital Cutting (FGC), yet also witness their strong sense of community and unbounded freedom in dance and song. The Western standard of privilege and righteousness withers in the face of the beauty and grace of the villagers whom many would wrongly consider ignorant and impoverished (in fact, I find them to be highly resource-rich).
On a spiritual level, we are deeply connected to these villagers and the rest of human-kind. If we could only drop our “roles” and see each other as extensions of our own humanity, we could go farther together as the equals that we are. That would bring me tremendous happiness!
Q: What do you regard as the lowest depths of misery?
A: On a personal level, feeling powerless and spiritually locked away in an effort to “survive” feels like overwhelming misery. My beloved teenage daughter can also bring me to the lowest depths of misery as well as the greatest heights of joy.
In a more global sense, I find our deepest passions often spring from our deepest wounds. I’ve already provided insights into why my personal philanthropy centers around issues facing women and girls. Transforming those wounds into a source of awakening, power, and agency has made all the difference.
I’m fortunate in that I work in a sector that focuses on successfully eradicating global poverty and suffering, so I now get to be on the “good news” side of the equation. My strategic brain outperforms my wallet, so beyond my financial investments in solving issues in which I care deeply, I started the fundraising firm, Black Fox Philanthropy, to have a far greater impact. My raison d’être is to help global nonprofits attract the funds they need to do their vital work in the world. This level of impact, along with the extraordinary visionaries I serve, keeps me going in the face of misery.
Q: What would you change if you could?
A: I would release everyone from false beliefs about their worth. So many of us ingest thousands of messages about who we are and our worth as part of our “somebody training” by well-meaning families, but also by our culture. Do you remember the Enjoli commercial from the 1970s?
“I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let him forget he’s a man” (Enjoli by Charles of the Ritz Commercial, 1978).
It’s a prime example of the media hijacking the feminist message of “you can be anything” and turning it into “you have to be everything.” Men fared no better and were fed costly messages of entitlement.
If we could be in touch with our divinity — our power — and remember who we truly are, we would show up differently in a world that needs us to own our worth, take our full space in the world, and bring our very necessary voices to the table. But that voice needs to be informed by inner knowing and that can only come through awakening and healing. We can’t lead while we are bleeding and broken. We can’t have a voice infused with power without trusting our own inner wisdom. While we can acknowledge today’s reality, we can also hold a vision for what can be, and strive, together, to usher in a new era of possibility.
Q: What single word do you most identify with?
A: My mainstay word throughout my life has been “grit.” Without grit, I can’t imagine where I’d be today given the early messages I received about my worth. But we evolve, and our words evolve with us.
My word now is “connection.” On the heels of leaving my marriage, I experienced a severe PTSD. During a time of abject terror, the support of my close friends, parents, and family taught me that being vulnerable and asking for help was actually safe, sacred, and profound. After decades of considering myself (and being seen as) strong and resilient, I allowed others to experience me as lost and terrified. What I hold most dear is the depth of connection to others I now feel as a result of that time. This gratitude and awe bring me to my knees. All else pales in comparison.
As a closing thought, Natalie’s wish for the world is for people to have greater compassion for ourselves and others who are in deep struggle, particularly if it is a mental health issue. Her illness ended up being body-based, but the PTSD that caused it had a real mental health element. She wants people to know there are great gifts in going into the belly of the beast, be it for yourself, or being a support to another – a truly sacred role that can literally make all the difference in the life of another.
Further resources on the Purpose-Driven Life of Natalie Rekstad:
An open letter to the 6th Grade Class of SHOFCO