When Maria Shriver was a young girl, her famous parents would ask her elementary-school-age friends, “What are you doing? What are you doing to change the world?” At the time, Shriver was understandably mortified, especially when some friends didn’t want to go to her house anymore. However, she came to understand that her parents—Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, and Sargent Shriver, who spearheaded the Peace Corps and Head Start—felt everyone should serve and help others.
Multiple Emmy-winning journalist and former First Lady of California, Shriver has continued her family’s storied legacy of service. She’s also instilled a passion for helping others in her four children, including Netflix documentarian Christina Schwarzenegger and bestselling author Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt.
What are you doing to change the world?
On March 6, Visionary Women, a nonprofit that seeks to lift up women and girls around the world, honored Shriver and her daughters as their 2023 Changemakers during its International Women’s Day celebration. Two-hundred-and-eighty people—mostly women and a few good men—gathered at an elegant Beverly Hills ballroom to hear Shriver and her daughters speak together publicly—something they rarely do.
“We were very interested in demonstrating the power of intergenerational service and philanthropy as a value that unites us as families and communities,” said Shelley Reid, former Visionary Women president and entertainment executive, and Thea Andrews Wolf, veteran television journalist who co-chaired the event. “The Shriver family’s dedication to serving others over multiple generations speaks to the power of instilling these shared values in our children. Maria has done so much to improve the lives of women and girls, and her daughters are now on the same path.”
In addition to being a children’s and self-help author, Katherine is also an animal rights activist. “We were raised to make the world a better place,” she said on stage, when television broadcaster Giselle Fernandez interviewed them. “Both of our parents taught us that, and our grandparents certainly taught us that.”
Christina partnered with her mother to produce the Netflix documentary Xanax: Take Your Pills to dispel myths about cognition-enhancing drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. Just as her mother volunteered at Camp Shriver, the precursor to the Special Olympics, Christina has been a lifelong supporter and serves on the organization’s Founders Council.
Shriver’s Work in Alzheimer’s
For Maria, Alzheimer’s disease is personal. In 2003, her father was diagnosed with the disease. Maria wrote a children’s book, What’s Happening to Grandpa?, and produced an HBO documentary of the same name to educate and inform families and caretakers. She also founded the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement (WAM), a global alliance of individuals, organizations, researchers, and foundations to study, prevent, advocate, and support women with Alzheimer’s. According to WAM, a new person develops Alzheimer’s every 65 seconds. Two-thirds of these people are women. WAM seeks to understand the links between women’s biology, genetics, lifestyle, and the disease.
On Power and Leadership
As Fernandez interviewed Maria and her daughters on the flower-bedecked stage, photos of Shriver’s famous family flashed on nearby screens. Maria spoke fondly of her uncles, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. She lamented people used to believe that political and military service—both of her uncles were veterans, as well as politicians—was noble.
‘When we talk about female leadership, we’re not here to repeat what men have done.’
“When we talk about power, when we talk about success, and certainly when we talk about female leadership, we’re not here to repeat what men have done. We’re here to do something different,” Maria said, as the crowd cheered.
On Parenting, Family, and Fun
Maria wanted her children to grow up in a more open environment than she had—she wanted them to have a home that encouraged honest conversations about difficult matters. “I’ve talked about things my parents never talked about, with my kids and out in the public,” she said. She is also more demonstrative than her parents were. “They grew up in a different generation.”
‘The thing I most admire about her is the fun she has being a mother and just the fun she has constantly in life.’
On parenting two daughters and two sons (who were also at the event) in the limelight, Maria said, “I hope they don’t feel a lot of the stuff that I felt growing up. And I’m fully aware that they carry responsibilities from their father’s name and mine. I think all four of them have done a tremendous job finding their own path, exploring things that are of interest to them.”
The warmth and mutual respect between mother and daughters were evident throughout the night. Speaking of her mother, who she described as a prankster, Katherine said, “The thing I most admire about her is the fun she has being a mother and just the fun she has constantly in life. As I reflect on our own childhood, we had so much fun and adventure.”
Attendee and author Fykaa Caan said, “As I have two daughters myself, I was trying to learn from Maria’s formula of parenting and how to apply it in my own life. I was genuinely inspired and kept thinking throughout the evening, if my daughters turn out to have this relationship with me when they are older, I would be very happy and at peace.”
Life and the Future
Many women in the audience have watched Maria’s career evolve through the decades. We also know she’s gone through challenging times. Yet she shared a message of positivity and gratitude that night: “I’m grateful for the parents that I had. I’m deeply grateful for the children that I have. I’m grateful for the marriage that I had, even though it ended.”
Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse said Maria resonates with so many women our age because she is “open, approachable, and authentic. She also shows vulnerability while discussing issues we are all facing.”
Even with her broadcasting, writing, business, and advocacy success, Maria continues to grow and expand. In 2021, she launched a publishing imprint at Penguin Random House. She started Shriver Media in 2014, which produces documentaries, films, and more. Maria’s Sunday Paper newsletter aims to “inspire hearts and minds and to elevate the voices and ideas of those trying to move humanity forward.” As if she didn’t already have enough on her plate, Maria started a protein bar company with her son Patrick.
‘We are constantly, as women, warming and evolving as students of the world navigating through self-exploration.’
“There’s no doubt in my mind that I haven’t even begun yet,” Maria said. “There’s so much for me to do.” Some women pumped their fists in agreement as Maria said those words, perhaps because, as Bosse said, “We are constantly, as women, warming and evolving as students of the world navigating through self-exploration. We have many opportunities to reinvent ourselves at different stages of our lives.”
In her closing remarks, Maria said she wished people would slow down, not be in such a hurry, and really connect with others—and not only through their phones. “I think there’s no substitute for community. It’s about connecting to humanity. It’s about understanding that there’s a larger purpose to why we are here and to what we are doing.”
Of the future, Maria said she hopes people “will find what brings us together as opposed to what divides us. I hope we will lead with love and not fear and hate. We can all be of service, and we can all change another human being’s life.”