In the fall of 2011, I received an invitation by Secretary of State of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to join her International Council of Women’s Business Leadership.
In her words ” Somewhere in the world all our problems are being solved – we just simply don’t know where“.
The Council, which serves in an advisory capacity for advancing and promoting the role of women in a competitive global economy, seeks to pool experiences from around the world, to get core ideas, that can empower women.
Deeply honored by her invitation, I was very much looking forward to the first gathering of the Council, which was held on January 24th, at the Department of State, in Washington D.C.
It was a surprisingly warm and sunny morning. The snow of the previous week was melting and the icy sleet of the day before, had passed. Security at the Department of State was swift, and we were ushered up to the beautifully appointed Diplomatic Reception rooms. There, Cherie Blair, co-chair of the Council, and Ambassador Melanne Verveer, hosted breakfast and the opportunity for us to get to know each other. This was followed by the meeting with Secretary Clinton, in the Ben Franklin Room.
Members of the Council expressed a deep interest in India, particularly on the strong leadership roles of Indian women in banking, the growing participation of women in Governance, and our experience with Microfinance and women’s entrepreneurship.
In the months ahead, we shall work in 4 sub committees to focus on understanding and documenting best practices that have empowered women through Access to Capital, Access to Markets, Capacity Building & Skills training and Leadership.
I have chosen to work in the Leadership sub committee as I believe there is a real need to have a tangible agenda to empower women, to rise on merit to leadership roles. I would welcome your inputs, ideas on best practices in this area and any success stories that you may like to share.
The transcript of the meeting and video webcast are available on the Council website and can be accessed through the link: http://www.state.gov/e/eb/adcom/icwbl.
Reflecting on the meeting, the memory of the Council that remains etched in my mind, is of a group of remarkable ladies :
Secretary Clinton herself – an icon and role model to many, touched a deep chord when she said “I don’t want to give up my role as Primary care giver, that makes life worth living. These are burdens and joys that we are happy to assume, but it does not make our lives easier…! ”
Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director of the World Bank and former Finance Minister of Indonesia, who not just provided Women in Indonesia with an independent tax identity (and consequently the ability to own and run their own businesses) but is credited with laying the foundation for the reform of public finance in Indonesia after the Asian crisis.
Sheikha Lubna, the soft-spoken Minister of Foreign Trade of the UAE, who described the positive momentum around women’s empowerment in the UAE, such that women were now the dominant gender in the Government work force.
Judith Rodin President of the Rockefeller Foundation who shared how Public Private partnerships could provide innovative and collaborative solutions, not just for women, but for their entire communities .
Wanda Engel, Former Minister of Social Assistance in the Brazilian Government, whose work in providing in unique identification cards, had laid the basis for a successful and path breaking Direct Cash Transfer program, to families living below the poverty line.
Maud Olofsson, former Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden who shared the pragmatic way in which Scandinavia has worked towards more representation at Board level for women, and her straight forward guidance “If you don’t have a Board with 50 % women, 50 % of your consumers are not represented !”
Ofra Strauss, Chairwoman of the Strauss Group, who urged that men must be made part of the solution. Having more women participate in business was not just a matter of good ethics but sensible economics.
The vignettes above don’t do justice to the vibrancy of debate, nor to the ladies I have omitted to mention (but whose views I hope to share in future blogs), but Ofra’s comment is an important one in the context of 2012.
If, as many economists predict, 2012 is going to be a turbulent and volatile year for the global economy, then we will really need sensible economics. As Cherie Blair said succinctly : “An efficient allocation of resources, including human resources is essential – but if for various reasons, women, who are 50% of the work force do not participate, then economies suffer”. Women in business is simply good economics.
A very interesting aspect of the council, is the number of its ladies who have held positions of State, in their respective governments. In each case, what they brought to the table, were pragmatic and sensible policy solutions, that had been successfully implemented in their countries, with powerful and positive results.
In a fascinating article in the June 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review, (hbr.org/2011/06/defend-your-research-what-makes-a-team-smarter-more-women) Professors Anita Woolley of Carnegie Mellon University and Thomas Malone of MIT shared the finding that ” If a Group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”
Listening to the ladies of the ICWBL share their experiences, it was easy to agree with the HBR article. In our world today – in our families, our companies, our cities and our countries we need better collective intelligence. If this can be achieved by a more equal role for Women both in Business and in Governance, then we will have better outcomes at a time when these are really needed.