The second annual Women in the World Summit, held in New York, on Mar. 10–12, 2011, brought together leaders from business, government, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to focus on the issues for improving the economic, political, and social rights of women globally. The summit, which was organized by Newsweek and The Daily Beast, generated a dialogue on the diversified approaches that can and are being used in various areas, including global health, business development, and individual economic advancement.
In a keynote address at the summit on Mar. 11, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodman Clinton underscored the importance of advancing women’s roles and rights for economic and social development domestically and abroad as part of the country’s overall foreign policy and security objectives. “We believe that women’s roles and rights are at the forefront of everything we should care about and need to be doing in our own lives and certainly in the life of our country,” she said. “But sometimes it’s good to be reminded why it’s important to have women and girls at the forefront of American foreign policy. And there is so much evidence of this. But I just want to, for the sake of laying the predicate and for any who are still wondering, a 2008 report commissioned by Goldman Sachs [which] found that educating girls and women leads to higher wages, a greater likelihood of working outside the home, and therefore having lower fertility, reduced maternal and child mortality, [and] better health and education outcomes.”
Clinton noted that narrowing the gap in employment between men and women in emerging economies could raise incomes by as much as 14% by 2020 and 20% by 2030. “And the World Bank has documented that women tend to invest a much higher part of their earnings in their families and communities than men do,” she said. “They spread wealth.They create a positive impact on future development.”
At the summit, Clinton announced that the US State Department has launched a new Women and Public Service initiative with five of the “Seven Sister” colleges of Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley. “Together, we will seek to promote the next generation of women leaders who will invest in their countries and communities, provide leadership for their governments and societies, and help change the way global solutions are developed,” she said. As a first step, the initiative will host a conference in the fall of 2011 to bring policymakers, public officials, academics, and “innovation thinkers around the world to build these new global partnerships, so that once we’ve brought attention to an issue or a leader, we will be able to continue to build and support the work that is being done,” she said.
Advancing global health
Illustrative of those partnerships in global health is a recently announced project to improve maternal and child health in the developing world, which Clinton announced in Washington DC, in early March. The project, Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, was launched to seek innovative prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in rural, low-resource settings. The project is a partnership between the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the World Bank. These partners are providing nearly $14 million for this grant program's first round of funding and have a commitment of investing at least $50 million in projects during the next five years.
“Healthy mothers and newborns are the foundation of healthy and prosperous societies," said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a Mar. 9, 2011, USAID press release. "We must partner to develop new technologies and seek new ways of delivering solutions to women and children who need them most. This initiative will speed up progress we're already making and will lead to new kinds of progress that we have yet to conceive."
Gates also spoke at the Women in the World Summit to emphasize the importance of improving maternal and neonatal health and the role that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is playing to advance that effort. “If you think about a child’s health, it’s related to the woman’s health,” she said in an interview with the broadcast journalist Charlie Rose at the summit. “If you want to lift a society, you have to lift up both of those things.”
According to estimates, more than 3 million newborns in the developing world die in their first month of life, a major and challenging concern. “We couldn’t solve that piece of the puzzle, that first 28 days,” she said. She explained that unlike deaths after a child is 28 days, which mostly can be prevented through vaccine development and delivery, reducing early deaths requires a range of approaches, including social and behavioral changes. Solutions include immediate and exclusive breastfeeding to improve a child’s immune system, skin-to-skin contact to keep babies warm, sterile blades to cut umbilical cords, and antibiotics for infections.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is investing to improve neonatal and maternal health. Its efforts include developing and delivering treatments to address the causes of deaths during pregnancy and childbirth, such as high-blood pressure, infection, uncontrolled bleeding, and obstructed labor. It also is seeking to improve access to healthcare, which may be impeded by cultural, financial, and societal reasons, as well as improve frontline workers' capabilities and performance as they are the first point of contact for delivering maternal and neonatal care. And the foundation is advocating for government funding and support to address the problem.
In addition to government, private foundations, and nonprofit organizations, individuals play an important role in addressing global health concerns. The Women in the World Summit featured several panelists involved in individual or group projects. For example, Hawa Abdi, MD, founder of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and HA Village in Somalia, discussed how she founded and now runs a hospital and village in Somalia where more than 90,000 Somalis, many of them which are refugees, receive food and medical care. Amy G. Lehman MD, MBA, founder and executive director of the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic, discussed her efforts in addressing the problem of healthcare access for isolated communities in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. And Ebby Elahi, MD, a surgeon and the director of Fifth Avenue Eye Associates in New York and an associate clinical professor of ophthalmology and global health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, discussed his work as director of global health at the Virtue Foundation, an NGO that focuses on sustainable development through healthcare, education, and empowerment initiatives.
Business partnerships and social entrepreneurs
The Women in the World Summit further focused on ways in which industry is partnering with other companies, organizations, and individuals to build sustainable businesses in the developing world. Eva Walusimbi, an entrepreneur at Solar Sister, spoke of her work in Uganda. Solar Sister is an ExxonMobil partner and social enterprise that provides women with training and support to create solar microbusinesses, which build household income for women and provide light for their communities. Walusimbi sells solar lights and recruits other female entrepreneurs throughout Uganda.
Diane von Furstenberg, chairman and founder of the fashion-design company bearing her name, participated in a panel discussion on partnering with women in building sustainable economic opportunities in developing countries and her support of and work with Vital Voices, a NGO that identifies, trains, and works with emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs. Phelicia Dell, designer and CEO of VeVe Collections, described the importance of such partnerships in building her clothing line. She is a member of the Vital Voices chapter in Haiti and participated in the 2008 Vital Voices Summit in Argentina. In 2010, she won the Diane von Furstenberg handbag competition, which challenged designers from Haiti, Guatemala, Nigeria, and Cambodia to create a handbag reflective of their country’s local traditions and which served as a crucial starting point for building her business.
Also speaking at that panel was Debbie Farah, founder and CEO of Bajalia International and Bajalia Trading Company, which helps women develop business and marketing skills to compete in an international market and become self sustaining. Another panelist was Rebecca Lolosoli, head of the Umoja Uaso Women’s Village in Kenya, who is head of a community that promotes human rights and economic development for women in that country. The women provide for their children and themselves through the sale of beaded jewelry and crafts and have established a sickness and disability fund, community center, and school. The work of Lilosoli, a Vital Voice member, and her community has been facilitated by Ms. von Furstenberg.
The Vital Voices Global Partnership grew out of the US government's Vital Voices Democracy Initiative, which was established in 1997 by then-First Lady Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to promote the advancement of women as a US foreign policy goal. The success of that meeting and subsequent conferences led to the creation of the Vital Voices Global Partnership as an NGO in 2000. Vital Voices has over 1000 partners, pro bono experts, and leaders, including senior government, corporate, and NGO executives, who have trained and mentored more than 8000 women from more than 127 countries in Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
In another panel, Divya Keshav, owner of Krishna Printernational in New Delhi, India, a firm that manufacturers labels for multiple industries, spoke of her participation in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program at the Indian Business School, which helped her to develop her management skills for building and maintaining a successful business. 10,000 Women is a five-year, $100-million investment, started in 2008, by Goldman Sachs to provide 10,000 underserved women around the world with a business and management education. 10,000 Women operates through a network of more than 70 academic and nonprofit partners to develop locally relevant coursework for students and to improve the quality and capacity of business education. She was joined at the panel by Dina Habib Powell, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation and managing director and global head of corporate engagement. The foundation seeks to foster economic growth and opportunity through programs offering business education, access to capital, mentors, and networks to small-business owners in the US and women entrepreneurs globally.
Zainab Salbi, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Women for Women International, discussed the work of her organization in helping women survivors of war and conflict move toward economic self-sufficiency with the organization’s programs of direct aid, rights education, job-skills training, and small-business development. It has distributed direct aid, microcredit loans, and other program services to nearly 300,000 women. The organization raises funding by connecting individual sponsors with women through small monthly contributions and other donations.
The Women in the World Summit also featured leaders from government, including former US President and head of the William J. Clinton Foundation Bill Clinton, former Secretary of States Albright and Condoleezza Rice, Melanne Verveer, Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues at the US State Department, and former Chilean president and now Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UN Women Michelle Bachelet. Bachelet was appointed to head the newly created UN body charged with promoting gender equality and women empowerment in 2010. Other summit participants included: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; Susan Sobbott, president of American Express OPEN; Gabi Zedlmayer, vice-president of global social innovation at Hewlett-Packard; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of the World Bank; Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation; and Katy Bushkin Calvin, CEO of the United Nations Foundation.
The Women in the World Summit was held in conjunction with the DVF Awards, sponsored by the Diller–von Furstenberg Family Foundation, and held at the United Nations on Mar. 11. Diane von Furstenberg established the DVF Awards in 2010 to recognize women for their leadership, courage, vision, and commitment in producing positive change. The DVF Awards provide recipients with the exposure and resources needed to extend their efforts on behalf of women’s causes. This year’s award winners were Elizabeth Smart for her dedication to child-abduction causes; Taryn Davis for her work with the American Widow Project, a project to help the widows of fallen US soldiers; Kakenya Ntaiya for creating the Kakenya Center for Excellence in her native Masaai village in Kenya; and Sohini Chakraborty for the Kolkata Sanved program, which teaches young women to gain self confidence through dance and cultural expression.
For additional information on the Women in the World Summit, click here.