In our first plenary session of the summit, Leadership in the 21st Century: Tapping the Extraordinary Potential of Women, our President Alyse Nelson moderated a discussion focused on “this present moment of global opportunity for women’s leadership,” as she said noted in her opening remarks. Innovative regional leaders were asked to comment on one central question: how do we make positive change sustainable?
Panelist Kiran Bedi, a celebrated pioneer in India and the world over, is the nation’s first and highest ranking female police officer. She recalled the path that led her to join law enforcement, relating her struggle for self-determination and autonomy to that of many women in gathered in the room.
“When I joined, it was out of fear – fear that I would be left behind.”
The first step is sometimes the most trying when it comes to women asserting leadership, said Kiran, but that first step, followed by the trial and error that make up a lifetime of experience, inevitably lead to growth and self-confidence in one’s contribution to those around her.
Beth Brooke of Ernst and Young, a Board Member of Vital Voices, described with great conviction a growing trend she sees: “women are an emerging market.” As companies and governments come to recognize women’s power as an economic force, we can expect that “women represent the future growth of the global economy,” said Beth.
Delegates engaged the panelists in discussions on specific country and issue based strategies in an effort to determine the most effective methods for promoting collaboration and shared progress.
Yasmeen Rehman, a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan, expressed her concern over finding success in equal measure across the social, political and economic spheres. In response, panelist Ivy Josiah of Malaysia, executive director of Women’s Aid Organization, said that coordinating budgetary allocations among different sectors in society and government serves as one practical application of leveling the playing field for initiatives in different fields. Promoting transparency in budgeting, and advocating for a gender focus can have a considerable effect, said Ivy, as she has seen in her work.
In closing the session, Alyse asked that each panelist offer “one big idea,” one recommendation that they would most like to see come to fruition. Leader of the National Party in Timor L’ Este, Fernanda Borges, reflected on her country’s experience with national reconstruction after conflict, saying that her central goal would be on educating the next generation across all regions of the world:
“Let’s double funds for education. If we do that, we can sustain women’s participation in all sectors. Well-educated women can fight for and protect social, economic and political ideas.”
Vital Voices Global Leadership Network member and former honoree from Burma, Charm Tong, said that mobilization is critical to furthering women’s equality and ensuring that women have an equitable share in national conversation and decision-making. Executive Director of PriceWaterhouseCoopers in India, Bharti Gupta Ramola, stressed the importance of evaluating progress and keeping track of challenges:
“We have found that whatever gets measured, gets done.”