Recently, I was privileged to be able to attend a part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Women & the Economy Summit in San Francisco. The conference brought together women leaders, government officials, diplomats, and corporate innovators to discuss actions to improve the lives of women in the Asia-Pacific region, and by doing so, the world's economy. Recognizing that women are a vast, largely untapped resource for change and growth, the group spent a week in San Francisco working on plans for change. This was one of several meetings around the Pacific Rim leading up to the APEC Summit in Hawaii in November that President Obama will attend.
The Conference Keynote was delivered by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton has inspired a generation of women to enter political life to try to dismantle the political barriers that keep women from fully participating in economic growth. Her speech was a call to action, for all nations to tap the power, creativity, and drive of women to help elevate all people, across all regions.
Although characterized by some in the media as a "call for equal rights," Clinton's vision was much broader than that. In her speech, she stated,
Now there will be a temptation on the part of those observing or covering this summit, perhaps on the part of those of us attending it as well, to say that our purpose is chiefly to advance the rights of women, to achieve justice and equality on women’s behalf. And that is, of course, a noble cause to be sure and one that is very close to my heart. But at the risk of being somewhat provocative at the outset, I believe our goal is even bolder, one that extends beyond women to all humankind. The big challenge we face in these early years of 21st century is how to grow our economies and ensure shared prosperity for all nations and all people. We want to give every one of our citizens, men and women alike, young and old alike, greater opportunity to find work, to save and spend money, to pursue happiness ultimately to live up to their own God-given potentials.
Secretary Clinton went on to give specific examples and data illustrating the issues that Summit attendees hoped to offer specific, concrete actions to resolve. She went on to note that her husband is fond of saying that "we don't have a person to waste" in this effort, and she added, "We certainly don't have a gender to waste."
The full text and video of Secretary Clinton's speech can be found at the US State Department's website.
After the speech, the high-level diplomats and delegates from all the APEC countries convened in a closed-door session to work out the details that would become the San Francisco Declaration. The key elements of the Declaration that are required for economic empowerment of women are:
- Access to capital;
- Access to markets;
- Building capacity and skills; and
- Promoting women in leadership positions.
All twenty-one nations represented at the Summit unanimously adopted the declaration.
I was not able to stay very long at the Summit, but I was able to attend one Plenary Session moderated by Tina Brown of The Daily Beast and Newsweek. Also on the panel were Ilene Lang, President & CEO of Catalyst, a research and advisory firm that specializes in promoting women in business; Blanca Trevino, CEO of Softtek, a global Information Technololgy firm based in Mexico; Romi Haan, CEO of Haan Corporation, an appliance and beauty products company in South Korea; Susan Fleishman, Executive Vice President of Commincations for Warner Brothers Entertainment; and Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.
The Plenary Session was called "Women at the Top: How Diverse Leadership Benefits Everyone." It featured a candid discussion among these high-powered women of issues surrounding workplace diversity, being a woman leader in male-dominated industries, and work-life balance for women. The panel enthusiastically endorsed nurturing a work-life balance to promote creativity and productivity in the workplace. Romi Haan noted that she didn't want workers who were just successful on the job, but "successful in life" as well. On the need for work-life balance and the issue of childrearing, Blanca Trevino commented, "Someone can always fill in for you at a meeting, but no other mom can fill in for you to help your daughter get ready for her first date."
Cherie Blair's foundation is leading the way in impoverished nations in encouraging women-owned businesses and entrepreneurship. Their approach is to offer women in developing nations the tools needed to start and maintain their own businesses through "confidence, capacity and capital". One of the innovations her foundation has initiated is a Skype-based mentoring program for women in developing nations to be paired with successful women around the globe, so they are not limited to the resources available locally.
The week-long Summit featured a number of other plenary sessions and workshops with equally impressive leaders in discussions on how to solve some of the most pressing problems and opportunities of our time. The message of the Summit was that in a time of global economic crisis and concern, women may be the key to unlocking a new era of prosperity. The underlying message was "when women are successful, the world benefits."
Photos by Glennia Campbell. All Rights Reserved.