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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2001 - 2002

Vital Voices - Women's Global Leadership: Synopsis

Washington, DC
March 16, 2001

On Friday, March 16, 2001 the Secretary’s Open Forum in conjunction with the Vital Voices Global Partnership hosted a public forum -- Vital Voices: Women’s Global Leadership -- in the Loy Henderson auditorium.

The program included a panel discussion highlighting the State Department’s commitment to supporting women leaders throughout the world who are working in their countries, often against enormous odds, to strengthen democracy and build prosperous economies. The panel was moderated by U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Donna Hrinak and included remarks by Ambassador Nancy Powell, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs; Ambassador Shaun Donnelly, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs; Ambassador Craig Johnstone, President of the Center for Corporate Citizenship; and Judith McHale, President and COO of Discovery Communications.

The panel also included women leaders from the Vital Voices global network representing South Africa, India, Northern Ireland, Russia, and Kuwait who are working to strengthen women’s entrepreneurship, gain political rights, combat trafficking in women and girls and the spread of HIV/AIDS, extend access to microcredit loans, and sustain peace. These women were part of a larger group of 25 emerging women leaders from around the world who were in Washington for a leadership training seminar sponsored by the Department of State and coordinated by the Vital Voices Global Partnership.

The audience of over 200 people included State Department staff, the diplomatic community, and the international non-governmental organization (NGO) community. The program demonstrated the U.S. Government’s continuous strong commitment to the progress of women globally.

Ambassador Donna Hrinak remarked that she is proud of the U.S. Government’s commitment to supporting women and women’s global leadership. She said that over the past few years since the Vital Voices Conference in Montevideo, she has seen tremendous progress throughout the region. Women leaders who attended that conference returned to their home countries invigorated and began working with U.S. embassy representatives on a number of projects and training opportunities. Working with NGOs and the private sector in Venezuela, Ambassador Hrinak recently launched the Vital Voices of Venezuela Chapter and a technology training program in partnership with Citigroup and Vital Voices. She also highlighted that American foreign policy now integrates advancing the status of women into the mainstream.

Ambassador Donnelly noted that the priority that the Economic Bureau places on issues affecting the lives of women comes from the top. The bureau understands and recognizes that strong economies cannot be built without the full participation of all citizens. He also added that the future has never looked brighter for women in business than it does now, not just in the U.S. -- where women already own nearly 40 % of the businesses -- but around the world. And as the Internet and other technologies draw us closer together as a global community, women are building networks that reach to every corner of the globe, learning for one another, supporting one another, and trading with one another. Experts around the world acknowledge the vital role women’s businesses play in the economies of individual communities, of nations, and of the world. Hence, the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs has launched a new group on women’s issues called Women in Economics and Business (WEB). This group will provide a forum for dialogue and interaction on international issues that affect businesswomen’s interests and work to ensure that these interests are factored into foreign policymaking and management.

Ambassador Nancy Powell highlighted that Secretary Powell has shown a strong commitment to economic and social progress throughout Africa. She also highlighted that it is particularly important that American foreign policy is looking at HIV/AIDS as a foreign policy and security issue because it permeates all aspects of the lives of many Africans. She also noted that as we look at our goals throughout Africa we know that women are critical. Women are agents of change and are key in combating HIV/AIDS, sustaining peace, and fostering democracy.

Judith McHale noted that as a businessperson, she understands that supporting and advancing community development and education around the world is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. Through her work with Vital Voices, she’s seen that this is particularly true of women. She also spoke about the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a new non-profit organization that was created to build on the success and momentum of the U.S. Government’s Vital Voices Initiative, supported by a bipartisan board. As a board member of Vital Voices and a business leader, she hopes to engage additional corporations in supporting the work of women throughout the world.

Ambassador Craig Johnstone remarked that the international community must recognize the need to empower women to take their rightful place in terms of government and in terms of the economy and the private sector. He noted that Vital Voices is playing a key role just as the Department of State is in this historic work. He highlighted the need to continue bipartisan efforts in supporting these issues. He also noted that partnerships are key to progress. The nature of foreign policy and the nature of the world today is that government cannot get the job done by itself. We require the non-governmental organizations, the civic community, and the participation of the private sector. The alliances of the private and public sector are the most potent potential alliances for realizing change in our society.

The panel discussion closed with a question and answer session with the audience.

Released on May 2, 2001

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