Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Thursday, April 28 2011
Women have created a new type of leadership, Alyse Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, told more than 600 attendees of the Womenetics POW! Awards program in Atlanta, Tuesday, April 26. This leadership is all about empowering others, not keeping power for power’s sake.
“Women have a different form of leadership; their voices speak for others, and power expands the moment it’s shared. We are redefining power. Underlying the new model is a fundamental belief that the only meaningful measure of power is the extent of its positive impact,” said Nelson, who has worked for Vital Voices for 12 years, in her keynote address.
The non-governmental organization (NGO) was created in June 2000 out of the U.S. government’s successful Vital Voices Democracy Initiative which was established in 1997 by then-first lady Hillary Rodham 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 U.S. foreign policy goal.
Since Vital Voices Global Partnership was launched, it has been involved with training and mentoring 10,000 women in more than 127 countries in Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Its mission is to identify, invest in, and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.
To illustrate Nelson’s statement about sharing, these women have returned home to train and mentor more than 500,000 additional women and girls in their countries.
“We go into a country and find the leaders who are making a change, and we ask, ‘How can we help them make that change?’" she said. “I think this will be the future model of philanthropy. Investing in leaders is the best investment.”
Notably, Nelson was a 21-year-old college student when she decided to pay her own way to get to Beijing for the U.N. Conference on Women in 1995.
“That was one of the greatest lessons, traveling to that conference on women. Hillary raised her voice for all these women who didn’t have a voice, and I recognized that those of us who have a voice and platform have to give that voice to others. I have that responsibility to use that voice,” she said just before delivering her keynote address. Her message to her audience on Tuesday was that everyone in the room has a voice and platform of some kind and they have to look around the world to provide voices to others.
A short film Nelson presented phrased it like this: “Women leaders are multipliers. They pay forward.”
Women are also a major market, Nelson told the luncheon crowd. “Forget China, forget India. Women are the emerging market. That’s why more corporations are investing in women.”
A slide show she presented noted that women reinvest in their families and communities much more than men do, so every investment in women goes farther. In fact, women in developing countries reinvest 90 percent of their income, compared to men who reinvest only 30 to 40 percent. Yet, in so much of the world, women have little or no power. They are 66 percent of the work force, produce 50 percent of the food, and account for 10 percent of the income. They own only 1 percent of the world’s property. They comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor. They are also powerless.
Nearly 81 percent of seats in national parliaments are held by men compared with about 19 percent for women. In the Middle East and North Africa, half of the women don’t have the right to divorce their husbands. In 62 countries, no one has ever been convicted of human trafficking, yet 80 percent of the victims of trafficking are women and children. An even more frightening statistic, Nelson noted, is that one in every three women will suffer some type of violence in her lifetime.
“This is an economic issue,” she said. Billions of dollars are lost because of domestic violence. “Around the world, the countries that are stifled and not growing are those that are holding power and not sharing it. Other countries, in which power is shared, are flourishing.”
Nelson pointed out that some people were surprised about women’s roles in the uprisings occurring in the Middle East, such as in Tahrir Square in Cairo.
“In every major conflict around the world, women have been on the frontlines, like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine,” she said. And she referred to the two Northern Ireland women, one Catholic and one Protestant, who won the Nobel Peace Prize. “Women see the larger picture. We are better at seeing each other as human beings first, and that’s the only way to end conflict.”
Nelson spoke at the second annual Womenetics POW! Awards presentation honoring 15 purposeful women. These are women in Georgia who have stirred the status quo and advanced their organizations. Womenetics is sponsoring three Up Close and Personal breakfast events for attendees to interact with a small group of the 2011 POW! Award winners for extended conversations surrounding several topics addressed at the awards luncheon, including how they spurred innovation, seized opportunity, overcame challenges, and shifted organizations. The breakfast meetings will be held May 18, July 14, and Aug. 25.
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Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.