It was amazing to see so many leaders (mostly women) gather together from the business world, government, non-profits organizations, higher education, and other areas to mentor and support other women from developing countries, raise funds and awareness for cancer, and guide entrepreneurs like me.
These women are indeed powerful! It encouraged me to see them overcoming obstacles and doing so much to shape the world’s future. They’re leaving behind a legacy that our sons and daughters can look up to.
I have to say, “Thank you,” to my mentor and advisor, Susan Lyne, who nominated me to attend this event. Susan is the CEO of Gilt Groupe—one of my favorite shopping sites (70%+ discounts on designer items!). Gilt Groupe is invitation-only, but leave me a comment if you want an invite and I’ll send one out!
On the first night of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, they welcomed us to dinner and introduced two leaders who are working to help a generation of underprivileged women from developing countries succeed. Penelope Machipi (who runs a computer center for girls in Zambia) and Brigette Dzogbenuku (who started a sports program for girls in Ghana) each received $25,000 through the Goldman Sachs—Fortune Global Women Leaders Award. This award is part of a terrific mentoring program that Goldman Sachs funded with $100 million back in March 2008 to provide 10,000 women from around the world with a business education over the next five years.
Penolope’s story was very inspiring. Just 22 years old, she manages a computer center for girls in rural Zambia, helping them overcome and avoid lives of poverty and prostitution. She told us that the money will go towards developing a documentary, showing girls what they can achieve by empowering themselves with an education.
“I never thought this would happen in my life. I thought it was a dream,” Penelope said. “They are admiring me and I am very proud of it. It shows that everything is possible with education. I want to help other girls escape poverty, as I did.” Check out more of Penelope’s incredible story here.
I met Penelope afterwards and told her she had the most beautiful smile that just exuded joy and confidence. It was infectious!
Meeting billionaire Warren Buffet at breakfast one morning was a highlight! After I filled him in on what we were doing at Care.com, Warren told me he loved what we were doing for families. He is an amazingly down-to-earth, funny, warm and genuinely caring man (quite a feat for the world’s second-richest man and most famous investor!).
He was on a panel later that morning, and he was extremely witty. When someone asked him which actor he’d want to play the part of Warren Buffett in a movie, he giggled and said, “George Clooney, of course! But definitely not Danny Devito—he’s out.”
He also shared his financial wisdom. Buffett touched on the economy and said he believed that we would slowly get out of this recession, but we needed to continue saving. He said reduced consumer spending does slow down growth, but creates more stability in the long run.
Later that morning, I attended a panel with Marissa Mayer from Google. She heads up Search Product and User Experience at Google and manages their home page. She came by to show us some of their new gadgets. You could tell she really enjoyed geeking out on some of the cool new things Google is developing. One of the products she demonstrated was a brand new $300 laptop with free operational software that Google hopes to distribute worldwide to help developing countries overcome the technological divide. Marissa gave me hope to see more women in engineering and science leadership roles at large companies making a difference.
In the afternoon, we heard from Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Education for the Washington D.C. public school district. She’s made a lot of changes to improve D.C.’s public schools, which hasn’t always made her popular among the District’s teachers—not everyone likes things shaken up! Although she has rap as a “tough woman,” Michelle came across as someone who truly cared about improving our educational system. She asked us, “Would you take your child to a surgeon if you knew they had a 10% chance of success?” Apparently, the DC public school system has similar metrics of student achievement, but she’s working hard to improve that and the early signs are good.
We also had a surprise visitor who wasn’t part of the original agenda, Susan Sher, Chief of Staff for First Lady Michelle Obama. Susan told us how she was once Michelle’s manager, but now the tables have flipped. The two are still very good friends with a high degree of trust. Hearing Susan talk reminded me of the importance of long-term relationships. I’ve mentioned to other folks I’ve worked with in the past that they could end up hiring me to run one of their companies one day. :-)
Women have come a long way in the few generations since we didn't have the right to vote or sit on juries, but we have even further to go. I’m proud that more global leaders are realizing that “women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution” (New York Times Magazine).
If you want to make a difference and help encourage young girls to develop into powerful, world-shaking women, think of supporting organizations like Care.org, Kiva.org, WomenThrive.org, or Charity:Water. These are great groups that work to empower women worldwide by giving them the basic skills, knowledge, and necessities they need to succeed and transform their communities.