Investing in Women “not about the money” for Exxon Mobil

September 24, 2009 at 3:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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reporting this week from the Clinton Global Initiative

By choosing ‘investing in women and girls’ as the topic for his opening plenary, President Clinton sent a message that women were at the center of his agenda. The panel embodied the CGI spirit of broad and innovative coalitions, with speakers from the government, private sector and women’s organizations.

Two CEOs sat on the stage: Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobile and Llyod Blankfein of Goldman Sachs.  They were joined by Melanne Verveer, the US ambassador for global women’s issues, Zainab Salbi, Women for Women International and Edna Adan, the founder of a maternity hospital in Somaliland.  Twelve new commitments for women in girls were announced at the session including training in entrepreneurship and financial literacy and access to low-cost technology.

On one hand, the unprecedented high-level private sector participation means that the women’s agenda has gone mainstream; real change will not happen if only women are talking to each other. On the other hand, the panel would not have succeeded if it hadn’t had two women from the trenches who could keep the discussion grounded in the life and death realities many women face.

But when the discussion turned to his corporate philosophy for focusing on women, Tillerson said that for empowering women, “money is not the issue”.   Easy for him to say as CEO of the world’s second largest company.

Zainab Salbi was quick to disagree, arguing that it is absolutely about increasing resources and  political commitments for women and girls.

Tillerson tried to backtrack, clarifying his remarks by saying it was about education, training and staff capacity, not just pouring money into a problem.

Still, it was a reminder that even though they may be sitting on the same stage, the reality of a woman’s organization and Exxon Mobile are quite far apart.  While it is “not about the money” for  Exxon, it is all about the money for thousands of women’s organizations like Salbi’s and Adan’s that are struggling to help women every day survive childbirth and rebuild their lives from war.

But the question seemed to open a door, and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs reframed the question, asking: are we making all the investments that we can make in women and girls? are we at capacity?

I think the answer is a resounding no.   Stay tuned for more updates from CGI.

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A face to face with Emeka Okafor from Timbuktu Chronicles

July 14, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Had the pleasure of meeting one of my blogging heroes yesterday, Emeka Okafor from Timbuktu Chronicles. A self titled venture catalyst, he is the director of TED Africa, an African food imports entrepreneur, and connector of innovators.   Elizabeth from Sustainble Health Enterprises and I tracked him down to discuss all things Africa and entrepreneurship.

He is concerned about the missing links in the chain of innovation in Africa.  In the US we take this chain for granted — the university systems, funding for research, business plan competitions, labs where discoveries are made.   With all these pieces working together, a breakthrough idea can become a business.  But in Africa, many of these links are missing.

One thing he is doing is looking at how to invest in large scale women traders.  In Francophone Africa, these women are “cash madams” — moving thousands of dollars of merchandise through selling basic staples like salt, soap and plastic sandals.   In Eastern Africa they call these women “Dubai mamas“.  Like SHE, he is interested in proving that these are viable business networks ready for investment.   He says what these women are doing is not new, that in many parts of Africa, women have been the traders for centuries, patriarchy as a business model is a product of recent times.

To talk to him was to glimpse a community that he is slowly building – one where innovation and ideas are invested in, and business and creativity drive problem solving, not development aid.   Through him, I learned about a ning site for venture capital in Africa, and he is one of the people behind Maker Faire Africa a celebration of African ingenuity, innovation and invention, will take place August 14-16 in Accra, Ghana.   It was inspiring to meet him, I hope to keep in touch.

I finally meet Nick Kristof

May 3, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Just wrapped up the Women’s Funding Network conference in Atlanta. One theme I heard throughout  was the need for foundations to use strategic communications to tell their stories, influence policy, raise more money etc.   Nick Kristof, the conference keynote, summed it up when he said, “the average toothpaste has better messaging than humanitarian organization.”  Here, here!

So, I have been waiting for my chance to meet Kristof for years. In his remarks he talked about the most effective interventions for keeping  girls in school – things like de-worming medication or sanitary napkins as opposed to building more schools.  Well, he said the magic words for SHE, and I had a chance to go up to him afterward and make the pitch:  SHE is launching women-led businesses in Africa that keep girls in school by selling low-cost locally made sanitary napkins!   He wanted to know how much it costs to keep a girl in school by providing a sanitary napkins – he is all about the best return on investment.

Fine.  But then my new favorite woman Yassine Fall from UNIFEM took the mic and told him the reason why girls don’t go to school was that structural adjustment from the IMF has stopped governments from investing in public goods like education and eliminating school fees.   Policy is the problem, not as Kristof suggested, men spending less of the family income on alcohol and entertainment and more on education and health. She said his analysis was demonizing African men as irresponsible fathers who only drink beer.  The confrontation was an exciting moment in the fancy hotel ballroom.

Well, its too late for Kristof to add Yassine’s perspective in his upcoming book called “Half the Sky” all about women’s rights.  He both opened and closed his speech saying: “I truly believe the struggle of the 21st century is a struggle for greater gender equity in the world.” Good messaging — take note women’s funds!

Waiting for death, with no help from the church

March 2, 2009 at 12:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Fulata Moyo

Fulata Moyo

This year’s Commission on the Status of Women is discussing caregiving in the context of AIDS.  This theme is not well understood – and incredibly unequal because women are almost always the ones who care for the sick. Yesterday I heard Fulata Moyo from Malawi and the World Council of Churches talk about losing her sister to AIDS and her husband to cancer.   She focused on lack of care for the caregiver, unpredictable wait for death, and the use of sacred texts to maintain widowhood. What impresses me is that after her husbands death – she went around and told churches how to better care for the caregivers…

When people from the church came to visit me they only said that God would heal my husband.  The church told me over and over that God will heal him.   I did not want to tamper with that so I prayed day and night and did not sleep.  I was giving care to my husband but I also needed care.  Some Christian fundementalists visited the bedside and told me there were symbols on my outfit that were demonic so I burned that outfit.  I loved that outfit.

After he died the church people told me that God was my husband.  But after 6 months I had physical needs.  These are issues women face and they will not talk about it.  I asked my pastor, so God is my husband, what can I do? Our male pastors do not know what pastoral care for women is.  Most women do not talk about this but I do because I am one of the crazy ones.   If I had had daughters they would not have gone to school during this time because you also have to care for all the visitors that come to see the patient.  Praying was seen as the only way to be supportive, if the spirit was OK then the body was OK.  But I needed someone to cook the food.

After he died I went around and talked to churches in the region and shared my experience and called for a greater commitment to pastoral counseling.  My advice to people who are with someone who is dying:  ‘if you don’t have wisdom keep quiet, and don’t talk to a widow about being a husband of god.’

A Communion of Care, a sermon for World AIDS Day

December 1, 2008 at 10:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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bu_aids_badge2

I was asked to preach today for World AIDS Day at Advent Lutheran Church.

I woke up this morning on World AIDS Day with many emails in my inbox from around the world.   WAD is a time of social networks, and we celebrate it in many ways – we post liturgy on websites, email, worship, remember, give money, wear ribbons.  Today is the day that we do these things all at once, all over the world.  By sitting here in these pews we are part of a chain of reflection and action.

AIDS is with us in the US, but from my work at the Lutheran Office for World Community, an office representing the ELCA and LWF at the United Nations, I have seen the immense and tragic effects of AIDS’s in countries that are poorer than ours.  Having traveled to far off places, I feel I must tell you what I have seen, that among suffering I have felt awe.  This witness is what I am going to talk about today.

When I visited Kenya last year, I sat with a group of women at Jerusalem Parrish in Nairobi.  These women meet weekly for a widows support group. In Kenya, widowed women are considered outcasts, and face discrimination.  After the husband dies, it is part of the culture for his family to take his land and his house, in the worst cases forcing the woman out on the street with nothing.  One of the women told me: “As you mourn death of your husband, someone from his family is in Nairobi filing the paperwork.”  I can’t imagine, on top of such a loss, having to fight for your home at the same time as you grieve.

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