The Future Looks Bright
An historic event took place in September 2011: the first APEC Womens Economic Summit (WES) where a Declaration was signed to factor women into our economies.
Twenty-one economies gathered in San Francisco, California, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Under the chairmanship of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we congregated for the Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy (PPWE) and the High-Level Policy Dialogue (HLPD). Attendance to these events was by invitation only; I was one of six representing Australia between September 13 and 16.
The Golden Gate Bridge was covered by cloud during the four-day summit, but the intention of delegates was clear and it was agreed that we will take concrete actions to realise the full potential of women and remove barriers that restrict womens full economic participation, and maximize their contributions towards economic growth.
The Declaration confirms that we are determined to implement policies that will provide women with: Access to Capital, Capacity and Skills Building, Womens Leadership and Access to Markets as well as improve the collection of sex-disaggregated data on SMEs.
Hearing those representing the APEC nations, that total more than half of the economic global output, recognise that women are an untapped source that contribute to the growth and stability of our economies was, for me, was like being a child in Disneyland for the first time. I was reassured that we are on the right track and that the best is yet to come.
More than 80 speakers, who were as diverse and colourful as their cultures, hairstyles and shoes, agreed that change is imminent and that we must tap into the economic power of women if we want to compete, innovate, grow and, more importantly, survive.
Some of the most memorable speakers were Cherie Blair representing Foundation for Women. She said: Our male entitlement culture needs to change. The crowds deafening applause resonated that we were ad idem.
Yang Lan, Co-Founder of the Sun Media Group and TV Host from the Peoples Republic of China, known as the Oprah of the East, was outstanding. Her interview with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, was humorous, feminine, engaging and balanced.
To witness such conversations was not only inspirational and exhilarating but gave me great hope; this, the first womens economic summit, confirmed that women are uniting and making a massive difference for the good of all people in todays transitory times, this attitude is of the utmost importance.
It was also comforting to learn from Tatiana Valovaya, the Head of the Department of International Cooperation of the Government of the Russian Federation, that Russia will place women in the economy as the leading topic of the 2012 APEC meeting.
On the last day of the summit, whilst having lunch with one of the Ministers from Russia, I felt a tad of melancholy the experience was coming to an end and I wondered if I would be privy to another APEC.
Then a segue to the expeditiously organised trip from Australia to the United States and the invite that arrived so unexpectedly via email. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trades (DFAT) invitation got my heart beating swiftly and set my brain into overdrive. I immediately reorganised my diary, including a family reunion, so I could attend.
By the time I'd finished reading the invite I had gone through a smorgasbord of emotions: exhilaration, apprehension and then guilt. I couldn't just change the 20th commemoration of my mothers death and the schedule of the people arriving from two continents just because I had a summit to attend, could I? Well, I should, and I did because the first WES would never happen again and if I could somehow help in preventing another GFC, I would.
Fortunately, my family understand and accepts my passion. My younger sister reminded me that guilt went out in the 1980s along with shoulders pads; both are useless.
Whilst organising flights and hotels I kept wondering how wonderful it would be to hear and possibly meet Hillary Clinton. I am obliged to report that I did not rub shoulders with Hillary, but confess I was flabbergasted and honoured when told that the U.S Principal Deputy Secretary, Deborah McCarthy, wanted to meet with me.
The four-day summit provided many wonderful experiences; both profession and personal. One of the personal highlights was a dinner hosted by Levi Strauss & Co. The local organic produce was beyond exquisite; now I know why tomatoes are known as the first love apple! The new curved jeans, designed specifically for the female form, fitted perfectly and to end the evening, a treasured bus ride home.
Picture this: a group of women from seven different nationalities, ranging from 25 to 65 years, dancing and singing to an unfamiliar tune after a few bottles of California wine. Sitting next to me was a federal minister from Chile, in front a young entrepreneur from Indonesia and encouraging us all to sing along was the president of a multi-million dollar company from Mexico. With a massive smile on my face, transfixed and elated I, too, clapped along with the eclectic group of women - my new sisters, changing things in a different part of the world, for the betterment of all.
If I had died that day or on the way home; it would not have mattered for I knew enough of us are out there to ensure the momentum of change continues for a better balanced economy; one led by women making changes for a world we can not yet imagine.
Upon my return from APEC and to ensure we are able to advocate for new policies and programs with the necessary data, the AWCCI launched Australia's first national Women in Business Research project late in 2011.
*APEC countries: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Japan, Macao, Malaysia, Marshal Islands, Mexico, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, North Korea, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States, Vanuatu and Vietnam.