Women in the World: The economic argument for empowerment

Photo Credit: Marc Bryan Brown / Women in the World

Photo Credit: Marc Bryan Brown / Women in the World

I spent Friday at the Women in the World Summit in New York, Tina Brown’s love letter to the women and girls (and the occasional man) advocating for equality and progress around the globe. The event, hosted by The Daily Beast/Newsweek, drew 2,500 people to the swanky David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center.

Two first-name-necessary-only women got standing o’s — Hillary, of course, drew people to their feet with her rousing keynote on women’s rights as human rightsOprah took the stage with Dr. Tererai Trent to discuss Trent’s incredible journey from child bride to Ph.D. and educator in Zimbabwe. Notably, Trent is as focused on educating boys as she is girls. “When we educate boys, they will so be respectful of girls,” she said. “If we don’t educate boys today, 100 years from now they will be talking about being marginalized by women.”

Enlisting and educating men and boys as allies was a common theme in the conversations at the conference. But even more powerful for me was the recurring argument that empowering women and girls around the world is not only a social justice issue, a moral issue, or a humanist issue, but an economic issue. 

Hillary launched the conversation in her keynote: ”No country can achieve its economic potential when women are left behind.”

In a panel on female tech entrepreneurs moderated by Chelsea Clinton, Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code noted: “We live in a culture and society that tells us math, science, and computers are not for [girls]. This is the most important domestic issue of our time. The train is leaving, and we have to make sure our girls are not left behind.”

And in the most pointed argument for enfranchising women globally, Melanne Verveer, former U.S. ambassador for Global Women’s Issues and moderator of the “Women, Money, and Power” panel, argued: ”A billion women are poised to grow the economy if they are empowered.” Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, coordinating minister for the economic and minister of finance of Nigeria, posited that after China and India, women are the third largest economy in the world. Indeed, the purchasing and development power of women outpaces that of the BRIC countries, said Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola.

“Each time you create a woman entrepreneur,” said Kent, “a community gets stronger.”

Lesson learned: Power, profit, and social justice are not mutually exclusive.

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