Women stand at the center of every type of dramatic change occurring in the world today: whether it's coordinating and offering relief to earthquake victims in Japan and Haiti, consolidating democracy in Egypt or running Facebook. In 2009, President Obama appointed the first-ever ambassador-at-large for Global Women's Issues, Melanne Verveer. In this historic role, Ambassador Verveer is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's go-to person, coordinating foreign policy issues and activities relating to the political, economic and social advancement of women around the world.
Ambassador Verveer is a force of nature in her own right. When I met her between sessions at the recent Women in the World Summit in New York City, she was swapping stories with a young American writer and a doctor (and grandmother) from Somalia. She easily navigated between the worlds of these different women, and her enthusiasm was contagious. Within minutes of meeting, she seemed like the kind of person you'd want to invite over for a long cup of tea and some heartfelt conversation. I got a chance to catch up with Ambassador Verveer to ask about some of the issues nearest and dearest to her heart and here's what I learned:
Her motto: The needs of women aren't new. "But we have more evidence of our impact than ever. Investments in women are positively correlated to growth, prosperity, stability, democracy, health -- and vital to our national security. We cannot write off the talent of half the world and expect to confront our challenges," she explains. Examples like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the world's rape capital) show clearly her motto: "No country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind."
What keeps her up at night: "These issues I'm working on at the State Department are all about our quality of life at home -- it's all inter-connected. If we have fewer conflicts erupting around the globe, we would spend less on dealing with the crises far away and get to do more at home. If women engage economically abroad, our own companies will have a better chance to sell to them." The state of the world affects us all. As a mother and grandmother, she's concerned about "the legacy we'll leave for our children" -- and this keeps her up at night.
The choice she made: Ambassador Verveer conveyed a choice we make: "to be part of the healing, not the conflict." She expressed great hope in the diversity, creativity and sincerity of Americans' engagement with the world, near or far. Kids make a difference, too. When her granddaughter read Three Cups of Tea in sixth grade "She was so taken by this book that she wanted to do more. To touch this generous streak in our young creates habits for the rest of their life."
Feeling inspired? Here are three easy ways to be part of the solution -- try one!
Watch and learn: Take three minutes to watch The Girl Effect or video clips from 10x10. (Warning: they'll make you want to do something.) Then support girl power through great organizations like Girl Up, Girls Inc. or the Girl Scouts.
Educate and mentor: You can sponsor a girl's schooling where it's desperately needed through Global Giving, Room to Read, Plan USA, and many others. Call your school district, house of worship, or local volunteer organization to serve as a tutor. Vital Voices Global Partnership identifies, trains and mentors women leaders worldwide, or go through a local professional network or university to share your expertise nearby.
Keep girls safe: The Rebecca Project, Tahirih Justice Center and Polaris Project work tirelessly in the U.S. to protect women from gender-based violence and human trafficking -- and they need more help. Through Women for Women International or the Global Fund for Women you can host an event, volunteer your expertise, or support women in war-torn regions to start businesses and rebuild their lives, or simply shop for gifts that will give back.
Ambassador Verveer shared this passionately with me: "Our possibilities for making a difference are only limited by our imaginations."
What will you do?
(This article originally appeared on iVillage.com.)
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