The WIE (Women: Inspiration & Enterprise) Symposium in New York September 20 was billed as an event that would bring young women face to face with their role models in support of some of the world's poorest women. It was to be a "Sex and the City" brand of conference and it did indeed attract an extraordinary number of glamorous women. But in a world in which marketeers and public relations people often promise more than can ever be delivered, this event was so much greater than the hype.
Arianna Huffington, Donna Karan and the chair of The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood (WRA), Sarah Brown, hosted with special guest Queen Rania of Jordan. And so this extraordinary gathering of some of the world's most successful, dynamic and brilliant women unfolded. The goal: to raise money for the WRA and uplift the lives of the world's most inspiring women, those whose endurance, fortitude and resilience can uplift us all. This was a circle of love -- there, I said it. At the risk of sounding too sentimental, love is what I saw and felt above, between and beneath the lines.
It began with the organizers, TV presenter and campaigner June Sarpong and her partner Dee Poku and the hosts who, without a hint of competitiveness, complemented and completed each other in this pursuit of a better future -- each bringing something to the party that the other admired. As the inevitable accolades and praise began, one was utterly convinced that the feelings were mutual. The only slight ripple in the flow came when Brown declared a ban on the praise being poured in her direction. It is obvious that she is genuinely modest but this was fueled by her sense of urgency to get on with the serious business of changing the world.
Women at the beginning and middle of their careers paid $200 to $500 a pop to hear those that had arrived at the top speak on technology and social networking, wellness and business development, film and presentation. There were inspirational talks from philanthropist Melinda Gates, and author and teacher Marianne Williamson. Surprise giveaways came from Bobbie Brown, Jimmy Choo and Estee Lauder. A fashion show led by Karan was followed by a performance by Estelle as the sun set on the midtown rooftop at the end of a perfect Manhattan day.
But it was the panel on the problem, the talk of change, that got the most attention. How do we meet the Millennium Development Goals? And when Baroness Amos led the 12-year-old Nthabiseng Tshabalala on to the stage and the little girl was asked what she would say to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at their meeting the following day, she replied, "I'll tell him we need education. There are 69 million children that do not have education but you are here because of education; we are all here because of education."
So as we shared information, business cards and the dreams of a girl from Soweto who gave us so much hope, the WIE symposium became an instant annual event. They'll need to find a bigger space with better elevators because we'll all be back next year with more designer clad, high-heeled, thoughtful, driven, socially conscious women -- because we didn't ever really want it all; we just wanted it all to be better.
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