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Messages from Davos: Girls Are Not One-Dimensional

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I've had some interesting conversations in Davos that underscore how the world's current failures are linked to our tendency to look at things one-dimensionally.

The other night I went to a dinner called "36 Hours in September: What Went Wrong?" The panelists were all men who had held positions of power before the crisis and continue to hold these positions today. I heard plenty of opinions, along with a good deal of finger pointing, but the thing I couldn't help noticing was the complete gender imbalance in the discussion.

I wondered how the global economy might look today had there been a balance of male and female leadership in positions of authority, as well as positions of execution. In my work, I've seen time and again how too much of one way of thinking can suppress innovation. It also creates systems that are designed to fail.

Yesterday I met with Congresswoman Nita Lowey from New York, after her participation on the panel "The Future of Development Assistance." Nita's a champion for girls' education in developing countries. She chairs the Subcommittee that actually allocates federal funds to the agencies responsible for addressing the issue abroad.

Of all the issues girls face, education is usually the one people think of first. There are reams of research that show the benefits it brings to families and communities, so it's a natural priority for people. The trick is to realize that it's not a one-dimensional solution.

Providing scholarships or building more schools doesn't matter at all if a girl's family believes she has more value as a child-bride. School doesn't matter if she's exposed to violence or HIV or has no food to eat.

Nita gets this. She told me the story of a girl from a Maasai tribe in Tanzania. The chief lived in a hut at the center of the village and all of the girls lived around him. The chief spread HIV from one girl to the next. The girl Nita spoke of had escaped her village three times and every time her parents brought her back. The fourth time, she was able to seek refuge with her aunt in Dar es Salaam. When the girl's aunt did bring her back to the village, she convinced her parents that she should go to school. Today this girl has returned to her community as an educated woman, sharing with others what she has learned.

Gary Haugen, who heads up the International Justice Mission, caught the room's attention citing a World Bank study that found that as far as poor girls are concerned, the police are actually a source of insecurity rather than security. Instead of the authorities protecting them from violence, the authorities were the source of the violence. He continued, "Nothing really matters if you're not safe. Even if you have access to a medical clinic or a school, if you're not safe, especially from sexual violence, then your whole world has shrunk."

It seemed as if the same theme was echoed throughout the day: We live in a world where we can't expect one-dimensional solutions to work.

Girls aren't one dimensional, so why on Earth should we be?

In other Davos news... Tonight Jennifer Buffett--the President of the NoVo Foundation and an amazing collaborator in our girl-focused work-- and I will be attending a dinner for the women at Davos. It's hosted by Wendi Murdoch (wife of Rupert Murdoch) and Indra Nooyi (CEO PepsiCo), and is focused on the Millennium Development Goals. It's safe to assume Jennifer and I will have plenty to report back.

I've been to this dinner in previous years and I've found it to be inspiring, dynamic and chock-full of new ideas, so I'm especially excited about it. Ok, you might think if it's only for women, "Isn't that one-dimensional?" Rest assured, men are involved. Last year Bono served the dinner (complete with chef's jacket), while Google's Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, along with Wendi's husband Rupert, served the drinks.

My favorite part about this year's dinner is the title. It's called "The Important Dinner for Women." I guess that sums it up.