2011 Is the Year for Female Economic Empowerment

05/31/2011 09:22 am ET | Updated Jul 31, 2011

FLORENCE -- The message of women gathered here to women
throughout the world is that 2011 is the year for their economic
empowerment.

With dozens of corporations, NGOs, governments and
international financial organizations representing or serving literally
millions and millions of women through the world, there certainly is a
good shot at achieving the La Pietra Coalition's first goal, moving the G-
20 into putting women on the agenda.

But the initial session of this year's meeting was all about
strategy, targeting, marketing and an embrace of the Internet as the way
to both spread the message and mobilize women everywhere.

"The G20 should lead on girls' and women's economic
empowerment because that is the most effective way to increase global
prosperity," was how Catherine Geanuracos of Ten X Ten summed it up.
She was part of the Working Group on Education and Training, one of
the five action teams -- the others are Access to Finance, Labor Policy
and Practice, Legal and Social Status and Entrepreneurship -- divisions
that show the practiced and targeted approach to social change that
defines this coalition.

And how do all these areas fit under the umbrella of financial
inclusion? Education, for example? Why place everything under the
rubric of financial inclusion?

"Why?" answers Penny Abeywardena of the Clinton Global
Initiative. "Because will not have tomorrow's economically empowered
women without focusing on quality, sustained education for girls."

And that is what they plan to do -- rewrite the future of women
with a long-term goal of giving them equality on all those areas, via
financial inclusion, by the year 2020.

But first -- onto the G20 and the groups that will make it happen.

Convened in this city that once invented the future is a powerful
array of organizations, each with huge individual successes in the
business of social justice for women: among them Vital Voices Global
Partnership; Women for Women; Ernst & Young; The Clinton Global
Alliance; the World Bank; U.N. Women and the Paul Singer Foundation
(which for the third year underwrites the meeting). Two women
candidates for President -- from the Cameroon and Egypt -- are here,
as well as the head of the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa

and the Chief Editor of the Yemen Times.

Sarah Brown, who sparked the massive international movement
to realize the U.N. Millennium Goal of reducing maternal mortality and
who is the global patron of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe
Motherhood, was clear that the economic approach to equality
advanced all the diverse programmatic approaches represented here.,
she said. "The glaring inequities around the world for girls and women
are why the participants in the G20 summer need to put gender on the
agenda -- from access to affordable healthcare and education through to
protection from the extreme violence and lack of freedoms that girls are
women suffer."

Anyone who has even dabbled in local politics over the past
century knows the fragility and complexity of any coalition effort. But
this one seems robust and resilient. Over and over, participants agreed
that "this is the time for financial inclusion for women."

And they have some expert advice from within their ranks on
how to pull this off.

Beth Brooke, the Global Vice Chair of Public Police at Ernst &
Young with public policy responsibility for the firm's operations in 140
countries as well as global responsibility for the firm's Diversity and
Inclusiveness efforts, was clear about the reason for "collective impact."
Agreeing that everyone in the room was engaged in generating
individual "impact" on social justice problems, Brooke pointed to the
reality that a diverse perspective generates better outcome: "All of you
here are driving your agenda as far as you can and the people who fund
you are hopeful that you will have a bigger and bigger impact."

Ellyn Toscano, who directs the Italian campus of NYU, here at the
Villa La Pietra, said that this meeting, the third, was "the most difficult
and challenging moment of our work: take the goals from aspiration to
articulation to an operational work plan."

Zainab Salbi, the founder and CEO of Women for Women
International, a grassroots aiding women survivors of wars rebuild their
lives, summed up the challenge and the hope: "If this is a mountain we
are on the mountain. We are halfway up that mountain. We are not at
the top."