When the 50-plus women's advocates meet this weekend at the glittering, art-graced Villa La Pietra, it will not be to discuss the painting and architecture of Florence, but rather the art of diplomacy and the building of a case that women should become a focus of the meeting of the G-20 in November.
This landmark meeting is definitely in the spirit of the 1995 Beijing Women's Conference, with one big difference -- these women's advocates are not necessarily women from women's organizations. And therein lies perhaps the secret of their potential success.
Welcome to the La Pietra Coalition, a global initiative to advance women and their economic opportunities. Gathered around the massive conference table here, at New York University's Italian campus, the coalition members -- mostly women but also men who recognize the importance of international women's issues -- represent the private sector, governments, multinational organizations and NGOs.
The Paul E. Singer Foundation gets the credit for underwriting the meeting for the third time, continuing a commitment begun in October 2009 when Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices Global Partnership, and Ellyn Toscano of NYU brought together these activists, organizations operating on a worldwide basis -- like the World Bank and Women for Women International -- as well as individual activists whose reach is to the border of their own countries, like Cameroon, Afghanistan, Yemen and Egypt.
Now this diverse group has come up with a common goal -- one whose need is reflected on both the micro and the macro economic level: Invest in women's rights and opportunities and see increased prosperity, provide women the opportunity to achieve their full economic potential in business or civil society and benefit the society as a whole.
Sandra Taylor, who directs the Coalition, stressed that the meeting must result in an action plan for the next 12 months, one that would focus on the G-20 and other forums, and that would have "an achievable agenda."
But she also was aware that such a group, and such a collaborative effort, was "on uncharted ground... a unique mix of people, organizations and interests."
"Unique" is perhaps putting it mildly. It's not that this group started out as an entity poised to address the international economic equality of women. But when it established its goals, setting 2020 as a deadline -- "equality in law; equality in business; equality in learning; equality in jobs" -- the Coalition recognized that these separate aspirations all lead to one concept: access to finance or "financial inclusion."
In seven month since the Coalition last met, its strategy has been guided by several Sherpas -- that's foreign policy speak for expert policy and procedure "guides" -- from both governments and multinational organizations who are familiar with the workings of the G-20.
It might seem a little pie-in-the-sky, this concept that concerned organizations, private and public, can move international financial institutions -- until one starts to think about the past 50 years, how boycotts on South African products helped end apartheid or the vast popular movement that lead to the establishment of the Millennium Goals. Certainly the organizations represented at this conference table themselves either represent or touch the lives of millions and millions of women worldwide.
Looking at the list of participants -- including Coalition co-chair Beth Brooke of Ernst and Young; Sarah Brown, whose White Ribbon Alliance has lead the way in attacking the massive problem of maternal death; Tim Hanstad, a leader in securing land rights for women; Penny Abeywardena, of the Clinton Global Initiative; Laura Alonso, MP Argentina; Kah Walla, presidential candidate, Cameroon; Leo Abruzzese of the Economist Intelligence Unit -- and the goals seem reachable.
Marylouise Oates, a former journalist for the Los Angeles Times and United Press International, teaches about international women's issues and organizations at NYU's Robert F. Wagner School of Public Administration