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Lady Liberty, 'Gals' and Democracy

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Madeleine Albright is famous for many things, not the least of which is her tenure as the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. Albright's passion for supporting democracy and citizen participation around the world is legendary. And, in her role as Chair of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), she is now pursuing a very public campaign to empower women worldwide to succeed in political leadership.

Her eponymous Women's Project, launched last week in Washington, is designed to support women globally with the tools, networks and training to participate in the political process, compete as political candidates at all levels of government, and once elected, to lead effectively. The program also featured a panel discussion on Technology, Women and Democracy, moderated by Tina Brown, and featuring an impressive set of women working in that intersection in the U.S. and abroad, including Ping Fu, Shelly Esque, Stephanie Cutter and Laura Ines Lopez Padilla.

Watching this cast of powerful women brought to mind another leader who has bridged the worlds of policy and technology, Sheryl Sandberg. As a female graduate of Harvard Business School working in Silicon Valley, as well as a mother of two, I've recently been obsessed with the Lean In phenomenon ignited by her book. Obsessed, because I loved, loved, loved the book and enthusiastically recommend it to everyone I speak with, male or female. When I do, the first response from many men (and some women) is a slightly confused "Oh, isn't it supposed to be a bit... you know... controversial?"

In contrast, the idea of gender equity was refreshingly non-controversial in this room of 300+. What I most loved about the NDI event was the absolute presumption, without a moment of hesitation or apology, that women, who comprise more than 50% of the world's population, should be empowered politically to represent themselves, their families and their communities, and that by doing so, better outcomes result for everyone, male and female.

At Omidyar Network, we care deeply about enhancing the relationship between citizens and government in democratic societies. We've invested over $70M to date in over 40 organizations using technology tools and platforms to enable citizen participation in the governing process, from elections to policy making to service delivery. Notably, the leaders of several of these organizations are women, including Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America, Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, Danielle Brian of POGO, Juliana Rotich of Ushahidi, Svitlana Zalishchuk of New Citizen UA -- all of them great role models as leaders in the movement for government accountability and citizen participation.

Another movement maker, film director Abby Disney, delivered a terrific keynote speech encouraging women to support each other in their accomplishments and admonishing the media for giving more attention to the wardrobes of women leaders than their accomplishments. I couldn't agree more, but allow me to blatantly violate that rule momentarily. Sec. Albright is also famous for her jewelry collection -- specifically for her brooches, which she often wore to communicate unspoken messages to international political leaders, as her book Read My Pin recounts. For today's events she wore a Lady Liberty pin, with an array of boldly assertive spikes for a crown. Tina Brown quoted Albright as saying Lady Liberty is "the greatest gal of all." What better symbol for the promise of women to transform democracy?

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.