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Stuti Jalan

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Reflecting on Women, Leadership, and Empowerment

Posted: 04/18/2012 9:49 am

When I got an email response from none other than Arianna Huffington to write a blog for The Huffington Post, I was very excited. I had met her at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in California in October 2011. I decided to reflect on my life for the last year and I would like to share my exciting journey.

I was chosen for Fortune's State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership Progra, which connects Fortune's Most Powerful Women, i.e., leading women business executives in the United States with emerging women leaders around the world. It selects around 26 women from all over the world and I was one of them.

After spending a month in the United States last year, where I had the opportunity to spend time with Molly Ashby from Solera Capital, Sherrie Rollins Westin from Sesame Street, Susan Davis, Pattie Sellers, Dina Powell, Alyse Nelson, etc., something changed within me.

I felt there was a larger world out there; it is important to keep the process of learning going.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

That is the feeling that seeped within me the first day I arrived in Washington, D.C. Our first discussion on women leadership at the U.S. State Department and the White House, represented by emerging women leaders from 17 different countries -- including China, Pakistan, India, Brazil, Africa Ghana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Nigeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Jamaica, Haiti and South Africa -- opened up a whole new dimension toward the concept of leadership and women empowerment. Here we were, 26 women with a distinctive cultural divide yet unified in our strengths and opportunities.

I truly believe that this program is the vision for the future and I believe the women in my country have the power to build that vision into reality.

The program was a great learning experience on so many levels. I realized that "women" were the new emerging market. Investing in and empowering women would be the smartest and most effective way to improve the world, as nearly 70 percent of poor people in the world are women. The Asia Pacific region alone would gain $42 to $45 billion if women had greater access to job opportunities.

Molly Ashby from Solera Capital and Pattie Sellers from Fortune invited me for Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit in LA in October 2011. I was all charged up to see some of the biggest faces of the business world there, including Warren Buffett, Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook, Susan Chambers from Walmart, Arianna Huffington, Indra Nooyi from Pepsico, Billie Jean King, Susan Lynn, Marissa Mayer from Google, and Tyra Banks. The list is endless.

At the sit-down dinner I saw Warren Buffett. The man we all want to meet once in a lifetime was, as luck was by my side, sitting at a table right next to me. Talking to him was one of the most memorable moments of my life. He was the only man present and yet every woman in the room wanted a photo with him. He showed me his wallet in jest and I was further amazed by his humility.

My thoughts: Interacting with such stalwarts of different industries was a remarkable learning experience for me. What makes their accomplishments even more significant is their ceaseless commitment to corporate philanthropy and social responsibility. I am grateful for the grace and humility shown to me by these extraordinary individuals who have set a high bar not only for themselves but for the rest of the world too as well.

On my return my thoughts moved to leadership. Leadership is about empowering others and power expands the moment you share it.

It made me realize while I was meeting all these great people that there were two Indias -- one which we lived in and the other we saw every day and yet we never saw it (the other being the poor India).

Attending a few summits on leadership, such as Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit, Asia Society's Asia 21 Young Leadership Summit, Hindustan Times' Leadership Summit and India Today Conclave in India has made me think and wonder the role we must all play.

While I was writing this I met Diane von Furstenberg in India and she spoke about female empowerment. She also talked about the women in World Summit held in New York earlier and how the summit brings together extraordinary women leaders and advocates from around the world to find solutions to the challenges facing women and girls. The recent article on DVF in India titled "I Sell Confidence" made me reflect on when I was growing up. I thought about myself and how strong my mother had been for us when we were growing up belonging to a traditional family where education for girls was never given importance, she stood against my grandmother's wishes to give us proper education. I think the answer has become much clearer for me today. For me it simply means: "Pay it forward."

The experiences and my journey for the last year have been a revelation for me and I hope I can do something to empower the women in my country. I would like to sum up my experience by quoting Gandhi: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

 
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