Two weeks ago, I joined more than 225 changemakers, advocates, and philanthropists from over 15 countries at the 2013 Women's Funding Network conference. Many organizations host their own conferences, but in the midst of ours, I was struck by something deeper than the usual conference buzz.
I heard it when Abigail Burgesson of the African Women's Development Fund proclaimed: "Africa's destiny lies in women's leadership."
I felt it in the overwhelmed pause of Janet Sape as she accepted the Women & Philanthropy LEAD Award for her efforts to improve the lives of more than 10,000 women in Papua New Guinea.
And I saw it in the way women of all kinds connected with each other... focusing not just on the challenges they face in their local communities, but also on the shared vision that inspired their coming together at a global level to make change.
Indeed, this went deeper than a typical conference. This was the kind of spirit and potential that can only be described as a movement.
At Women's Funding Network, we see the potential of women-led change from a unique perspective. Our Network includes more than 150 women's funds and foundations around the world. Our purpose is to connect their efforts and amplify the voices of women changemakers locally and globally.
After nearly 30 years of being a dot-connector within the women's movement, we have learned a lot about the power of investing in women. Yet one truth rules them all: when you invest in women, you change everything.
I'm talking about something more than trickle-down social change. On the contrary, investing in women is one of the most disruptive and immediate ways we can transform our communities:
When you invest in women, the impact spreads quickly. As Lisa Hall of Calvert Foundation shared at our conference, women reinvest 90 percent of their income back into their families and communities. Consider what that means as we work to close the wage gap between men and women, ensure women are trained for the jobs of the future, and more. Essentially 90 percent of every gain we make is a gain that goes back to women's families and our communities!
When you invest in women, the impact spreads broadly. The ripple effects within a family and local community are powerful, but they are only the beginning. Research shows that if women in the United States were employed at the same rate as men, the GDP could grow by 9 percent. In the Eurozone, GDP could grow by 13 percent.
When you invest in women, the impact takes root for the long haul. Imagine a world where we have closed the wage gap, removed barriers that keep women out of the workforce, and supported women with training and resources to compete in today's market. It's a world where the gains of women are good for all -- no questions asked and no turning back.
At Women's Funding Network, we are trying to achieve that vision through the Partnership for Women's Prosperity. Along with five of our member organizations -- some that you might recognize from your own community -- we are investing in programs that will help more than 13,000 women in the United States increase their job skills, improve their financial knowledge, and ultimately become economically secure.
As I consider the great potential of women and the power of joining together as a movement, I return to that undercurrent of sisterhood and support that I felt during our recent conference. In particular, I am reminded of how KK Verdade, from Elas Fundo de Investimento Social in Brazil, captured the feeling in a way that bears repeating:
"We have to be bold... to be a woman, for me, is revolutionary."