Women Leading Solutions to Global Problems: A View from CGI 2013 Annual Meeting

At the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting this week, Khalida Brohi spoke on a plenary panel literally filled with rock stars including President Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Mo Ibrahim, Sheryl Sandberg and Bono, but Khalida shone brightest of all. Bono, at one point, interrupted her with a gasp and said “Khalida, you are awesome.” He is right. Khalida spoke about her work fighting to end honor killings in Pakistan, and of the many times she cried growing up as she witnessed tragedies unfolding around her. She spoke of her father, who dried her tears and said, “My dear, do not cry. Strategize.”

We should all take the advice of Khalida’s father. Clearly, many CGI members are doing just that. That sentiment is at the heart of the Clinton Global Initiative, and its call to Mobilize for Action. Over 150 commitments, valued at approximately $10 billion once implemented, were announced last week.  It’s energizing and awe-inspiring to be surrounded by such visionary and action-oriented people.

Over the past few years, CGI has exerted its considerable influence by providing its members more than a gentle nudge to consider the role of women and girls when designing commitments. This laser focus brought results. This year, 65% of new commitments have a focus on women and girls. I was thrilled to join conversations on topics ranging from water, technology, architecture and economics, and to find that inclusion of women was a key part of any solution. At least at CGI, this has become the norm rather than the exception.

It was particularly meaningful to have Secretary Clinton’s endorsement of our new commitment – WeTech (Women Enhancing Technology) – given that she has led this sea change over the past decade, repeatedly and convincingly making the business case for women’s inclusion in the economy as a critical factor in driving innovation and growth.

WeTech, led by my organization, Institute of International Education, was designed in conjunction with fantastic Lead Partners Google, Qualcomm Wireless Reach™, and Partners Citrix, Goldman Sachs, and Goldman Sachs Gives at the recommendation of Jane and Michael Chwick, Intel, Juniper Networks, and McKinsey & Company. Our work is inspired by WeTech partners’ collective recognition that women are the solution to the global skills gap in the tech industry. With roughly 700k computer-related jobs projected to go unfilled at our current rate of graduating computer science students, now is the time for women to get those skills, fill those jobs, and succeed in one of the fastest growing sectors around the globe.

WeTech will launch innovative summer camps and afterschool programs for girls in the U.S. and India, with partners such as Technovation Challenge, NetHope and Anudip, to engage and excite girls and their families to the possibility and power of a career in tech. WeTech will link young women in India with engineering scholarships, internships and expand and strengthen peer networks. Through a mentoring platform, WeTech will connect young Indian women with local and global mentors to support them as they plan their transition from undergrad to the workforce, ensuring there is no leak in that part of the pipeline. I am excited to share more about WeTech this week during a session on mentoring at the Grace Hopper Celebration in Minneapolis.

Working with another WeTech partner, International Museum of Women (IMOW), we will capture and promote role models through digital storytelling, bringing to light more stories of successful women in tech so that women see the strength and vibrancy of their network even as we strive to grow it further.

In Africa, the WeTech Seed Fund for Women + Girls in Computer Science will support local champions working to educate and train communities on the opportunities in tech. Inspired by friend and advisor Ann Mei Chang, WeTech will support women and men working to impact their communities, one girl at a time. The Seed Fund will bring local champions to the forefront and give a boost to the already amazing work underway.

I participated in a panel discussion “Women in Technology: Filling the Next 1.5 Million Jobs”, during which we had a lively discussion about the many innovative programs in this space, and heard a passionate and collective plea to keep to the conversation going, so that together we can find a way to collaborate and scale.

Please join WeTech with your ideas, resources and passion. Let’s strategize our way to greater impact. Contact us at WeTech@iie.org