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Power Shift 2016: The Program Revealed

This brilliant hall is, believe it or not, the main hall of America's national library. This is where the Power Shift dinner will be on May 5. (Note to newbies: bring your party attitude, don't skip the dinner.)

This brilliant hall is, believe it or not, the main hall of America’s national library. This is where we plan to have the Power Shift dinner on May 4. (Note to newbies: bring your party shoes and don’t skip the dinner.)

We are putting the final touches on the agenda for the 2016 Power Shift Forum for Women in the World Economy, which will be held May 4 and 5 at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington, DC. We have worked in close partnership with Melanne Verveer and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, as well as Cathy Tinsley and the Georgetown Women’s Leadership Institute, in putting together an unparalleled program. Much still to do, but we are near enough to being finished that I can now share the highlights. [Note:  details of the sessions are now available here.]

This year’s Power Shift Forum will build to an important action step. The last session will be a “town hall” meeting to give input into the new United Nations High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. The meeting will be led by Laura D’Andrea Tyson, who is currently a professor at Berkeley and was chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors under the Clinton Administration. Laura herself will be writing the final report for the High Level Panel. So this will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to speak the truth to power about the economic circumstances of the world’s women.

Our 2016 theme is Women and Leadership. We will not focus, however, on giving advice and inspiration to those climbing the ladder to the C-Suite (though we are all for women breaking through the glass ceiling). Instead, we will focus on the core mission for Power Shifters: leading on behalf of women toward a world with greater economic inclusion. The panels, speeches, and exercises have all been selected with that audience and remit in mind—and thus will move naturally toward the last session as the 2016 “action step.”

Our first foray across The Pond challenged us to replicate the magical aura that Oxford and all its traditions brought to our community. I think we have managed to plan an experience that will do just that, as well as to produce an agenda that will be as engaging and provocative as the past three years at the University of Oxford have been.

We will kick off with an opening reception at the British Ambassador’s Residence on the evening of May 3. The British Ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, will be there to welcome us. We thought it fitting to start off on the United Kingdom’s bit of soil in the District of Columbia—all chandeliers and portraits of the Queen! Indeed, we have tried to reflect throughout a blend of US and UK influences.

Power Shift proper will begin promptly at 9 AM on May 4. For years, I have wanted to open the program with a data-rich presentation of the world’s new knowledge about the impact of women’s economic engagement on human welfare. This year, I am getting my wish: Caren Grown, Senior Director of the Gender Group at the World Bank, will give the opening address.

After the opening, we will have the “rapid fire” sessions as we normally do, with provocative contributions from Louise Guido, founder of ChangeCorp, talking about her SmartWoman platform; Professor Catherine Tinsley giving us the real story on subconscious bias; and Professor Michael McDermott outlining the different ways that “leadership” can be defined.

Normally, we write a case study especially for Power Shift, one that poses a problem relevant to the year’s theme. Then, we have professors teach the case, in classroom setting. In the past, we have had cases on the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, the intrigue of “Finance After Hours” in China, and the collaboration between the Maasai Women Development Organization, Global Goods Partners, and Walmart to try and forge a new market connection between Maasai women and American consumers.

Power Shift 2016 fell rather too close to the November 2015 meeting in the UK to be able to develop a case study. So, rather than teaching a case for the Power Shift group to discuss, we decided to invite the award-winning Emerging Leaders to bring us through the exercises they use to develop leaders in African communities. I am told by people who have been through this experience that it changes your view of yourself as a leader, shifts your own self-awareness—and is also a lot fun. Two trained facilitators, Purity Njue and Lydie Hakizimana, will be flying in from Kenya and Rwanda, respectively, to take us through it.

Gaston Hall, where we will hear a rock star team debate the pros and cons of quotas for corporate boards. Think people who want quotas are crazy? Wrong! Think those who don't want them are sellouts? Wrong again! This is an important topic with compelling arguments and evidence on both sides. Come hear them out. Then vote with your feet as you walk out the door.

Gaston Hall, where we will hear a rock star team debate the pros and cons of quotas for corporate boards. Think people who want quotas are crazy? Wrong! Think those who don’t want them are sellouts? Wrong again! This is an important topic with compelling arguments and evidence on both sides. Come hear them out. Then vote with your feet as you walk out the door.

Finding a substitute for the Oxford Union debate was a key item in our quest to replicate the best moments from past gatherings. I am pleased to announce that we will be holding the debate in historic Gaston Hall, a gorgeous venue, as well as a significant one, historically. The question for debate will be: This house believes nations should adopt quotas for women on corporate boards. I have learned that most Americans are unaware that much of Europe has gone to quotas, after their adoption in Norway had such an impact. So, actually, this question is not as banal or foregone as some may believe—there are stirring arguments to be made on both sides. And a stirring experience we shall have! This is going to be a rock star debate team, led on one side by Baroness Mary Goudie (who is, among many other distinctions, a global leader of the 30% Club) and on the other by Joanna Maycock, Secretary-General of the European Women’s Lobby.

The US Library of Congress is the oldest federal institution in the country. It does not fit the image of a dusty warren for books, but instead is built around a stunningly beautiful main hall, in which we plan to have our “gala” dinner. The meal will be followed by a talk from Katty Kay, the lead anchor for BBC World News America.

Amina Wadud, a progressive Islamic scholar and advocate for women, is an African-American. Her courage in creating new traditions of worship has made her a heroine to many. We are honoured that she will be a keynote at Power Shift.

Amina Wadud, a progressive Islamic scholar and advocate for women, is an African-American. Her courage in creating new traditions of worship has made her a heroine to many. We are honoured that she will be a keynote at Power Shift.

I am proud to report that the second day will open with an address from Amina Wadud. Born to a Christian family involved in the Civil Rights movement, this African-American woman converted to Islam in the early 1970s and went on to become a prominent Quranic scholar, advocating a progressive reading, especially from a gender perspective. Professor Wadud has endured criticism and controversy for breaking tradition by leading Friday prayers, as a woman, and, especially, for leading services attended by both men and women. She is brave, brave, brave—even criticizing Sharia for being “thoroughly patriarchal.” I think her courage is a blazing counter to the kinds of stereotypes many Westerners have of Muslim women. I also felt that the unique space she occupies as a thought leader at the nexus of traditional practices and the lives of 21st century women would appeal immensely to the Power Shift community. Amina’s talk will be followed by a panel of experts on gender and scripture representing Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam.

Other keynotes will include an address by Paulette Brown, president of the American Bar Association, on “Leading Through the Law.” There will be a very cool panel with Ann Cairns, president of International Markets for MasterCard, and Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, on “The Evolution of Inclusion,” as well as Kathleen McLaughlin, president of the Walmart Foundation.  They will be discussing the special challenges of integrating diversity objectives into organizational structures that span cultures with very different attitudes about women and, indeed, about diversity in general. They will also talk about recent innovative initiatives, which I think will be of much interest.  I have a“mystery guest”in the wings to join this panel, as well as a celebrity journalist to lead the interview, but I am holding back for final confirmations, so stay tuned. (I told you we were in “final touches” mode.)

Pamela Hamamoto has spear-headed a new initiative with historic ramifications: Geneva Gender Champions. This effort began with commitments from nearly 100 United Nations agencies and affiliated organizations pledging specific steps to foster gender equality. The Geneva Gender Champions, as well as the High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, are two really important developments taking place at the supranational level this year. So is the founding of the W20, an “engagement group” to foster gender equality among the G20 (the top 20 economies in the world). We thought Power Shifters would like to know more about what is going on behind the scenes to make these innovations work, so one of our panels will include leaders of those initiatives who will explain the how, the what, the who, and the why. (Remember Power Shift panels are conducted under the Chatham House rule!)

The Peace Corps, the Girl Scouts, and the Brookings Institution will be there to introduce a new program that has “hope for the future” written all over it. They are putting together a global program to teach girls to be leaders. Girl Scouts in the US will raise money and the Peace Corps will deliver the programs. I have lots of questions about this: Are they getting the money from cookie sales? Are they engaging in-country Girl Scouts and Girl Guides to help? We’ll all get a chance to ask our questions and to learn how we can engage, too.

Other panels will consider

  1. the role of women in national security

  2. the challenges for women in sports

  3. the part money plays in getting women elected to office

  4. new innovations in capital access for women

  5. how to get women considered in policy decisions—beyond the “women’s issues.”

The people on these panels are each and every one a leader in their own right. And they are all folks the Power Shift audience will be keen to meet.  More details in the days to come. (I am still holding back some blockbuster stuff for the fine-tuning. Keep watching this space.)

Just before the “town hall meeting,” we will meet together to hear the report from the action step at 2015 Power Shift. This is a study we did with Interbrand of the community’s ideas about having an awareness campaign produced in support of women’s economic empowerment.   And, actually, there is a survey online right now (shuts off in about five days for data analysis and writeup) collecting further input on this topic.  If you have been to Power Shift before or are a DoubleXEconomy reader (which, if you have read this far, you already are one), you can participate by clicking through here.  It’s twelve questions, takes five minutes.

And then, after all this stuff to learn and talk about, we will gather in a town hall setting to tell the UN High Level Panel what we think.  (They should hold on to their socks.)

After all is said and done, it is the impetus to action—the information shared, the partnerships formed, the ideas born—that propels the Power Shift community and its work toward the final goal: equality and inclusion for women everywhere. We look forward to seeing many familiar faces, as we know some are flying across the water (and Power Shift has always had a strong American contingent), as well as to meeting new people who can join with this work.

Power Shift is an invitation-only gathering meant to bring together people with a demonstrated commitment to women’s empowerment. If you are interested in attending, please indicate by clicking through here. If you are already a Power Shift convert, please share the hashtag #powershiftforum with your networks.

We are grateful for the generosity of the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, which partners with us to make Power Shift possible.

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