Hundreds Gather at Goodhart to Discuss "Next Wave" of Women's Advancement

Posted December 6th, 2012 at 4:29 pm.

A diverse audience of students, academics, and individuals from the private and nonprofit sectors filled Goodhart Hall Tuesday for a one-day colloquium titled, “The Next Wave: Disruption, Transition, and a New Global Era For Women’s Advancement.”

Bryn Mawr President Jane McAuliffe opened the colloquium with an examination of the event’s title, which refers broadly to the social activism, development, research, and educational, political and economic reforms that must continue in order to advance women’s empowerment after the 2015 target date for the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

“The Millennium Goals were adopted in 2000 to focus attention and efforts on improving the quality of life of the world’s poorest people," said McAuliffe. "Significant progress has been realized. But that progress has been uneven—both across the spectrum of nations and within nations themselves. So what will come next? And how can we build upon what has been achieved and how can we extend those achievements even more broadly?"

McAuliffe went on to discuss how the “Disruption, Transition, and New Global Era” of the title reflects the rapidity, intensity, and scope with which change is now occurring; a phenomenon few could have anticipated when the goals were adopted in 2000. Social-media-fueled uprisings led as much by revolutionaries wielding cell-phones as by those with rifles couldn’t even have been imagined.

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“The world has changed enormously since the passage of the Millennium Development Goals, in particular in the last five years,” said McAuliffe. “The global economic turmoil has created a consensus that a realignment of economic power is underway from West to East. There’s been a tidal wave of uprisings and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. Political instability accompanied by threats to civilian populations in many parts of the world are part of daily life in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Israel, and Palestine.”

During her remarks, McAuliffe underscored the event’s global nature by pointing out that invitations to participate online via a streaming video had been sent out to colleagues around the world including Japan, India, Korea, and the Middle East.

“Whether you’re in Boston or in Dehli, it’s great to have you with us,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe ended her remarks by introducing keynote speaker Mary Ellen Iskenderian, president and CEO of Women’s World Banking, a microfinance network of 39 financial organizations from 27 countries with an explicit focus on women.

After opening her remarks with some background about Women’s World Banking and the expansion of the microfinance industry, Iskenderian returned to one of the themes of the symposium.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the disruptive role technology and particularly cell phone technology is having on financial services to the poor,” said Iskenderian. “The U.N. estimates that there are 2.8 billion people in the world today without access to financial services of any kind—1.7 billion of them have cell phones.”

Iskenderian went on to say that the low costs of mobile banking is making it possible for financial institutions to do business in even the poorest and most remote areas.

“Mobile banking is particularly attractive to women, who place a very high value on three attributes in country after country—confidentiality, security, and convenience. These things are important to men. But they are absolutely essential if a bank wants to win the business of a low income woman,” Iskenderian said.

Iskenderian ended her remarks with a a bit of a warning for those interested in development and women's advancement.

“The possibility of providing long-term, sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems is tantalizingly close. But women have not always been well served when a segment, product, or profession becomes more commercially oriented," said Iskenderian, who then gave an example of a development project in Nairobi that ended up economically displacing the women it was meant to serve.

"Even the most well-intended project will have unintended consequences. I firmly believe that the companies we will think of in the future as great companies are those that understand their responsibility to the wider world around them," said Iskenderian.

Iskenderian’s keynote was followed by presentations by Tess Mateo, managing director and founder of CXCatalysts; Shelby Knox, director of organizing and women’s rights at Change.org; and Jensine Larsen, founder of World Pulse.

The afternoon began with a panel focused on women’s leadership featuring Laura G. Bode, president of iLIVE2LEAD; Betsy Hoody, advisory committee member of FRIDA: The Young Feminist Fund; and Trish Tierney, director of women's leadership initiatives at the Institute of International Education, San Francisco. That panel was followed by a Q&A with McAuliffe and Michele Leaman of Ashoka U., and a panel of student activists.

Bryn Mawr students, conference speakers, and other attendees’ tweets and retweets, as well as the livestream, created a significant digital impact on Twitter. Attendees were encouraged to live tweet the event using the hashtag #nextwave.

For a visual representation of the Twitter impact of The Next Wave and to read quotes from the afternoon's speakers, view a Storify archive of the event.

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