Sheryl WuDunn (Half the Sky) Keynoted at Simmons Leadership Conference

Uncategorized Posted May 3, 2010 by metropolis

Being sold at age 12 by your own mother into a brothel; experiencing child birth at 14 years of age having been left out in the cold for the hyenas; and having a goat in Africa pay for a college education in Connecticut – these were some of the visceral images highlighted by Sheryl WuDunn as she described female oppression as the largest moral challenge facing the 21st century in her opening speech at the Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston last week.

Award-winning author of Half The Sky, WuDunn provided insight into some of the problems associated with gender inequity around the globe today. Educators, business leaders and economists are rallying around the importance of bringing women into the workforce to enable sustainable growth. One of the examples WuDunn shared was Bill Gates’ answer to a question about whether he believes Saudi Arabia has the potential to be one of the top 10 nations in the world. Gates stared out at his audience, two-thirds of whom were men and one-third burkha-clad women separated by a physical barricade, and said, “No country in the world, Saudi Arabia included, can aim to be one of the top nations in the world if they consistently refuse to use half their resources–women.”

“Empowering women through education provides the highest return on investment in developing economies,” said WuDunn as she repeatedly talked about education being the single most effective enabler of economic growth.

“Women have the capacity to compound the return on investment made in education,” says WuDunn as she cited studies that have examined not just the investments made in education in the developing world, but also the spending patterns. These patterns indicate that the impact earned can be more than doubled when even one percent of the spending on non-education related expenses are funneled back into education.

While we all empathize with the plight of the unfortunate, WuDunn noted that few take action to truly provide help and support. WuDunn urged that we can all make a difference–not just monetarily but also by traveling to these regions, learning through some advancements already under way, and creating a movement by channeling groups of friends, co-workers and families in coming up with solutions to address these issues.

WuDunn’s call to action ended with a powerful statement, “With great fortune, comes great responsibility. For those of us fortunate enough to be here, it’s important to remember, we have won the lottery of life. It’s our duty now to give back a little of what we have won.”

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