What I Would Tell The Next President

president picOriginally published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 23rd, 2016

On January 29th, 2009, a mere nine days after being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. It was his first piece of legislation as President, and it set the stage for a presidency that has been visibly committed to equal rights for men and women. Since that historic day over seven years ago, Obama has reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, signed into law the Affordable Care Act, created the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and the White House Council on Women and Girls, issued an executive order that mandated federal contractors to publish pay data according to gender and race in order to combat the wage gap, and this May, the White House will host The United State of Women, a three day summit in Washington DC that will tackle gender inequality across a range of issues, including education, health, leadership, and economic empowerment. Throughout his presidency, Obama has never been shy in declaring his commitment to gender equality, often referencing his two young daughters as his inspiration, but with his presidency soon coming to an end, it’s time to look to the future. Come November 8th, the United States will have a new President, and regardless of who that President is, I have one question I want to ask them: What are YOU going to do to improve gender equality in this country?

Yes, this is another post about gender equality, and believe me, I wish it wasn’t. I wish I could ask the future President a different question. I would love to sit down and talk to the future President about foreign policy or how to grow the economy. That being said, gender analysis is an important consideration for both of these issues, as it is for pretty much every issue, and it is my belief that if the United States was a country that took the lead on women’s equality, we would take the lead on a lot of other issues as well. Sadly, we are far from being the leader in this arena.

In the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report, an annual paper published by the World Economic Forum that tracks 145 economies according to how well they are utilizing their female citizens, the United States ranked 28th in the world, directly below Mozambique. Additionally, with issues such as campus sexual assault, rape culture,  gender pay gaps, sexual harassment, lack of quality childcare, inequitable access to capital, lack of women in leadership positions and TRAP laws dominating the headlines, it is clear that this country has a long way to go if we want to improve that ranking.

But just for a moment, imagine what would happen if we had a President who was dedicated to bringing greater gender balance and gender intelligence to their leadership and political agenda. Imagine what we could achieve as a country if every citizen, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation, had a more equal opportunity to thrive and contribute. Imagine if the decision makers in all walks of life had diverse and varied life experiences to draw upon when making these important decisions. It’s an amazing vision for the future, and it’s what keeps me going in my work when all I want to do is bang my head against a wall. I recently attended the Skoll World Forum, a gathering of over a thousand of the world’s leaders and doers in the field of social entrepreneurship, and the issue of the lack of moral, authentic, and compassionate leaders came up more than once. Where are the world leaders that we truly respect, who are doing the “right” things, and who inspire us to be all we can be and do all we can do to make the world a more just and equitable place? Seriously, try to name some!

Thankfully, there are a few who while perhaps far from perfect, at least give us some hope. Last October, I was proud to watch as my fellow Canadians elected Justin Trudeau as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada. Almost immediately, Mr. Trudeau made it clear that gender equality was going to be a core component of his platform when he unveiled the 29th Canadian Ministry; the first gender balanced ministry in Canadian history. When a reporter asked he why he felt gender equality was important, he simply replied, “Because it’s 2015.” Frankly, that’s all he really should have to say on the matter.

But it isn’t just Mr. Trudeau and Canada where gender equality is being addressed by world leaders. From Finland and Sweden, to Indonesia and Rwanda, world leaders across the globe are realizing that the key to economic development and social prosperity is gender parity, and it’s not just because it’s the morally right path. Research across all sectors have shown that when women and girls are empowered, everyone, every man, woman, and child, reaps the benefits. Together with Women Moving Millions, I recently put together a list of the top 200 reports that supports this argument, but the effort continues. I am currently curating a list of the top 300 reports that should prove once and for all that supporting and empowering women and girls is indeed a powerful strategy if you want peace and prosperity. If you cannot wait for me to share the final list, you can download the current version that at present includes 269 reports here. If you do take that step and you find that I am missing your favorite report, add the link in the comment section and I will include it.

With so much research, evidence, and common sense behind the idea that making women’s rights and inclusion a priority is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do, why has no country ever achieved it? Well, the reality is that this sort of change is not going to happen overnight. As Elizabeth Banks put it so astutely at our Women at Sundance gathering earlier this year, “We are up against something, which is the entirety of human history”, but that doesn’t mean we stop pushing forward. If you were to be elected as the President of the most powerful country in the world, isn’t that be something you would want to be remembered for? Changing the course of human history for the better? My guess is that the answer would be yes.

Top Take-Aways From The Skoll World Forum 2016

IMG_9764I love going to conferences. Yes, I am one of those people who show up full of anticipation that I will learn something new, meet someone who will become my new best friend, deepen relationships with people I already know, experience something different, and leave fully fueled so that I can continue in my diverse efforts to help make the world a better place. As we all know, some conferences are better than others, but as I depart from my inaugural trip to the SKOLL World Forum in Oxford, England, I checked off all of the above!

In case you have not heard about it, what exactly is this special event? It is a by-invitation gathering that happens only once a year, and it is hosted by the team at the Skoll Foundation. They bring together nearly 1,000 top innovators from more than 60 countries for debate, discussion, and networking, and the conference is designed to accelerate entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. What’s not to like about that? The theme for this year was fierce compassion as a driver of social progress. It just so happens that both of those words; fierce and compassion, happen to be on my top ten list of words that inspire me, so my expectations for this conference were very high.

To do a full debrief on every session I attended, every speaker I heard, and every new and awesome person I met would fill up a book, and indeed it did, so allow me to share the highlights in an unusual form. Included below are some of my favorite people, powerful words, calls to action, and more, all in chronological order. I hope you like it.

Utah to Oxford. 4810 Miles. Arrive in pouring rain. Surprised? England. Check-in. HI. Hey. HI. Hey. HI. Me? First time. You? My second. My fifth. My tenth. Me too. Walking tour? Sure! 38 colleges, some dating back to the 13th century? Cool. Understatement. Pub night at the Head of the River. Another please. Shining Hope for Communities. Find Me Unafraid. Love Story Jessica + Kennedy. New besties? Check. Sleep? Not really.

Excitement! First session. Higher Ground: Faith and Spirituality as Levers for Change. We cannot retreat to our silos. Dialogue. Fav? Molly MelchingTOSTAN. Include religious leaders in the process to discuss and change negative social norms. Human rights education. Lunch. Global Innovation Fund. New. Grounded in evidence with rigorous measurement. Follow-up. Introductions. Research. First Plenary. Stephan Chambers. For the next few days, you do not have to explain why you do what you do. What we combat does not get tired. Jeff Skoll. Climate Crisis. YES IT’S REAL. Mary Robinson. Paris Agreement. Get FIERCER. The Fierce Urgency of Now. Selina Leem. Marshall Islands. One of the most vulnerable places on earth to climate change. Annie Griffiths. Ripple Effect. If we want women to be valued we must show their value. Indoor pollution #1 killer of women in the developing world and children under the age of five. 4.3 million deaths per year. Hut Lung. Say what? Al Gore. #sofunny. #whoknew. Three questions. 1) Do we really have to change? 2) Can we Change? 3) Will we change? BAD News. Really Bad. Hope. Global wind and solar capacity. This is a moral choice. Pick a side. Let us not forget that the power of people is much stronger than that of people in power. Malek Jandali. Syrian American Composer and Pianist. Breathtaking. Next. The Neuroscience of Fierce Compassion. Can we grow empathy? Is empathy a choice? Academic debate. Way too many ideas and questions. Brain exploding. Finding your story and making it count: A Session with Sundance. Tabitha Jackson. #girlcrush. What makes a good story? Truth. Transcendence. Transformation. I get to work with her. Na na na na na na. Think about how things should fit together. Then fit them together. The world is full of free things that are delightful. Delight. Funders reception. Dinner. Sleep? Not really.

#soexited. Leading Through Adversity. Pat Mitchell. #bestie. Alaa Murabit.Mary Robinson. Mphu Tutu. Halla Tomasdottir. Running for President of Iceland and an absolutely amazing woman. Wish she was running here! What is the source of the power? From where does one derive it? When you specifically wrong you learn a lot, when you are vaguely right you do not. As a leader are you giving space, or taking it? Next. The News We Need. @jesssearch. Brit Doc. #girlcrush. What is news? …what someone does not want to be printed…helps us to understand who we are and what we care about…reveals truth…@wajahatali @zoesqwilliams @doctoryasmin @anasglobal!!!!! @anasglobal in a mask, deep investigative journalist in Ghana. Name. Shame. Jail. Justice sold is the most dangerous commodity on earth. On corruption. Google Raceboy. Islamophobia. Pay for quality journalism! Funders lunch. Women and girls table. Most crowded! WOO HOO. Plenary. Sally Osberg President and CEO Skoll Foundation. #girlcrush Do we have an innate desire and capacity for justice? Skoll Awardees. $1.25 mm each. GO HERE to view them all. AMAZING. Separate blog. Reception at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Technology. Stories of Change Dinner. The Slug and the Lettuce. Beer and networking. Networking and beer. Sleep? Ya right.

Last day. Private meeting. Molly Melching. TOSTAN. #impact #beautifulperson. Panel. Challenging Global Wealth and Inquality. Fav? Darren Walker, President Ford Foundation. #guycrush. New face? Nick Hanauer. Middle-up economics versus trickle down economics. What are the drivers of inequality? Persistent prejudice and negative cultural narratives… corruption…rigged rules…aspirational deficits…immoral capitalism…We need more rich white guys talking about inquality. Is revolution inevitable? Closing Plenary. Alexander Betts. Director. Refugee Center. Oxford. Research on Myths around Refugees. Need a paradigm shift. Man does not live on food and water alone. But on hope. Know the facts. Change the narrative. Create a just scheme to distribute refugees. #respect. #humanrights. Tabitha Jackson. Again! #awesome. Sonita. Sundance premiered documentary film. Yes I was there. Her story. Afghanistan. Iran. Girl rapper. WATCH THIS NOW. Seriously. WATCH. Activist. Must see. When you don’t have papers you don’t exist. I was not mad at my mom. I was mad at society. On social norms around child marriage. Official close. Stephan Chambers. The will to act is itself a renewable resource. Be clear that what you do is important. Last Thing. Henry James. Only three things are important in life. The First is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third? To be kind.

After the conference was officially over, I hung around for six more hours chatting with the other “slow to departers”. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Heather Mason, Founder and CEO of the Caspian Agency, who was responsible for executing this multi-day event. To say she is a conference planning rockstar would indeed be an understatement.

As I type now I am sitting at the Heathrow airport about to board my flight back home. Will I be back next year? Darn right I will! Congrats to the SKOLL team for a job incredibly well done, and for ALL the work they do in support of social entrepreneurs everywhere. Truly incredible! And if you are looking for incredible organizations to support, spend some time on the SKOLL website to read about their many awardees. I think you will be hard-pressed to find a better list of amazing non-profits that are worthy of our support.

Take a cruise through the TWEETS to get other amazing take-aways from SKOLL Forum 2016 using hashtag #skollwf . Follow @skollfoundation on Twitter for year-round conversations and news.

PS – definition of girl crush: feelings of admiration and adoration that a girl (woman) has for another girl (woman).  A nonsexual attraction, usually based on veneration at some level.

Photo with Pat Mitchell and Halla Tomasdottir, who is currently running for the President of Iceland.