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Vital Voices of Eurasia: A Leadership Summit for Women and Girls

I arrived to Kyiv on Friday afternoon, took a shower and headed straight to the staff office. My old friends and colleagues put me straight to work! After a full two days of touring conference spaces, making photocopies and assembling conference materials and staff schedules, we were ready for registration of Summit participants and speakers.

Participants arrived on Sunday afternoon. The group is comprised of 150- 200 people (counting press, speakers, full participants) from 25 countries. Present are women leaders in business, politics, civil society and media. Also with us is a delegation of 10 girls (or young women as I like to say since they fall in the ages of 16-24, so that technically makes me a girl too!).

On the first evening, Vital Voices arranged a trip to St. Sophia and a reception at the St. Sophia complex. It was fantastic to see such a large group of women get together and begin connections and conversations regarding their hopes for the conference. Women make life friends here- and it is really great to see alumni reunite and mingle with new network members.

I left the Sunday evening reception early to get a head start on my goals for the following day. Sunday afternoon, I was happy to attend a rapprateur meeting organized by Vital Voices Vice President, Alyse Nelson Bloom, and Eurasian Program Officer, Tanya Wynarowsky. Together we discussed the objectives of our strategy session.

Basically what Vital Voices hopes to do with this summit is to gather a diverse group of women from different countries, heritages, generations and professional backgrounds to discuss issues that affect them collectively. VV subscribes to the belief that the issues of human rights, good governance and economic and political development are strongly connected- that the only way to increase women’s leadership, empower girls and combat issues such as HIV/AIDS and human trafficking is to take a holistic approach that involves all sectors. The Summit is set up as follows: daily themes that are addressed in plenary session(s)- Monday: Economic Empowerment, Tuesday: Human Rights, Wednesday: Political Participation. In the morning, participants attend a plenary session in which a keynote address and panel discussion is designed to present the big picture issue and challenges concerning the day’s theme as well as solutions and examples of best practices that have been implemented across sectors. Participants typically break for luncheon and then return for strategy sessions which break the plenary issues down to more specific areas of focus. The sessions include experts that help guide the working session to include a productive conversation regarding challenges, innovative solutions that have worked in each women’s experience and reflection on future collaborations or follow on projects that could help participants address their needs.

I confess, I have not been as diligent as I wanted to in my blogging. It is a very full schedule and my day starts at 7 and ends at 11! So much work goes into these conferences and I am truly amazed at how much the staff and volunteers are working to make this a wonderful experience for all.

I wanted to fill you in on some interesting issues that have been addressed in plenary sessions and my strategy sessions- more will certainly follow when I can get some more time.

1- Trust has turned up as a very big issue in this region. I was reporting on a “Education and Mentoring” session in which women and girls reported that seeking out mentorship in women was often more difficult because professional women who have achieved success do not often lend themselves to other women. Others reporting on public-private partnerships and coalition building sessions explained that due to the history of the region, civil society is often weary to work with governments because of trust. Many more examples will follow- but I thought I would quickly relay this.
2- Technology has been a huge topic of discussion- how we can use technology to solve issues and promote activism across sectors. Women have discussed the use of instant messager in the Orange revolution in Ukraine. A female in the corporate social responsibility department of Lexis Nexis spoke of providing electronic resources to lawyers and civil society members who were combating domestic violence. Media- and internet technology has been addressed as a bridge for cultural understanding
3- The need to monitor gender specific legislation in the country to ensure that women’s human rights are properly protected- police training and judicial training, etc.

My computer is going to die- I will be posting my notes from each strategy session once the notes are better polished!

IN the meantime- I wondered what you all thought about this conference model. Do you think that cross-sector partnerships are necessary for progress? I saw someone posted a question about nonprofits working with corporations so I wondered what you all thought.

I want to share some interesting discussions focused around the current situation in Belarus.

I also wanted to discuss some information shared by Julia Ormond regarding human trafficking.


Ramya Ramanathan's picture

Food for thought

Your interesting and energetic posting offers much food for thought. It's wonderful that you found this time in your super full conference schedule to journal. The key issues you outlined sound spot-on to me -- technology, trust/education and gender-specific legislation in going a long way in empowering women both in public and private sphers.

Some quick comments:
On the private-public partnerships, I tend to agree there is certain wariness on the part of civil society to work with governments and even with the private sector...however, we are also seeing a deep understanding emerge that no sector can go it alone. In terms of specific CSR policies, the realm is definitely going from being a purely philanthropic 'random acts of kindness' involvement to a more of a focus on sustainable operations and localized/community involvement.

It's great to hear that media and technology is emerging as one of the key ingredients in this dialogue focused on empowering women worldwide. PulseWire's basic premise to me is to not only create that much-needed connectivity, but also go one step further to enable collaborations. The shape of media as we know it is changing so drastically. And this new media age has the potential of making so many more connections -- because of the access to 'voice' and 'expression' it provides.

Look forward to more. Would love to hear J.Ormond's thoughts....when you have a chance....Enjoy Kiev...

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