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Women Bisnow
February 19, 2008

Washington's Vital Voice

This issue of Washington Women is presented by
Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

“Human rights are women’s rights—and women’s rights are human rights.” This simple statement spoken by Hillary Clinton at the 1995 UN Conference on Women, held in Beijing, was the impetus behind Vital Voices Global Partnership, a tool of empowerment for thousands of women around the world.

Chairman Melanne Verveer helped found the group. Its task  was to advance women’s rights as part of U.S. foreign policy. “If democracies are to flourish, women need to be at the table. Investing in women is an investment that can make a difference,” says Verveer.


Melanne Verveer in her Connecticut Avenue office.


“I was very influenced by John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy—the whole mentality of ‘ask not what your country can do for you,’” says Verveer, who attended Georgetown—where she met Bill Clinton—and stayed in the great non-state after college. “After the ‘92 campaign, Hillary asked me to be in her office, first as deputy chief of staff and then chief of staff. In that capacity, I started doing work with women around the globe. That was an enormous contribution that she made that was not as well known as her other efforts.” Hillary Clinton remains an honorary chair of the group along with Kay Bailey Hutchison, noted for her work with Afghani women. “It’s no secret that I am a Democrat but this organization is fully nonpartisan,” says Verveer. There is this great sense of ‘it doesn’t matter where we find ourselves on the political spectrum, we are all committed to advancing women globally.’ We have wonderful friends in this administration, too.”


The Vital Voices team.


With a global leadership network of 5,000 women in 85 countries, Vital Voices helps women, often on the margins, who are having trouble getting recognized by their governments. “The women abroad want to do more than become business women, they want to make a difference in their communities. We invest in them through capacity building. We bring the best in the business, all volunteers, who have a high degree of achievement. The American women are seeing things through different eyes—it’s a win-win situation. Women commit their companies in a financial way—Coca-Cola, Exxon, Boeing—but also of themselves.”

Verveer stresses that one of the unique aspects of Vital Voices is its partnership with the business community and government. During the International Women Leaders Mentoring Program, sponsorsed by the State Department, Fortune, and Vital Voices, the best and the brightest women from around the world come to the US for communications training, then are partnered with organization mentors for three weeks. In Northern Ireland the organization worked with female peacemakers and Marriott made commitments to train women in the hospitality industry. “Here you might have Liz Claiborne addressing the issue of domestic violence and the toll it takes on productivity but in other parts of the world, the concept is very nascent. Countries really need to understand that if you hold half your population behind, you will never be prosperous.”

Verveer was originally attracted to Washington for the kind of things government can make happen. Vital Voices has taken that vision one step farther. “Our modus operandi is to invest in you because you are the leader of so many more. As the saying goes, you can give someone a fish, but if you teach them how to fish, they’re set for life.”

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