WIE (Women: Inspiration and Enterprise) Symposium

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October 24, 2012 By Saran Kaba

I had the opportunity to attend the WIE (Women: Inspiration and Enterprise) Symposium a few weeks ago. On the first day, The Inspiration day, Thelma Golden (Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum) and Actor Samantha Mathis talked about the importance of being creative in whatever business you are in. May it be running a museum and securing new talent to signing up for different roles in the entertainment business. I especially liked Thelma’s point that most organizations have limited resources but an endless amount of ambition. It made me think of all of the organizations we are working for or trying to build ourselves! There is a constant need for creativity to get people on board with your business or ideas. One should always be impactful, resourceful and relevant.

Thelma Golden and Samantha Mathis at WIE

Carol Stone was amazing. She spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of approximately 50 people about the importance of networking and in just 15 minutes, we learned more about her than we probably know about our friends! She stressed the fact that one should always take the opportunity to learn from others. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from her speech was that everyone should learn to “nurture” their contacts because you never know who the next CEO of a company might be!

The presentation on running for office was quite informative. In a candid exchange between Tiffany Dufu (President of the White House project) and Reshma Saujani (who is running for public advocate), we learned that in essence, women are underrepresented because they don’t run for office. Most women think that they don’t have a good shot at winning when in fact they are just as likely to win as men are. What the White House Project is trying to do is encourage women to run by tapping into what they want to change within their communities and working with them from there. They discussed the importance of mentorships and Reshma shared information about the organization she created called Girls who code (http://www.girlswhocode.com/), which helps give young girls technical skills. I wonder what it would be like it more women ran for presidency in Africa. If it weren’t such an exception to the rule to have women in powerful positions…

Reshma Saujani and Tiffany Dufu at WIE

I really enjoyed the panel on “Changing Lanes”. Aimee Mullins (Athlete and Model activist), Dambisa Moyo (Author of Dead Aid, a book I can’t wait to read) and Rachel Sklar (who is the founder of “The List”) discussed what it is to reinvent yourself, your career path and really question what you believe. Hum…maybe I will become a mad scientisit after all…just kidding J. The message here was, don’t be afraid to change your career path and tailor it to something you are passionate about. It’s never too late!

The second day presented panels on Enterprise.  During a session called “Social Enterprise: The Modern Solution to Social Change”, two people doing great things really caught my attention: Peter Thum (founder of Ethos Water and now co-founder and CEO of Fonderie 47, an organization that is taking arms from war zones in Africa and turning them into jewelry with proceeds going towards weapon destruction and youth leadership programs) and Rachel Chong (Founder of Catch a Fire, an organization using the power of pro bono to build capacity). Check them out!

Peter Thum (far left) and Rachel Chong (far right) at WIE

Sessions like “Go Fund Yourself” were real eye-openers. We learmed that women only get 10% of the funding for start-ups. In 1999 there was about $104 billion invested in venture capital and only 1.7% went to women. But apparently we are making progress and women are starting to actually invest more and more. There is still a need for more women entrepreneurs. Women need to be more bold about asking for favours and learn to leverage their networks as much as men do.

I really enjoyed listening to Neil Blumenthal, the founder of Warby Parker (a company that sells affordable glasses via the internet) speak about “Harnessing the potential of E-Commerce”. For every pair of glasses his company sells, 1 pair is donated to a community in need. In 2 and a half years, his organization has grown to a 100 employee one. He stressed the important role that customer loyalty played in his company’s success. E-commerce allows buyers to know much more about your products and your work. He also mentioned that when it comes to marketing an idea you have to make sure: it is well designed, you have a compelling narrative, your idea is unexpected and there is a social good component to it. E-Commerce is everwhere these days. Learning to use it effectively should really help bring your company to the next level.

I was able to network and meet quite a few interesting people. I even got to meet Gabourey Sidibe (the actress from the hit movie Precious) after her interview!  This was a great opportunity for me to get out there mingle and be inspired by the many great people doing wonderful things to help change the world while still following their passion.  Nothing is impossible .

(For more information visit: https://www.wienetwork.org/)

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