Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton honored Ela Bhatt of the Self-Employed Women's Association at the Global Fairness Initiative Awards, held tonight at the Kennedy Center. Secretary Clinton said:
"...the Global Fairness Initiative aims at a simple fact: billions of people worldwide are trapped in poverty. And many of them do have the skills and the determination to build better lives, but that's not enough to surmount the barriers that stand in their way. Unfair trade practices, low wages, poor health care, inadequate schooling -- these are obstacles that are really hard, and it's often the rare lucky person who somehow surmounts them on their own. Most people need help. Otherwise, their talents and abilities lie fallow, and we lose the contributions that they could be making to their families, communities, countries, indeed to the world.
"Now, there was a time, not long ago, when it seemed practically impossible to conceive of solutions big enough and smart enough to deal with global poverty. But now, we have a bolder view of what's possible, because we've seen approaches that drive and deliver long-term, high-impact results.
"And tonight, we are honoring a woman whose work has been at the leading edge of the fight against poverty.
"Ela Bhatt has upended the old ways of thinking and compelled all of us to raise our collective ambitions about what we can do to close the gap between the rich and the poor.
"She has spent nearly every day of the past four decades helping move more than a million poor women in India to a position of dignity and independence, gaining access to opportunities they never dreamed possible. Like the chance to start a business or send their daughters and their sons to school, open their own bank account, or simply be treated with respect by their husbands, their mothers-in-law, their neighbors, and authorities.
"A great deal has already been said and written over the years about Ela's impact on India and the world.
"About the innovative programs she pioneered, making it possible for the very poor to gain access to services that were once the sole purview of the well-off -- like credit, like banking, sick leave, and child care.
"Or about her conviction that women are the key to progress -- that investing in women is one of the most powerful ways to fight poverty.
"Now, these ideas 40 years ago were revolutionary. They're still in some quarters considered revolutionary. But in many others, they are now widely embraced. Ela carried that message. She literally made people understand and accept her vision by proving its workability time and again.
"But tonight, I'd like to consider Ela's impact from another angle.
"The work that she has done through the Self-Employed Women's Association is not only about finding solutions to the problems of poverty. At its most basic level, Ela's work is about fairness, about giving every person the chance to achieve his or her dreams, to make the most of his or her God-given potential -- no matter how rich or poor, no matter whether they work in a factory or a home or on the side of a road.
"I often say that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. And that is inherently unfair. It is not fair that whether people get the chance to express their talents depends, to a large extent, on who their parents are or where they live. It's not fair that something none of us had any choice in -- where and to whom we were born -- has such an impact on the course of our lives.
"And so we have to be in Ela's corner, because she has proven it doesn't have to matter so much. Inequality may always be with us. But even in places where it is most stark, people still should be able to develop their ambitions and direct them toward building better lives. And Ela and SEWA have proven that.""...[W]hat Ela has done is to help the poor find freedom, and with freedom they have also found opportunity. And she has helped not only women in India but women in South Africa, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and inspired so many others to find their own way forward to overcome long legacies of inequality and unfairness. She has helped us imagine and then work toward a fairer world.
"So for her contribution to India and particularly the women of India, and to the global community, it is my honor to present the first Global Fairness Award to my friend, Ela Bhatt."
You can read the Secretary's full remarks here.