This month, we brought 85 amazing women -- and men -- from around the world to the United States on the Women in Action exchange. The participants were community activists, elected officials, academics, and representatives of organizations who are devoted to preparing women across the world for leadership roles. They joined their U.S. counterparts to look at issues such as gender equality and empowering women and girls.
In Washington, I met with the participants and moderated a panel discussion with ABC News senior correspondent Claire Shipman and BBC reporter Katty Kay, who collaborated on the book Womenomics. Both Claire and Katty shared practical advice for balancing work and personal life, as well as statistics that demonstrate the dramatic impact women have on the global economy. We know that the participants have the leadership skills they need. What the exchange provided was the confidence to take the next step.
At the end of the exchange, the International Visitor Leadership Program staff sat down with the women to ask them for their thoughts. Many of the participants mentioned going home with a new perspective on mentoring the next generation of women leaders. Several said they were inspired to run for political office. And almost all of them said they were inspired to return home and think bigger.
As one of the women leaders from Africa said, "Women around the world share the same realities, just in a different context." Revelations like this are making a real difference in the world. When women come together, they realize that they are not alone and that their challenges can become opportunities. They return home energized, ready to lead in their respective fields and make their countries better places. A European participant observed that feminism is "strong and universal," even with the diverse cultural and religious backgrounds within the group.
Earlier this year, President Obama stressed the need to promote gender equality and empower women and girls so that we can "unleash the power of everyone, not just some." The question, however, is how to overcome the barriers that prevent women from reaching their full potential. Exchanges like Women in Action provide the means. As one non-governmental organization leader from Colombia remarked: "I'm leaving totally changed. Although I had an identity before this program that I had been building, I was a bit limited and restricted, and I needed this little push."