Earlier this summer, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) welcomed 95 exceptional young women from 20 countries and 15 undergraduate U.S. participants to a conference on women’s leadership designed to promote the exchange of ideas regarding women’s issues in their respective countries. This conference was organized as part of study conducted by the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders (SUSI), which are five-to-six week academic programs for foreign undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 25. These programs are designed to improve participant’s understanding of the United States and develop their leadership skills.
For most of the young women, this was their first time in the United States and their excitement and anticipation for the program was palpable. The program opened with a lunch designed to allow the participants to get to know one another and to have initial conversations regarding topics related to women’s issues that they would like to further discuss as a part of the conference.
One of the goals of the opening conference was to promote cultural exchange and the cultural festival did just that. Participants wore their traditional dress and presented key aspects of their countries and cultures to the other participants and members of the public. The women exchanged stories with each other as well as with the American participants about their hometowns, their cultures, some even providing food. The cultural festival generated a lot of buzz amongst the participants, many taking the opportunity to both network and take selfies together.
On conference day, Leslie Schweitzer, an entrepreneur and founder of multiple trading companies, delivered the keynote address on how educating both men and women is of critical importance and is paramount to promoting social change in a country and inspiring future leaders. The key to solving many of these issues is to embrace each other’s ideas and learn from one another. Ms. Schweitzer stated that, “leadership is trial and error. Build trust and confidence. Build bridges not walls.” Her remarks struck a chord, and the conversation continued in the participant-driven discussion sessions where the women brought their own knowledge to the table and experience to tackle a variety of issues that women face in their own countries and around the world. These topics ranged from women’s health, to education, to gender based violence.
After the conference, the participants had a day to explore Washington, D.C. and continue networking with each other before heading off to four partner universities: Green River College in Washington State, Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, the University of Delaware, and the University of Kansas. While at these universities, the SUSI women will continue not only the discussions on women’s leadership and challenges that began at the conference but also their experience of the United States. Through programs like the SUSI Women’s Leadership conference and exchange program, women from the United States and around the world are able to demonstrate leadership through academic work, community involvement, and extracurricular activities and use the network and skills they gain to impact their communities for the better.
About the Author: Annamarguerite Zvetan is an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.