by Jessica Gauzi, invited by Orange to the Women’s Forum
Thursday 11 October, it’s raining in Deauville and I wake up early feeling great. Because I’m at the start of Day 2 of the Women’s Forum. And as an intro, I want to take you through the main initiatives that you’ll find in this infographics:
The interesting fact, this year, is that the Women’s Prize for Education will be backed by a €30,000 donation. The full infographic, including Day 1 highlights, is available on http://www.womens-forum.com/uploads/assets/press/127_file.pdf
We’ve now had the opportunity to talk more about education, this morning as well as at a lively conference on Africa, or “How to find good avenues for growth on this continent with its unique demographics and geography”.
With the young and brilliant Tumi Makgabo as moderator, this debate welcomed local women offering insights into local economic and political challenges. For Maria Ramos, Abena Amoah and Nigest Haile, investing in education is still key, but the price is quality education. Because in addition to its well-known natural resources, it’s Africa’s young people, human resources, who will be the growth factors. Especially for developing the service sector, which is much more open to women.
But while we’re talking about education for women, what about educating men to accept the role of women? Abena Amoah says that’s a mistaken goal. It’s our attitude that we need to change, by “just speaking out!” to establish dialog with our male sidekicks.
At that point, Maria Ramos interjects that the main challenge is to talk. And talk a lot. Between generations, between women and men. That went down well, we like talking. A lot. It’s part of winning and granting trust, in yourself and in others.
Among the requirements for creating growth that have been mentioned (infrastructure, investment in health, public-private partnerships…) the idea of inter-country cooperation is emerging, especially in the South. It’s this dialogue that’s essential, and Europe is of course invited to participate. It would be a shame if we threw away the opportunity to support faster economic development for nearly a billion people.
In closing, Nigest Haile emphasizes that “Africa’s success will therefore be a fantastic combination of its resources and its people”.
And because the Women’s Forum is rightly there to create this necessary change, with women as well as men, here’s someone who has made us smile and made us love him. I want to talk about Sanjit Bunker Roy, who has created an innovative and unique inter-cultural entrepreneurship program: the NGO Barefoot College.
Together with Cherie Blair and her Foundation for Women, they have brilliantly argued that growth is a bottom-up process, and they each work daily to achieve it. Sanjit enables illiterate women, mothers and grandmothers, mainly in Africa, to become solar power “engineers”. When they get back home, they have the practical skills to build houses with sustainable and accessible energy. We need to support this man, who believes in education, at all levels, for all ages.
Cherie, who recently submitted an application to Nigeria, in partnership with Nokia, to provide information for women (on health, society, etc.) is convinced that technology helps. This talented lawyer offers, for example, an online mentoring platform that supports women for 12 months. Mentors from around the world participate in it and help launch new projects. It’s also an opportunity to identify star talent and give them the wings to fly. So the words “entrepreneur” and “social” go together perfectly and our world has no more boundaries when we’re talking about dialogue.
We can’t talk about women and growth without talking about the new generation, the one we call the Y Generation. Because after all, the dialogue initiated between women and men, as well as between countries, is nothing without intergenerational communication.
With the participation of Delphine Ernotte-Cunci, CEO of Orange France, three “Y Gens” discussed the realities of employability and the values of work. Because today, there seem to be two conflicting worlds: today’s generation which directs and hires, and tomorrow’s generation which is asking questions about their role in business life and their raison d’être in the economy.
Of course, our generation (and you could put me in the “Y Gen” box, although I wouldn’t like it) is spontaneous, sometimes volatile, in a hurry, full of ambitions and dreams, and that’s right. The all-pervasive connectivity in which we find ourselves is an opportunity, a strength we need to use well. Such as being able to easily contact a leader in our network who could help us, suggests Myriam Levain. That’s the good side. And it’s one of the few differences between the X and Y generations: knowing how to use technology as a communication tool.
But Caroline Ghosn, the founder of the Levo League, emphasizes that too many women still don’t ask for help, although finding work today clearly requires calling on relationships. An online study she conducted of women in the workplace indicates that 95% of Y Gens never ask for help! What are we waiting for, to banish this timidity, which is actually not us at all?
Delphine Ernotte replies that confidence is key and is participating in a think tank on this issue. This has also led her to become involved in mentoring young women, through the initiative “There’s talent here”. She also explains that you don’t need to rely on your first job. You can change, move jobs later, but you need to have developed practical skills before you can do so.
Lastly, whether Y Gen or X Gen, women are the same. In an ongoing battle, they end up changing their mind-set. Which is also what Mercedes Erra said (CEO of BETC and founder of EURO-RSCG, a businesswoman, mother, and above all a top manager). Interviewed after her unexpected speech at the conference on female stereotypes in the media, she reiterated – and it was good to hear her say – that you need to try. “Don’t be afraid of ambition, or success” while “remaining above all a woman”…
That was the most beautiful, positive, final word that makes me believe we’re moving forward. Eight years ago, when Mercedes and her peers launched the Women’s Forum, women weren’t talking about these things, they were almost taboo. The word “quota” made people’s hair stand on end. Today we’re there, in huge numbers, in our 30s or 50s, in France and elsewhere, to fight and debate. Eight years from now, 2020 will smile on us, and we’ll be focused on the positive aspects of growth and development that will have been born of these exchanges. It’s now raining cats and dogs at the Centre International de Deauville and only good vibes are getting though the raindrops.