How better to inspire and motivate other women than to lead by example and be a real-life role model? Being in the presence of Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former U.S Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, was a firsthand experience of that.
The sixth annual Madeleine K. Albright Global Development Lecture opened with Peggy Clark, the Executive Director of the Aspen Global Innovators, and the former first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, welcoming Ellen Johnson Sirleaf-- the first elected female head of state in Africa. These women of many firsts celebrated the continued and expanding firsts emerging for more women, especially illuminated by the midterm election results from the prior night. With over 100 women elected to office-- including the youngest congresswoman, Muslim women, lesbian women, Native American woman-- Johnson Sirleaf declared in her lecture, "America has come of age."
In sharing the Liberian experience of growth and recovery post civil war, Johnson Sirleaf highlighted the critical role education and women played along with the drastic economic recovery she was able to forge. "Education is the stabilizer of society"-- she further explained that without meaningful progress with training and education for youth, true development and growth will not be possible. She noted the role women played in Liberia's growth, recalling the involvement of women in all levels of civil society and education, which served as a catalyst in building peace in the torn nation.
Many participants sought answers to questions surrounding gender issues upon hearing Johnson Sirleaf's lecture. Some sought advice and words of encouragement for women facing challenges in pursuing their dreams. Some asked questions on behalf men and women who are disenfranchised because of their race, color, gender or economic status. Some sought guidance on men's role in supporting more opportunities for women. Both women reminded participants that we cannot take on battles and challenges of development on our own - they urged women to work together, but also to work with men as allies instead of getting into a "gender war". Albright pointed to the need for laws and policies to be in place alongside growing number of women being represented in positions of power and leadership. Further, Johnson Sirleaf and Albright both pointed to the need for women (and men) to see challenges as an opportunity and stepping stone to get closer to goals and dreams. Sirleaf described, "Failure is success upside down... challenges inspire." Albright referenced stories of Johnson Sirleaf taking canoes across rivers when the lack of proper roads got in the way of her reaching villages during her political career-- she advised, "when you meet potholes, get a canoe."