May 22, 2015; No. CCXXIX

May 22, 2015; No. CCXXIX
Special Edition: Global Summit of Women 2015


With a look forward through a line-up of young women entrepreneurs, who introduced themselves and their dreams for progress 25 years from now, and a look back through a line-up of six successful women CEOs who cited progress from 25 years ago, the Global Summit of Women kicked off its 25th Anniversary edition attended by 1,000 women leaders in business and government from 63 countries in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last week (May 14-16th).  They came, as they have done for the past 25 years — to share solutions and strategies forged by women for increasing women’s economic empowerment globally.

From Antigua to Australia, delegates converged in Brazil with a spirit of celebration and camaraderie as they connected with one another under the theme of “Creative Women – Creative Economies.”  The largest delegation at the 2015 Summit with 71 came from the U.S., while South Africa brought 55 delegates led by the Deputy Minister of Small Business Development Elizabeth Thabethe.  Vietnam’s delegation of 52 entrepreneurs and government leaders was spearheaded by Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan.  Other countries with large delegations included China with 51, Spain and Mongolia with 35, France with 26, DR Congo with 32, Poland with 29, and Mexico with 25.

“The diverse group of leaders who joined the Summit this year, as well as the past quarter-century, created a magical atmosphere in which we all are going home with new ideas, new contacts, and more energy to continue to work to improve the economic lives women around the world,” said Summit President Irene Natividad.  She pointed out to delegates that a change of perspective regarding women – a shift from seeing them as economically vulnerable to viewing them as economically valuable – is needed to reflect the reality of women’s economic clout as half of the world’s workers, as the majority of its consumers, and as the dynamic engine behind small business growth.  Julie Katzman, Executive Vice President of the InterAmerican Development Bank, echoed this sentiment, when she pointed out that women represent a $13 trillion market, much bigger than China’s.  “While companies worldwide are developing strategies to reach the China market, why are they not doing so with the women’s market,” asked Katzman.  This ‘business case’ for gender equity was reiterated throughout the Summit’s program.

Ministries Pledge to Adopt Target for Contracts to Women-Owned Businesses 

A very productive Ministerial Roundtable this year brought thirty-five Ministers with various portfolios ranging from trade and industry to communications to gender equity to share specific programs or policies they have led, along with business and civil society partners in their respective countries, that advanced the status of women or girls.

35 women government ministers at the Summit’s Ministerial Roundtable.

Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development of Malaysia and Minister of Social Transformation from Antigua and Barbuda at the Ministerial Roundtable.

Brazil’s Minister of Policies for Women Eleonora Menicucci joined the Roundtable to share Brazil’s efforts to accelerate women’s economic progress.  Other Ministers presenting best practices included France’s State Secretary for Women’s Rights Pascale Boistard, Poland’s State Secretary for Equal Treatment Malgorzata Fuszara, and China’s Vice Minister and Vice President of the All-China Women’s Federation Zhao Donghua, among others.

Following a presentation from Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the UN’s International Trade Centre on the ITC’s work with the governments of Samoa and Kenya to allocate a small percentage of their Ministerial budgets for contracts for women-owned businesses, three Ministers participating in the Roundtable pledged to adopt a percentage target for contracts issued by their Ministries.   Minister of State for the UAE Maitha Salem Al ShamsiPhilippines Undersecretary of Trade and Industry Nora Terrado, and South African Deputy Minister for Small Business Development Elizabeth Thabethe each stated their Ministries would follow through on implementing a target for contracts for women-owned businesses.

Upon review of the public-private sector projects presented at the Roundtable, the Summit was pleased to present its Ministerial Award to Malaysia’s Minister for Women, Family, and Community Development Dato’ Sri Rohani Abdul Karim for the Ministry’s Career Comeback Program.  This project encourages women workers who left employment for family reasons to return to the workforce through training, networking and subsidies to employers who rehire these returnees – a replicable project in developed and emerging economies.

To see a listing of government VIPs who participated in the Summit, click here.


While the Global Summit of Women featured numerous women CEOs and government leaders throughout the three-day program, two remarkable women were recognized at the Summit in Brazil with lifetime achievement awards.  Both have courageously uplifted women globally and in their respective countries for many years.

Receiving the Summit’s “Global Women’s Leadership Award” was Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Undersecretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.  A lifelong champion of women’s economic empowerment, she served as Deputy President of South Africa as well as Minister of Minerals and Energy and Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry before joining the UN.  At every step of her career, women’s rights was always the focal point.  For her global leadership in advancing women, the Summit was pleased to salute Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, an award made more special by the large South African delegation in attendance who serenaded her with pride upon the announcement.  To see a video of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s acceptance speech at the Summit, click here.

The Summit was also pleased to salute the Vice President of Vietnam Nguyen Thi Doan with the Summit’s “Government Leadership Award.”  Vice President Doan was participating in her 8th Global Summit of Women, leading a delegation of women entrepreneurs from her country to each one.  A faithful supporter of women in her country, the Vice President was awarded for her active role in the Vietnamese government’s support for its women, and for connecting women entrepreneurs from her country with their counterparts in every part of the world through the various Summits.  It should be noted that one third of Vietnam’s largest enterprises are headed by women.


Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI), the research arm of the Global Summit of Women, released the results of its 23rd study on women on corporate boards at the Summit in Brazil.  Summit President and CWDI Chair Irene Natividad shared that women account for only 6.4% of directors on the boards of the 100 largest companies in Latin America.  This percentage pales in comparison to Europe (20%), US (19.2%), and Asia-Pacific (9.4%).  Moreover, nearly half (47) of the 100 largest companies in Latin America fail to have a single woman on their Board of Directors.



“While there is global momentum – largely driven by Europe — to increase the presence of women board directors globally, Latin American companies are being left behind in moving women to senior leadership roles,” states Natividad.  “The reasons for the low percentage of women board directors in the region are not difficult to see, since there are still so few women CEOs and senior executives in the pipeline from which board directors are normally drawn.”

Among the countries represented by companies in the study, Colombia leads the way with 13.4% of board seats held by women in its largest companies, more than twice the regional average of 6.4%.  Brazil, whose companies make up nearly half the largest companies on the list, averaged 6.3%.  Mexico’s companies had only 5.1% female board representation, while Chile’s percentage of 3.2% is the lowest in the region.


The release of the report on women board directors in Latin America triggered a spirited discussion at the Summit plenary session on “Creative Strategies for Women-on-Board Initiatives.”   Germany’s Parliamentary Secretary Elke Ferner in the Ministry for Women stated that Germany was the latest European country to enact a quota for women directors because voluntary targets didn’t work and something had to be done to speed up women’s access to board appointments.  France already has a quota, which has resulted in 30% of board seats in the CAC40 leading companies now held by women.  According to Muriel Penicaud, French Ambassador for International Investment and CEO of Business France, France’s quota was part of a larger French government initiative to address gender equity in its totality, which is why companies have been so responsive to the law.  That there are other avenues to getting women board appointments was emphasized by Isabel Tocino, Board Director of Santander, Ence, and Enegas from Spain, who felt that quotas were not sustainable in the long term.  She felt that it was more important to develop women’s corporate leadership talents early on, and for women to access search firms and other networks in their quest for board seats.

I. Natividad, M. Penicaud, I. Tocino, and A. Pessoa

E. Ferner

Ana Paula Pessoa, Partner and Co-Head of the Brunswick Group in Brazil and a Board Director of News Corp noted that she became a director in U.S. and European Boards, but not a single Brazilian company had yet invited her to join their own boards.  She credits a more traditional male network and culture in Brazil as part of the reason.  With a proposed quota bill for women on boards of state-owned enterprises in Brazil currently languishing in the Senate, one of Brazil’s leading businesswomen Luiza Helena Trajano, CEO of Magazine Luiza, took the opportunity at the Global Summit of Women to awaken a push for a quota for women on corporate boards in the country.


A young 19-year-old inventor, Raissa Muller, became a Summit ‘star’ presenter when she introduced her invention of a sponge to clean up dirty oil from waterways to Summit delegates, who came away impressed with her poised delivery, smarts and creativity.  She was one of other young entrepreneurs deliberately invited to the 25thanniversary Summit to show what is possible in terms of women’s business leadership in the future.  They kicked off the Opening Ceremony with their wishes for change 25 years from now:  Luisa Ribeiro, Founder and CEO of Gemaventures in Brazil;  Fatima Ezahra El Ouasdi, Founder of Politiqu’elles in France;  Deborah Xavier, Founder of Brazil’s Jogo de Damas;  Lorrana Scarpioni, Founder and CEO of Bliive;  and Khaya Cokoto, Managing Director of XSpark Design and Advertising from South Africa.

Raissa Muller

L. Scarpioni, L. Ribeiro, and D. Xavier

Fatima Ezahra El Ouasdi

Khaya Cokoto

To inspire and grow the next generation of women in business, 150 young business students from Sao Paolo universities took part in a Youth Forum and 20 others received ‘scholarships’ to the entire three-day event.  In addition, to foster entrepreneurial skills among youth, a “Girl Apps” contest for young women to create apps serving community needs was added to the Summit through the support of Microsoft Brazil.  The winning project was an app for people with disabilities to find accessible locations throughout the city of Sao Paulo.  Winners received technology and entrepreneurial coaching to make their apps come to life. “Young people’s economic creativity that use the tools of technology must be fostered, because they are the doors to productivity in the 21st century,” said Natividad.



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