From around the world, Global Citizen unites six inspiring women to discuss the importance of female empowerment and give us an exclusive insight into their personal journeys.
Global Citizen is in conversation with Cherie Blair CBE QC, the Founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, whose mission is to empower women and girls to start successful businesses and redefine the future for themselves and those around them. Also in conversation from the UK, is the brilliant British TV broadcaster, innovator, panelist, and philanthropist, June Sarpong OBE, who was also recently named BBC’s first Director of Creative Diversity.
We also connected with Noëlla Coursaris Musunka, the Founder of Malaika, a nonprofit grassroots organization that empowers Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs. Adding an artist’s perspective to the conversation, is Kaori Fujii, Founder of Music Beyond, a nonprofit organization that empowers individuals through music and outreach in developing countries, currently operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well.
Across borders, GC was humbled to invite H.E. Sara Al-Madani into the enigmatic Women in Action dialogue, as not only a well-known fashion designer, venturist, and entrepreneur — but also as the youngest board member at Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
And finally, the leading voice of the global citizenship movement and the common thread uniting all the remarkable women above, Talimka Yordanova. As the first-female CEO of the Global Citizen Forum, a social action platform committed to unlocking the potential of human mobility and migration, she connects women from every corner of the globe under the collaborative mission to ensure a better future for the next generation.
What makes the topic of gender equality so important, in light of the many other global challenges?
Cherie: Being brought up by a single mother I knew first-hand from an early age how important it is for women to be able to support themselves. We see this incredible ripple effect at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women every day – when you help a woman, very often you help a family, a community and beyond. Research shows that if women and men had equal access to entrepreneurship, global GDP could rise by an enormous $5 trillion – just think of the immense good that could bring in tackling the world’s biggest issues.
Tali: All of the global challenges that we are facing today are interconnected, therefore so should the solutions. If women are not equipped with the necessary tools— but more than anything else, the necessary access— we will only reach sub-optimal results and are likely to fail in our efforts.
Noella: Empowering women to be educated and working will have a direct impact on many of the other global issues we are currently facing. Educated girls and women are able to contribute positively to the social, political, economic and ecological issues we are currently grappling with worldwide. According to USAID, if 10% more adolescent girls attended school a country’s GDP would increase by an average of 3%.
What drives you, and motivates you, to be empowered every day?
Noella: My two children, first and foremost. I want to positively influence the world that they will occupy as adults, but I also want them both to grow into adults that believe in their capacity to do good in the world and are empowered to make choices for themselves. I am also motivated by the students who come to Malaika. I myself was empowered by the education I gained when my mother sent me to live with family in Europe, and I believe that education is the key to empowering women all over the world.
Tali: I grew up in post-communist Bulgaria to a single mother of two. Watching her navigate this harsh reality and witnessing her fearlessness, resilience and perseverance in order to secure the best possible opportunities for her two children, is what motivates me every day to be the best version of myself and to spread this knowledge and inspiration to the people around me.
Sara: Every morning when I wake up, I feel like I have been given a new chance at life. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to welcome every day, alive and healthy, and that in itself motivates me. We have a limited time in this world, and I want to do my best, to be my best, and to discover ways to unlock all my potentials.
June: I come from generations of empowered and opinionated women with my Ghanaian background. Notably, the Ashanti tribe, which is inheritably based on a matriarchal system. I also attended an all-girl school in London run by feminist teachers; both my cultural upbringing and my education have been at the root of my empowerment and my confidence in speaking out.
What have been (or still are) the main barriers that you face in your personal journey, as a woman?
Sara: I definitely still face barriers as a woman. I participate in many diverse gatherings all over the world, whether they’re corporate meetings, investment meetings, or conferences; and I always realize that there is never a chair for me at the table. But I don’t wait for a man to bring it, I go grab it myself. So, I do still feel like it is still a man’s world, but I think that a way to change this at its core is to raise our daughters with the confidence and self-assurance they need in order to be independent.
Noella: Being a young woman in the Congo and trying to set up Malaika was difficult as it is a country dominated by men. To be a leader and to create a community-driven model that can be duplicated elsewhere was not easy at the beginning. However, bit by bit, things are changing for the better.
June: Usually the idea of leadership. People have a fixed view of what a leader should look like and changing that takes time. As a woman, and a person of colour, naturally you try harder to prove yourself and to justify and validate your worth. There is an added burden to second guessing yourself that the counterpart doesn’t necessarily have to deal with. I work within a 100+ year old institution. But what is optimistic, is that it is an institution that wants to see change, and so these barriers are becoming easier to overcome.
Kaori: As a woman and, in particular, a Japanese woman, my biggest barriers have been a reluctance to self-promote and to ask for help and support. I am so proud of our team, so I have no problem talking about them. But when it comes to talking about myself, Music Beyond as a whole, and the impact we make, I tend to downplay it significantly. It is now time to scale our organization, and I am working to push through these barriers in order to make that possible.
Describe an ideal vision of the future for women around the world – say in the next 10 years.
Kaori: My ideal vision for women around the world is that they will be judged based on their skills and abilities and not based on their gender. Through our women’s empowerment program, we foster the idea that women in DRC can and should have the same opportunities available to them as men. As the women in the program take advantage of these opportunities by harnessing the transformative power of music, they are proving to themselves, their local peers, and women around the globe that they have a strong, valuable place in their society and in the world.
June: My ideal vision for the future of women, is to get to a place where we celebrate the fullness of who we are. It would be a time where we not only empower women in the corporate world, but we encourage it. I hope by then we would be doing a better job at allowing dualities to exist in the workforce, such as inclusivity of parenthood, quicker progression rates, and allow a smoother process to enable more female leadership despite different gender roles.
Cherie: My vision is for every woman to enjoy equal economic opportunities to men so they can live to their full potential. The World Economic Forum now estimates that it will take 257 years for this to happen. Well, we are absolutely not going to wait that long! In fact, the Foundation just launched our 100,000 Women Campaign – with Global Citizen Forum – to support another 100,000 businesswomen in lower- and middle-income countries by the end of 2022. Our mission is to help create a more enabling ecosystem for women entrepreneurs, which will hopefully set the wheels in motion for positive change over the next decade.
How have your partnerships and working with other women inspired you or helped you in your success?
Tali: Through GCF’s initiatives, I have had the chance to work with many inspiring women who have proven the true power of female unity and collaboration; especially the women featured before me in this interview. Every single one of them impersonates the values and virtues that modern empowered women should have and are on a quest to ensure that their example is multiplied exponentially. I am so proud and humbled to have them as members of the GCF community and to have the opportunity to walk the talk with them.
Cherie: We simply could not do the work that we do without our partnerships with individuals, companies and institutions all across the globe, and with the support and influence of women leaders who want to help other women up the ladder. And of course, we include like-minded men too. One of the women we supported through the foundation put it best when she coined the term “sisterpreneurs” to describe herself and the other women entrepreneurs who forged a valuable and supportive network as a result of our programme.
Kaori: I have had the privilege of working with women in DRC who are mothers, entrepreneurs, nurses, and seamstresses. They have all gone through—and are still going through—so many hardships on a daily basis just to survive and procure the most basic necessities, and yet they are radiant, determined, and most importantly: hopeful. I can’t express how much I respect and admire them. I would also be remiss to talk about women I admire without mentioning the incredible Noella, who I am fortunate to call both a role model and a friend! What Noella has created with Malaika is exceptional. Her vision to create a thriving community in a remote village in eastern DRC, where there was no water or electricity, presented immeasurable obstacles, and yet she did it!
How does being a Global Citizen empower you on your mission?
June: I’ve always seen myself as a Global Citizen, because I love people! And when you love people, you’re always curious, you’re always learning and growing. Diversity plays an important role with progression and allows you to be comfortable with differences. Being a Global Citizen isn’t to pretend that we are all the same — it’s to see our differences and to see our similarities — and thrive on the balance of both.
Noella: Being a Global Citizen gives me the opportunity to be part of a global identity and a global movement. It motivates and encourages me to learn about all the changes happening around the world thanks to the culmination of all the actions by other Global Citizens. A little bit does really go a long way when it is added together. In this community, progress is being made and this inspired me to keep going with my mission with Malaika.
Sara: Every time I travel, I find a piece of my soul in another country, in another culture… I am a person that has no borders, no walls, and no separation between me and any other human being. I love everyone equally and believe that we all belong to this earth. Being a Global Citizen opens my mind to different ways of working, thinking and being creative. It’s like undressing your mind and freeing it from so many restrictions, and this makes your way of thinking more beautiful.
Kaori: Being a musician means constantly working across the boundaries of era, time, culture, religion, and language. We have much more in common than we believe. It is essential that we work together to break down barriers, like gender, culture, and ethnicity, that often separate us, and instead allow them to be forces that bring us together. Being a Global Citizen is at the core of my personal belief system, and it is inextricably tied to the mission of Music Beyond.
An empowered woman to me, is a woman who:
Cherie: is able to redefine her future. When women are empowered, the whole world is uplifted and that affects all of us for the better.
Tali: is educated, self-sufficient and free to take the best decisions for herself and her future.
Sara: a woman is always powerful; she just needs inspiration.
June: has found the balance in life, and who is confident and truly comfortable in her femininity and in her own skin.
Noella: has an education, whether formal or passed knowledge, that will enable her to have the economic freedom and self-belief to make her own choices.
Kaori: leads others and inspires them to reach their goals and capabilities. I believe that common traits shared by all successful women are humility and work ethic. These are incredibly important qualities that can’t be taught.