Synergy at the International Women’s Forum

Posted on: June 29, 2009 Posted by: Kaia Smith Comments: 0

Synergy at the International Women’s Forum

By: Daniela Papi

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the International Womens’ Forum event in Hong Kong, where I had the opportunity not only to share about PEPY and our lessons learned, but also to meet amazing women making changes all over the world.

My friend,  the founder of the M restaurant group in China is an IMF board member in Hong Kong and she was kind enough to recommended me as a speaker…. lucky me!  The panel, entitled "Social Entrepreneurship in a World Without Borders," included Katharina, a German woman doing work in North Korea you wouldn’t believe possible and Jennifer, a woman working in senior management at the Grameen Bank.  Ann, our moderator, made the panel a success.  She began by saying  "If any of you talk for too long, I’m hitting you over the head with my microphone" and even though her 5’0 stature would imply that it wouldn’t hurt that much, you did indeed believe that she was serious!  She kept us in line and was fabulous at figuring out the flow she wanted from the panel and asking each of the right questions to find it. 

The discussion steered towards successful development work and the issues we have seen working on the ground here in Asia through our various projects.  We spoke about community involvement and ownership, and the importance of knowing the communities we are working in (or at least getting community feedback), in order to improve our work.  Jennifer talked about the lessons she has learned at Grameen and how ASKING loan clients and listening to their stories (not relying solely on evaluation research and numbers) are the keys that tell them how to change and improve their programs.  It is important that even the "CEO of Asia", as she is, talks directly to the end users of their loans to understand the realities of the work they are doing.

Katharina spoke about starting a North Korean business school and building trust in order to open the doors which allow her to do the work she is doing.  She has been working on North Korean projects for 14 years and it seems is one of the more trusted "outsiders" in the area.  Did you know there was an Italian restaurant in North Korea?  Well, there wasn’t before, but there is now.  It’s new and Katharina took her team there to try pizza for the first time. However, just like we have experienced on similar outings with our Khmer staff, at the end the question always is, "so now are we going to get rice?" 

I was impressed by the speakers throughout the conference.  I kept finding synergies between the messages being discussed in other lines of work and the development lessons we have learned at PEPY: a women working in financial markets talking about the mortgage crisis said "if you don’t know anything about it, don’t touch it", a women working developing casinos in Macau said "you have to know and respect the local culture and customs, not just come in and think you know all of the answers because you have done it successfully somewhere else." And a Russian lady with so much passion and expression I could have listened to her speak for hours (even though she was speaking Russian) talked about how, if you don’t respect the work you do and put love into your team and your work, you won’t succeed.  Love in a finance presentation…. only at an International Women’s Conference 🙂

I was so impressed with the IWF and the women I met there that I hope to meet up with some of them in New York City when I go home to visit my family soon.  Here’s to being passionate about our work, knowing the communities we are working in, making changes when they are needed, and investing in people.