Happy Scribe Logo


Proofread by 0 readers

You are listening to Uncommon Women on Red podcast, how do women become successful leaders, not just city women working in fancy offices, but also women living in villages and small towns across the world? One nonprofit has focused on this issue for over two decades. Vital Voices Global Partnership, which is headquartered in the United States, is driven by a belief that women are essential to creating progress. It has established a global movement working with 16000 women across one hundred and eighty one countries to produce effective female leaders.


Whether it's ending human trafficking, stopping gender based violence, aiding the refugee crisis or battling climate change. These women are trying to solve some of society's biggest problems. Hello and welcome to Uncommon Women. I am your host guy to wrangle Trisha and I bring you inspiring stories of women breaking barriers to make the world a better place. Just society. But love to hear today. I'm delighted to welcome Elise Nelson, president and CEO of Vital Voices. Elise has worked at the highest levels of the US government, including the White House.


She's the author of the best selling book Vital Voices The Power of Women Leading Change Around the World. Newsweek magazine featured her as one of the 150 women shaking up the world. Elise has spoken on leadership and global women's issues at the United Nations, at Oxford University, at the Clinton Global Initiative, and at the powerful live news event, Women in the World. She has conducted leadership training with women at the US Government Central Intelligence Agency at the UK Government's Development Agency Difford Multiple Fortune 1000 companies and at numerous conferences.


Elise is someone who is helping women all over the world realize their leadership potential.


And she's been named one of the fifty five most influential women on Twitter. Hi Elise. It's so great to have you on the show. I Gayatri, I'm thrilled to join you and thank you for that super kind introduction.


At least I thought we could just start out by you telling us about the finding founding of Vital Voices. How did it come about?


Sure. Well, this year is a very special year 2020, even though it is a very unprecedented year. It is the year that marks 25 years since the UN Fourth World Conference that was held in Beijing, China, in 1995. And then Secretary Clinton that I should say, then first lady Hillary Clinton, later secretary, wanted to go, wanted to travel across the world to attend this gathering, really believing that she could use her voice, her power and her platform to raise the plight of women around the world.


Now, if you think back to 1995, Google did not exist. Social media did not exist. So if you wanted to know what was going on for women leaders around the world, you had to gather with them. Right. And so these global conferences and there really weren't the kind that you see now, it really is more commonplace. We're extremely important. And she traveled to that conference. She was incredibly ignited. She went back from that conference, 55000 women leaders from around the globe, and she decided, we've got to do something about this.


First, she worked for the first two years and really implementing the platform for action to improve the lives of women in 12 critical areas in the United States and then really looking at what could we do to help other countries do the same. And what she began to see wherever she'd go is that the women leaders were just not at the table. And she tells this great story about being in Africa, you know, riding in the car with the president of the country and him saying, well, you know, our women don't really work.


We have they like to be at home. And she said, really? Because I look outside this window and outside that window and all I see is women working, working in the fields. She really thought, you know, if we could just bring extraordinary women that we know are making change out of the shadows and into the spotlight and hear their voices, then they could have a tremendous impact and that countries would not be able to achieve their full potential until that happens.


Now, at that time, of course, you know, you think about it, there was not the research that we have today that shows that investing in women's is smart investment. This was kind of a radical idea. I remember I was working for her at the time. At this time, I was working at the State Department for Madeleine Albright in 1997. I remember Hillary Clinton came over for the International Women's Day celebration and she said no country can move forward at half the population is left behind.


Investing in women is not just the right thing to do, but. The smart thing to do, and back then you knew that intuitively, right, if you only use 50 percent of the world's energy and ideas and potential, you can't make the world what we all know it can be. But we didn't have the research back then. Believe it or not. That was just now, twenty three years ago. So Vital Voices was really born out of that.


And quite frankly, Gayatri, what's so interesting about Vital Voices is that it was supposed to be a one off conference. It wasn't supposed to be a global gathering, and this was a US government conference. What happened was at the time there was an incredibly activist and, quite frankly, maverick ambassador in Vienna, Austria, Swanee Hunt. And she came to meet actually with the office that I was working at the time, which was the Global Women's Issues Office at the State Department, which was a brand new office that we were setting up.


And it was about three people. And I was just the young person taking notes. Now, I was in my early 20s. She basically talked about how she wanted to host this gathering because she knew that women really from the former Soviet Union and this is remember, this is seven. So countries are coming out of communism, moving towards democracy. And women were not benefiting. Their voices were not being heard. It was hurting women because maybe before there were there were set asides.


And now and so she wanted to host this gathering in Vienna, Austria, for women throughout former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe and the United States. And we worked with her to develop that. And that became vital voices, the first five voices gathering. And Secretary Clinton really led that. And because, of course, Secretary Clinton was engaged, many US embassies from throughout the region identified participants, but also US government agencies identified resources and new money that then first lady Hillary Clinton could announce when she went in her big speech.


And it was so successful, quite frankly, I came back to my little office in the State Department and we started getting calls from women all over the globe saying, can you bring vital voices to my country, to my community? And so really Vital Voices was went from a one off conference to a global movement because women themselves asked for it. Over the next few years, we held a number of conferences around the globe working under the auspices of the State Department in the White House.


Obviously, Hillary Clinton leading those. Madeleine Albright being incredibly supportive, really. They were that sort of tag team on women's issues. Secretary Albright at the time really raising it behind closed doors with other foreign ministers and presidents and countries. And Hillary Clinton really going out to the grassroots, hearing women's voices and then raising those voices to the world stage, which is exactly what she did in Beijing with her very, very famous speech. And, you know, I think that it just caught fire.


And a group of women who came to these conferences and remember, conferences now are like a conference. But back then it was it was not the norm. There was no means of connecting us globally. The Internet was still at a more nascent stage, not the way it is today, where you could just find any incredible activist. Nick Kristof wasn't writing his extraordinary pieces on these issues, the way he exposes so many important issues around women's rights around the world.


And so this was this was really important for these women. It really gave them credibility that they were selected, that they were chosen to participate. And they went back saying, I've got to share this. I've got to spread this to my community. And women started that Vital Voices chapters. Mind you, this is like nineteen ninety eight now, nineteen ninety nine. And they said, you know, what's going to happen to vital voices in the future at the end of the Clinton administration?


Will it continue on really been an initiative of the first lady and as you know, from one administration to the next, usually these kinds of initiatives don't continue on, or at least not with the same gusto. Right. We didn't know at that time who would be first lady or secretary of state. And so it wasn't clear. And so the women leaders asked us, you know, who had participated and started by voices, chatter, said, can you become a nonprofit?


And we brought all of them together. There were about twenty five of them or so. And they created the mission statement and said, we're a global network, a global movement, and we we need to keep this going. And so vital voices registered as a vital one see through. I rolled out of the government and became the very first employee. Believe it or not, I'm giving an abbreviated story because it's it's a long one. You know, it's a detailed past and unusual.


It wasn't just, oh, there's a need. Let's create an NGO. It was it emerged over time because there was nothing like it at the time. Now, of course, in the last twenty three years, there have been other women's organizations that have sprung up and grown and they're all needed. It's it's it's vitally important. We don't have enough resources and dollars and people working on these issues.


So, Elise, I just want to circle back because there are many listeners who may not be familiar with the World Conference for Women that was held in Beijing twenty five years ago. And of course, now their calls for whether there should even there should be another one. But if you could just explain to us why that Beijing conference was such a landmark event. Sure. So that conference was part of a series of UN conferences over the 20 years prior really start or starting back in the nineteen seventies.


So there was the first world conference, the Second World Conference, the Third World Conference, and these had been in Copenhagen or in Nairobi, Kenya and Mexico City. And then, of course, this was going to be somewhere in Asia with the one in 1995, the one prior to that had been in nineteen eighty five and that had been in Nairobi, the Third World Conference. The reason why people talk about it and there's so much energy behind it is that it is that one time where every single head of state around the world and country pulled together a delegation of government representatives, high level officials, maybe some private sector NGO representatives to serve on official US delegation or other country delegations.


Right there is also in parallel an NGO forum. And that NGO forum is a gathering of I mean, in Beijing, it's estimated about fifty five thousand women made their way to China to participate in that NGO forum to talk about what are all those issues that women are dealing with and facing. Now, as you can imagine, an NGO forum, as I said before, is really important if technology did not really exist the way we think about it today.


Right. Because how else do you know that? Oh, the issue of domestic violence is a global issue. Right? So the big, big thing to come out of Nairobi was a name that there was a name for this problem that had no name, which was domestic violence. So that domestic violence term came out of one of these conferences. And that you're saying that came out of the Nairobi conference? Yeah. So it was really recognized there.


And then also it was in the document. So it's not just all these activists are talking about. It's also that it is in the document that this is so that a woman does not have a law in her country. But that's where that begins. The activists can go back to their community communities, say, well, you whatever country signed on to that, this is wrong and what are you doing about it? You have no laws. The police don't know that.


You put no money towards that. You need to get educated. I mean, so it was like that starting place. So that's that's certainly why it's so important. Now, just my own story when I was in college, and that's when I found out about the Beijing Women's Conference totally randomly. It's not like I find it out online.


Remember, it was a random series of phone calls I had made because I was trying to find out about opportunities for internships and someone connected me. Well, you should talk to the U.N. and talk to this office within the UN.


And I found out about this conference and I immediately knew I had to go. Now, I am just a college student. I don't have an NGO. I was in Boston at Emerson College. You know, I. I immediately started saving my money. I actually had a lot of problems getting a visa. I didn't even get the right kind of visa. So in many ways I had to sneak well, I had to sneak into the conference. That's a whole other story.


But I mean, for me, it was my call to action. I mean, it was it was a defining moment in my life of deciding saved and borrowed money by the cheapest ticket I could find stays in this little five dollars a night barracks dormitory. And the story also, which kind of made the whole thing so interesting in terms of why the Chinese government wanted to host this, is that similar to like they had just lost hosting the Olympics?


Maybe. I don't know which Olympics it was, because obviously later they did end up hosting the Olympics, but. They had just lost hosting the Olympics, someone in Asia or the Pacific needed to host this women's conference and they thought, well, that's great, we'll host this. It's probably like a knitting festival or quilting or something. These lovely women will come from all over the world and they'll meet women in our country and we'll talk about things like knitting and other things.


They care about having children. And, you know, I mean, they really thought it was a nice, nice gathering. And then a few months before a press conference, a press conference to talk about the platform for action that would be signed with 12 critical areas. They got a taste of what was coming and they freaked out. They decided to move the NGO forum out of this little tiny village that didn't even exist on a map because they thought we cannot have these activists in Beijing.


I mean, the stories are bizarre. I mean, from taxi cab drivers throughout Beijing carrying white sheets to cover up the women who were definitely planning to protest naked in the streets. I mean, just which they were not. But it was it was the craziest thing to ever hit China. And remember, this is not that long after Tiananmen Square.


And that is why, quite frankly, it was such a feat that Secretary Clinton traveled all that way to attend the conference because many people thought, well, she should not go and deliver this policy speech. And how will she walk the line of both not commending China for hosting a human rights conference on women, you know, but yet being diplomatic as the first lady. And she did a brilliant job. I mean, that speech and what she said or on women's rights or human rights, I mean, it is the iconic slogan.


And many people say it was the call to action for the global women's movement. It was an important milestone in this journey. And I think it really led to so much more. And so at least you are this 20 year old college student, I would imagine, and you scrape together money and you get on a plane and you go to China and then you sneak into this U.N. conference. I mean, how did that happen? Were you always very passionate about gender, about women's rights?


I think, like all of us, it's an awakening, right. And I think, you know, I grew up in a family where it was of course, I could do anything. I mean, it wasn't even a question that was talked about. Right. And then as you over time, you begin to realize that actually that's really not the case for so many women. That was not the case for the women who came before you. You know, I mean, my mother, for example, who is an absolute badass and she's 77 and she still surfs, has traveled the world with us.


But, you know, she was told by her father, by her guidance counselor, by everyone that she could be a teacher or she could be a nurse, but she wanted to be an architect. And they said, well, no one's ever going to hire a woman to design and build a strong structure right now.


You can't do that just growing up with that, that anyone would ever tell my mom she couldn't do something and that she'd listen made me question. And just, you know, in college, I just got my hands on every little piece that I could read, took every class. And I was just really interested. But there was very little information about what was going on around the world. So I knew very much about the women's movement in the United States.


And quite frankly, all of my friends thought I was completely nuts. Like, why was I so fascinated by all of this? The women's movement was dead, right? It had been fought in the 60s and the 70s. And it was done right. I mean, that was that was very much I mean, sadly, that was the sentiment. I was really passionate. And I've always kind of been a person where you can tell me no, but then I'll find a way to.




And so, yeah, it's pretty. It's it's it's rare.


The fact that you snuck into a conference and that two in Beijing, a UN conference gives us a pretty good indication that you're not one to take no for an answer. Oh, well, I tell you, though, it was it was an education. I mean, I remember seeing a poster that said stop trafficking in women and girls. And I thought it was a disease trafficking in what is then. Right. And because back then, people didn't know about human trafficking.


So I was learning and my brain was getting filled up. And I remember thinking, why did I feel compelled to come? What am I supposed to do with all this information? And on the last day of the conference, I really got my answer when I heard Hillary give that speech and I realized, like, here is a woman who recognized that she has voice, she has power, she has a platform as the first lady, people will record what she is saying and it will zoom around the world like wildfire.


The media will pick it up. Right. Her voice counts. It meant so much because so much of what was happening there was not getting into the press and they were focusing on other issues that were just not really important. I mean, they were important, but not the real issues. So I think it really struck me in that speech as I was sitting there listening to it, you know, as this twenty one year old girl that, you know, I had a voice, too, and it wasn't as loud and as mighty and as powerful as the first lady of the United States, certainly.


But what was the power on the platform that I had and what could I do with it? And I'll tell you, Gayatri, that became my driving force of my life is. How do you use your power to empower people when you're a young person and don't have that much power is what I'm taking away from this, is that you were only twenty one, but then you just sort of understood that even without much means or anything else, you still had the ability to make a difference.


Yeah, exactly. And then at least you then did you immediately after the move to Washington, D.C., and obviously you worked at the White House and some of the State Department. And what was that like? How did you end up there and what was it like working in these institutions that we all just sort of read about? So I'm I'm in my senior year and I held a huge conference at my university and invited others throughout the Boston area to come, young people to hear about these issues, because I thought, well, the first thing I can do is I can educate young men and young women about these issues.


And so I brought a woman named Teresa Laura, who was at the White House, and she was the she ran something called the President's Interagency Council on Women. And it was basically to elevate and integrate what happened in Beijing in that platform for action with 12 critical areas of concern for women and girls into the US government. And she came and she spoke and she was very impressed with the many, many people. I got to come to that gathering.


And I had someone from the U.N. and other people who had participated in the Boston area to talk about their experiences. And she said, you know, you should come and work for me at the White House now. I can't pay you. You'd come as an intern, but think about it. And so, of course, I followed up and now I had a scholarship to go to graduate school the next year, quite frankly, because I didn't know what I wanted to do.


I knew what I was passionate about, but I didn't know there was a job on women's issues right now. So I didn't have any idea really what an NGO was until I signed up to go to the conference in China, you know, so. So anyway, I made my way down to to Washington to take on an internship and worked unpaid at the White House. And I, I worked nights and weekends to be able to support myself after about six months, was able to get a job, which is great at the State Department.


My boss then was going to become the senior coordinator for women's issues. And so we left the White House, went to the State Department very much still working very closely with Melanne Verveer, who was Hillary's chief of staff. Right. That later ambassador for women's issues, our first ambassador for women's issues, and one of my great mentors, the Chair, Vital Voices. For years, we will be over the State Department to really build the first women's office within the State Department.


And I have to tell you, back then we were made fun of people visiting. Oh, we do foreign policy. This is crazy social policy. Oh, yeah. One of my boyfriend that I had who at the time he was working within the State Department as well, said, you know what, they call you guys, they call you the Spice Girls because the AH acronym was s for part of the secretary's office. So we were very high up.


But Yeah. S and then P c w President's Interagency Council on Women. So it was Spice W and I was like, are you kidding me? I mean, that was it was just not taken seriously back then. It's taken more seriously now, but we have a long way to go in terms of shifting institutions in this country. I mean, you can have a law on the books saying that women have equal rights to men, but not although in this country we still don't because we don't have paid maternity leave.


That's one of the issues that would that is holding us back from gaining that. But it was Eye-Opening to see how it was not just about laws, it was really about attitudes. And until you change attitudes and shift behavior, you can't really bring about change right now.


One of the things that Vital Voices has been so instrumental in doing is training future women leaders. And I know you spend a lot of time at the grassroots level working with the women from around the world in different communities. And I wanted to ask you if you would share some examples of these women that have gone through the Vital Voices program and are really effecting change. Sure. So what we do it by the voices now is we searched the world for women who have a daring vision for change.


And you did a wonderful introduction earlier to talk about how they are women who are political leaders or combat human trafficking and other human rights violations or lifting communities out of poverty through economic opportunity and development. And we work across a hundred and eighty two countries and territories and worked with thousands of women. And I have to tell you, I think what has kept me at Vital Voices for all this time, one, I'm able to live that driving force on a daily basis to seek power, to empower extraordinary people who represent the best of humanity and are often dealing with some of the worst of humanity.


And they are women at the grassroots, but they're are also women who are, you know, in many ways sort of at the at the grass tops. You know, they are women who decide to run for president of their country. Kalala, for example, is a woman we've supported over the last 12 years. She ran for president in Cameroon and in Cameroon. It's a country where it is very resource wealthy, one of natural resources. But yet.


The majority of people are living below the poverty line and people are, you know, sort of had believed that that's just the way it is and government's corrupt. And there has not been really a change other than between two men, very old men in the last like sixty five years, even 70 years in terms of who's holding power. And so she was the first woman to ever run and she didn't think she'd get elected because obviously there's there's a lot of corruption as well in terms of voter suppression and other things.


But she wanted to awaken people to the fact they could choose and that they are powerful and that anyone else who has power, they've given over their power to them. And it's time to take that power back as citizens. Right. And she's been an extraordinary leader. And I think what we have done is supported her in a number of different ways, given her visibility and credibility outside of her country, helped her to meet with leaders, helped her to gain resources, not to run her political campaign.


Certainly we wouldn't do that, but we worked with her on a big project she did with market women. But I think the important thing to know about the work we do, which I think is quite different than other development organizations, is that we find leaders who have that vision and we invest in them and their vision. So we don't go into a country or community and say, well, we know all the issues in Afghanistan, so we know exactly what the changes that are needed, which just bring a solution that worked from here in the United States.


Right. So so really what we are doing is finding those locally sourced, locally led solutions and investing in them to take things forward. And that's that's where a lot of my inspiration comes from, is to really see these incredibly innovative ways that women are leading change. It's just I feel like I'm a constant student, you know, just just constantly learning about leadership. And you mentioned earlier in the book that I wrote, where would that book really does?


Is it it talks about the lessons of leadership and how there were these commonalities in the way that women really change. And we talk about five core areas are five core practices that all of these women were implementing. And once we began to call them out, other women started to recognize, wait, actually, I am the leader. I think that's probably one of the most important things that we do is just help women recognize their own leadership.


And do you have a network of women who kind of give you suggestions of women who shouldn't go through the training program? How does that work and how can young women and girls get involved with vital voices here? So we have 17 different fellowship programs that we run each year and there are intensive and you do have to apply. We used to just identify great people and then bring them into our universe. But we began to realize that probably we weren't always reaching out enough.


Right. And we wanted to make sure that it wasn't us selecting people. It was people self-selecting.


So anyone can apply for any of our fellowships. We announce our fellowships on our website. If you sign up for our newsletter, which is called The Vine, you can you find out about every new fellowship from one for political leaders that we run to, one for women entrepreneurs who have a social bent and they're intense. You know, our programs go very deep and they we're very much about results and is not just to feel good, although it is feel good because it's a great network of your peers.


We've done a lot of studies around the value of that network and how what women need to succeed as leaders as they need non-hierarchical, non-competitive and diverse networks. And why is that valuable? Because leadership is about risk. It's about going beyond your comfort zone. And if your only network or people who've known you your whole life, they might say, well, you've never done that before. Are you sure you can do that? Right? There is. If your network is other women leaders around the world go for it and even watching them go for it inspires others to go.


So it's it's been this incredible sort of mutually reinforcing, inspiring group. And once you once you go through one of our programs or fellowships, you are always part of vital voices. And so when we talk about we have a network of actually now it's eighteen thousand women around the world. They are women who are actually engaged in vital voices. They are women who participate in something we have called our global mentoring block, which is where they have the opportunity to bring the ideals of vital voices seeking power to empower.


Right. And and using your power and paying that forward in their own home countries. And this year, many of them ended up getting postponed or canceled, obviously, because of covid. But in fact, in India, I think we've got probably like six different mentoring locks, maybe even more than that. Sorry, but I know we definitely have one in Mumbai. We have them. And it's established women like yourself walking and mentoring that next generation of women, all organized by women who have gone through vital voices programs and reaching out to women leaders in their communities to lend their leadership and expertise and voice to younger women.


And when you apply for the program, is it well, forget covid, because this is obviously an unusual year. But is it remote or do you actually travel to the United States to go through these programs? How does that work? It's the programs take place all over the world. Some programs are in the United States. Some programs are somewhere else in the world. A lot of times it might depend on a fellowship run for women entrepreneurs that typically is held somewhere in Europe because it's a central place.


We also look at visa requirements. We look at where we where we can get discounted rates on hotels or flights or, you know, all of these things. So there's a number of factors that go into it. Yes. This year, for the foreseeable future, all of our programs are are digital, but still very connected. I mean, I think our staff is working harder than ever. We have trainers and experts, mentors that are in online.


In many ways. I think it's expanded. What we do enable us to see how much more we can even do. But the programs typically are part virtual and part in-person. And so, for example, a program we run each year of fellowship, call our vital voices, engage fellowship of women, political leaders. It's women elected political leaders from around the world. A lot of them are mayors, parliamentarians. Some are policy leaders, sometimes from outside the government.


Maybe it's a deputy minister of transportation or really phenomenal group of women and they have to in person programs at the beginning of the program, selected days, maybe a few weeks of connecting online. And they can usually it's through a number of different sessions. Then they'll have a week together. This past program, for example, that we got together the first time in Arizona and the second time we were supposed to get together in Indonesia, which would have been this June.


And so obviously that had to be that had to be canceled. But, you know, it's so it's it's always usually there is there's a public gathering at the beginning of the week, gathering at the end and and coursework trainings in between. We bring some of the best trainers and experts in, you know, from leading universities and institutions. And then, of course, we have our own training that we do based on our expertise and leadership, the leadership that we've learned from women around the world over the years.


We are looking at really creating a leadership program that would be completely online so that we can offer it to more women. But our model has always been high touch. Our model has always been you really want to make change. You can not go a mile wide and an inch deep. You need to go deep. You need to support people over the long run. But I think one of the things that we begin to realize is that there's a lot of other extraordinary activists and leaders who.


Probably only interaction with this might be a rejection letter because it is hard to get accepted into these programs. So we're really looking at how might we expand and have a second tier of programming that would be more online and maybe those group sizes could be a bit larger than sort of twenty five or forty five that most of our fellowship programs accept each year.


So it was going to say, when you say fellowship, that means that let's say I apply to one of these programs, these leadership programs, and I get accepted then does vital voices pay for me to come? How does that work? Yes, we do. It's a real opportunity then. Yes, it's completely paid for by transportation, hotel meals. All of that is paid for. The only program where we ask participants to pay a fee if they can afford it is our program for women entrepreneurs.


But we have scholarships if they can not afford it. But what we found is that if women can, they want to contribute. But, you know, the way that we see it is that, one, we don't want the money to be a factor where people don't participate because they can't afford to participate. So so we want it to be an equalizer, but also I think we want to to say that that know we want we want it to be something that is really an opportunity to invest in themselves and their own leadership.


And sometimes it's harder for women to say, I'm going to spend money on myself, as you know.


And actually, at least I wanted to ask you, given your vast experience in this field, you know, they always say, you know, men are born leaders and which I know is just not true. But anyway, what are some of the biggest challenges you believe women face as they what is it that keeps us from realizing are need leadership potential? So I think that women lead differently. But that difference is critically needed in a world today where now lots of studies that prove this.


But when I had first written them Vital Voices book, you know, identified five course things that I saw women leaders more often than not doing around the world. And one of them was being driven by this driving force. It's a sort of personal mission. And that driving force, like my own driving force, came from a personal experience. So so their leadership often because it's harder for women to gain positions of leadership or power, it comes from a personal place.


Now, I'm not saying that men's leadership doesn't come from a personal place, but I think that there are many men who say, I would like power for the sake of power, where I think a lot of times women are saying, I want power for the sake of purpose, for the sake of empowering or pushing an issue. You know, they experience something good or bad. I mean, a lot of women in our network have experienced sexual violence, horrific violence, something that was jarring to them.


And it really kind of rocked them. And they decided, I don't want this to happen to anyone else. And they stepped up and they created an organization. They dedicated their life. And because being driven by and having their motivation for leadership so pure and so linked to this personal experience, it's the kind of leadership that you need because it's deeply authentic, you know, where they stand, you know, when people are really passionate about something.


And you know exactly where that passion comes from. You really know where they stand. You know, why are they doing this? What is their agenda? Will they believe in it? And I think that right now people are craving that in the world. We are so deeply connected to all of our inner thoughts through technology. But yet when it comes to our leaders, often we feel disconnected. And I think people are really craving that sort of vulnerability, that honesty.


So this idea of authenticity, it is core to our values. You know, you are your word. And we we believe it's core to leadership and that's where it begins. And there's four more traits beyond that. But I think that a lot of times that women don't recognize the leadership that they have in themselves because the leadership that they see demonstrated by those who hold power is very different. So I think in just in dealing with this current crisis, we have seen women leaders rise up with empathy and compassion and quick decision making and pulling in science and expertise of others when that is not their own expertise.


Right. And saying, you know, I don't have the answers, but this person does and I'm going to follow what this person. And so it's about not having that ego. Well, if you're driven by this driving force to make a difference, right, you're going to do whatever it takes. It's not about you. It is about the impact you're going to make. Right. It doesn't matter where it comes from is it may not come from you.


It may come from some experts somewhere. But you don't care. You just want to be able to have that solution. Right. There are more pieces to it than that, because, as I mentioned, there are five core areas which would take a little too long to go into, although people can certainly purchase the book it's on. And they said they should read the book. That's right. They should, yes. But also there's more information on our website just by the Voices Dog and of course, to learn about the fellowships and apply for a newsletter or even become a member of Vital Voices.


And you get sort of another level of of entry point in addition to being able to support the work that we're doing. Absolutely. I'm sure after this podcast, you're going to get quite a few people logging in from India. Very inspirational. But at least I know you need to go. I just wanted to ask you before I let you go, what are your future plans for? Vital voices are what you hope to know. As you said, 20, 20 is a big year for the organization.


So tell us a little bit about what you envision for the future. We certainly had a big plan, and I mean, obviously many plans have shifted and I think in good ways, I think in the United States here we are in the midst of a day of reckoning, truly. And I think that more and more we are recognizing that the women's movement for for gender equality has got to be more inclusive. And it has left people out along the way.


And we need to step back and recognize that. And we need to give up power and we need to elevate voices that haven't always been heard and recognize the intersectionality of gender equality. Right. So you're talking about race, sexual orientation and all those issues as well? Absolutely, yes. Yes. I think also with with covid, we've we've begun to really recognize how much we can do through technology and knowing that this will probably not be the last pandemic we will see in our lifetime the importance of that and how do we do more of that.


We are also very exciting in in the midst of covid, we actually closed on a long, long dream of ours to have a place here in the nation's capital, a physical space where women could gather. So we purchased the 35000 square foot seven stories on 16th Street, just blocks from the White House. It will become the first ever global headquarters for women's leadership. It's under construction now, but it will be a gathering place and the doors will be open to all women.


This is not a place where you become a member and you pay your big fee and you can come in. This is a place that really all women will be welcome to learn about these issues together. You know, it's it's my ultimate give back to so many women who educated me over the years, both in the says that we're going back to the Beijing Women's Conference when I was so young, but creating that physical space for our community, but also for our world, for women to feel like this is their embassy.


You just like you come to the capital in India, you know, in Delhi, and you'll you'll get to go to the various embassies here. When you come to Washington, D.C., our capital, you can go to the embassy of India, you can go to the embassy of Nigeria. Will this will be the embassy for women, a women's embassy in Washington, D.C.. I can't wait to have millions of Indian women come and descend upon it.


Yes, but we really want this to be every woman's building. That's a wonderful place. Again, big congratulations. It's wonderful to know that we're going to have a women's embassy to all end up. And at some point when covid lets us eases up and we're allowed to travel. Good luck with Vital Voices. Thank you for spending the time with us today. And we look forward to hearing more about the programs. And I'm sure anyone who's interested in knowing more about these fellowships and programs you conduct can go to the Vital Voices website, which is Vital Voices dot org.


Yes, absolutely. And we have a fabulous network across India.


Well, thank you. On that note, I'll let you go. And thanks again, Aleece. Thank you. Have a good day.


That was Elise Nelson, CEO of Vital Voices, talking to us about how the slogan Women's Rights Are Human Rights, uttered by Hillary Clinton twenty five years ago became a global call to action and how the organization she runs has developed a network of over eighteen thousand women leaders around the world. Tune in next week for another episode of Uncommon Women With Me, Guide three Runga Show.


You were listening to Uncommon Women on Red podcast.