President’s Perspective: Potential for World-changing Leadership

Carol ChristWe’ve seen it throughout history: as women thrive, society thrives. Where women lead, stability and prosperity are likely to follow.

Sophia Smith bet her fortune on that idea and generations of Smith women leaders have affirmed her investment.

This fall, hundreds of volunteers, advocates for Smith, and women on the front lines of social change and global causes will converge on campus for our Women’s Global Leadership Celebration, a three-day event that will showcase the power of Smith women in the world and underscore Smith’s commitment to preparing the twenty-first-century student for a lifetime of leadership.

The alumnae expected to be on campus in October exemplify the many forms leadership can take and the many ways women are making a difference. National and international scholars, activists, educators, and policymakers like former US Representative Jane Lakes Harman ’66, director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy ’02 will share the stage with Smith women like journalist Shehrbano Taseer ’10 and student Glendean Hamilton ’13, both of whom are just beginning what will undoubtedly be long and meaningful careers.

Students will be a vital audience for this event. For many of them, seeing a woman in a high-profile position is not unique. Strong and visible figures like US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, IMF Director Christine Lagarde, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are shaping global discussions and making decisions that have a profound impact on our lives. Yet, even as these women are serving as role models, one need look no farther than the US Congress or the Fortune 500 to know that we are nowhere near the balanced gender representation that we need for our society and economy to thrive.

Women’s colleges exist to open doors to leadership. You don’t need to look far for a role model or mentor. Every leadership role is held by a woman. Every opportunity is created for a woman. There are no double standards, just the expectation—and celebration—of competence and drive.

It’s not surprising that when Secretary Clinton sought to realize her vision of 50 percent female public servants worldwide by 2050, she turned first to the five Sisters—Smith, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Wellesley—now founding partners, with the State Department, of the Women in Public Service Project. When advocates for the Asian Women’s Leadership University sought a US academic planning partner, they turned to Smith. When leading corporations seek to advance their women managers, they send them to Smith for executive education. The French government is partnering with Smith to train women from Francophone African countries in leadership in public health. By educating and training women, we are laying a groundwork of successful and inclusive leadership.

Young women around the world are drawn to Smith because they see the challenges of our world and want to contribute solutions. They may have access to a range of higher education options in their own and other countries, but they value the tradition at Smith and other leading women’s colleges of engendering the capacities and habits of mind essential for leadership. They know they will receive an education of the highest caliber, coupled with support for giving back, making change in the world, and pursuing their goals with clarity and ambition. Above all else, we must make it possible for these exceptional young women to come to Smith, regardless of their financial circumstances. We cannot—and must not—cede them to other institutions. Smith, with its unwavering commitment to women’s education, is where they need to be, and ensuring that we have the resources to provide generous financial aid to any young woman who needs it is my highest priority.

We are all members of a world community growing more interconnected, more willing and able to face our challenges with the strong and full participation of all our people. Our job now—as educators, as citizens, as members of this global community, as Smith alumnae—is to support the movement for women’s leadership and the vast potential within it.

Collectively, Smith women represent a worldwide movement for change; they step readily into leadership positions, whether in business, government, education, or the arts, and put forth the best ideas for the betterment of society. They do, as Sophia hoped and predicted, “the most good for the greatest number.” Our celebration this fall will honor and energize this movement, on the campus where, for so many Smith women, it all began.

Fall 2012 SAQ