G(irls)20 is celebrating five years of bringing the issue of women’s advancement to political leaders around the world—and helping young girls make lasting change in their home countries. How did the organization grow its reach and influence? Its creator and leader shares the story…
By Farah Mohamed, Founder and CEO, G(irls)20
I am often asked how I came up with the idea of G(irls)20. It’s a rather simple story. It was Fall 2009 and I was under pressure to figure out how The Belinda Stronach Foundation (where I worked at the time as President & CEO) could use its considerable resources and patron’s name to elevate girls and women in Canada and around the world.
I was reading an article about Canada hosting the G20 Summit. I went to sleep and it was as if a jolt of lightning hit me in the middle of the night: borrow the G20 concept but place girls, aged 18-20 in the driver’s seat. After all, there are 3.5 billion girls and women in the world, one billion women will join the workforce in the next decade and women control 60 percent of household spending and so on. A few days later we convened a group of incredible women from a variety of industries and pitched the idea. We went from 0-60 in a nano-second. A few weeks later I assembled a group of my peers and walked away with our first partners: Veritas, Google and Norton Rose Fulbright (then called Ogilvy Renault).
The journey starts in Toronto
Our first Summit was held in June of 2010. 21 young women representing the G20 countries as well as the African and European Unions arrived in Toronto at the same time as the G20 Leaders. That was the first and last time we ran the G(irls)20 Summit at the same time as the other G20 because we realized that if we really wanted to influence the leaders, we would need to get our ideas to them well in advance of their meeting, and we needed to do more than work around the edges of the Summit—we needed to mirror their agenda, infiltrate their network and show the relevance and scalability of our ideas.
France makes it international
The 2011 Paris Summit came quickly and this time we were inundated with applications—was it the lure of the Eiffel Tower? The promise of Brie and French baguette? I like to believe it was because we secured the participation of powerhouses including: Goodwill Ambassador and actor Forest Whitaker, anti-child marriage crusader Mabel van Oranje and cerebral heavyweight Sudhir Shetty of the World Bank. We had the ear of the French Presidency and slowly made our way through the G20 Sherpa network. (Sherpas are the key advisors to the Leaders.)
In 2012, the delegates travelled to Mexico
Mexico City was a different chapter altogether. Just slightly ahead of a Presidential election, the climate was uber political. This time we worked closely with Canada’s Ambassador in Mexico, Ambassador Sara Hradecky. She and her staff provided the girls with strategic advice, helping us navigate the diplomatic network and land new private sector partners. In keeping with the theme of growth and jobs, we chose to focus on technology, agriculture and how to reduce violence in the workplace, which we knew was impeding the inclusion of women, and just happened to be a priority of the Mexican government. We turned out practical solutions and for the first time, due to the efforts of many organizations, G20 leaders included language in their communiqué (their official announcement to the media) about the relevance of women to the growth and stability of the economy. This is not to say politicians didn’t get it, they did. The difference was that they were saying it. It helped that facts and figures started to populate social media sites and there was a realization occurring: if you want to strengthen your company, community or country you must strategically invest in and include women.
We packed our bags for Russia in 2013
Last year’s Summit took place in the Google Moscow offices and to our relief, G20 Leaders kept with the theme of jobs and growth—this is important because creating jobs and stabilizing economies is not something you focus on one year and move off of the next. The Russia Summit put us in front of Ksenia Yudaeva who was charged with advising President Putin. Hosted by Ambassador John Sloan, Canada’s Ambassador to Russia, the 21 delegates briefed Ms. Yudaeva on their ideas for action and were pleased when a few months later, the G20 Leaders communiqué offered a few specifics about how to economically engage women in building the economy.
Our milestone year down under
By the time you read this, we will have completed our fifth Summit from the stage of the Sydney Opera House (that still blows my mind!). When I reflect on our legacy over these past four years, I am proud that we have stayed true to mission, yet flexible. We now include delegates from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the MENA region and offer not just a two-day Summit, but also a yearlong program that offers skills building workshops, access to professional coaches and mentors and advice on building and running your own social enterprise. We are an example of what can happen when you challenge innovative, driven and ambitious young women to make recommendations to address the most pressing challenges facing us today and inevitably, for years to come.
What has been our recipe for success? Partnership. With the private sector. With social profit entities. With government. With the future female leaders of our companies, communities and countries. As a 40-something-year-old who hasn’t until recently thought about legacy, I am lucky to be a small part of creating many individual legacies.
Our Future Women of Influence Mentorship Auction begins this October. We’ll be auctioning days of mentorship with the leading ladies of business from all across the country. Stay tuned for more info!