Female Entrepreneurs Make Presence Known in Davos

By Jennie Wong
The Charlotte Observer

This week’s “Ask the Mompreneur” features an interview with Fox Business Network’s Liz Claman.

She is in Davos, Switzerland, this week to report live from the World Economic forum.

The annual meeting features 2,500 leaders from more than 100 countries addressing current challenges and future risks in the global economy.

QUESTION: Tell us a little about the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and why it’s such an important event.

ANSWER: It’s the largest gathering of global business leaders and heads of state, all at the top of a Swiss Alp in the small ski village of Davos. It started 44 years ago with just 500 people. It’s invitation-only, but now it’s grown to about 2,800 people. It’s where some of the biggest business deals have germinated and where world leaders have focused on making the world a better place.

Q: What impact did you see from the quota for female attendees? What topics or priorities might not have received focus without as many women present?

A: Here’s the deal about female attendees at Davos: There are very few of us. Last year, 17 percent of the participants were women; this year, that number has actually eroded to about 15 percent. Klaus Schwab, who runs the World Economic Forum, has been very vocal about participants making sure to bring women contributors. Why? Because we’re 50 percent of the population and, last I checked, we’re huge idea-generators who have an important voice.
This year, Yahoo Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer is a co-chair, and that’s getting a lot of attention. Depending on what she says and how she contributes, that could be awfully valuable. Last year, I was honored to be invited to the private Goldman Sachs dinner where Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook spoke about her then-new book “Lean In,” a fascinating take on how women themselves might be sabotaging their rise to the top. That kind of dialogue is important, and Davos is the place for it. But this year, WEF is also tackling issues like empowering women in third-world nations.
One of the most interesting moments last year when it comes to focusing on priorities was when Rick Goings, the CEO of Tupperware, very pointedly asked the WEF leaders while he was on our air why a horrific rape in India a year earlier wasn’t part of the greater discussion. Goings has been a champion for women in all nations and he wasn’t happy that the case, in which a woman was raped on a bus and then later died of her injuries, wasn’t at the forefront of at least some Davos discussion.

Q: What is the latest thinking on how to foster more entrepreneurial participation from women on a global basis? Which approaches might be appropriate for developed countries like the U.S.?

A: Women are terrific entrepreneurs. In fact, you could argue that at least here in the United States, they can get breaks on bank loans because they are seen, in some cases, as minorities. Sounds ridiculous considering more women get college degrees than men and we represent half the population, but hey, they’ll take it. In the end, to start a business, you usually do need a bank loan, so by beginning with the banks and making sure they understand that loaning women-owned businesses money isn’t a greater risk than loaning money to men. I’m quite sure that if you have an amazing idea or product and you can get some capital behind it, that’s really the key.

Q: What’s the most inspiring thing you heard or saw in Davos since you’ve been attending?

A: 2010 was my first year attending Davos. I landed an interview with Bill Gates, and he and his wife Melinda made a huge announcement right before the interview. They pledged $10 billion dollars to develop vaccines for a number of horrific and deadly diseases. These vaccines have the potential to save more than 8 million lives. The Gateses led by example. It was, and to date I believe still is, the largest single philanthropic pledge in history.
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That’s the kind of forum Davos provides: Some of the most important and powerful people on the planet were right there to hear about the pledge and be affected by it. Bill Gates stressed to Fox Business in the subsequent interview that while, yes, $10 billion is a lot, it’s not enough and that governments need to jump on board. Well, guess what? 40 world leaders were in attendance at that moment and hopefully got the message.
Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book “Ask the Mompreneur” and the founder of the social shopping website

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