Monday, October 10, 2011

Attending the Fortune MPW summit

Was an amazing experience. I met Joan after my mentoring program during this summit though we have been in touch throughout. I have no idea when I ll see her again but hanging out with her and meeting all the amazing ladies I did was super duper. 

One of the first ladies I met was Baroness Goudie, House of Lords. I guess I was slightly awed to meet her but she was so friendly. She said she had been to Chennai a few times. Also met Jami Miscik, now Vice Chairman, Kissinger Associates but was Deputy Director of Intelligence, CIA. Listening to her talk to my mentor and me over dinner was one of the best conversations I have even been part of in my life. And for all her accomplishments, she was simple and extremely humble. I would definitely expect someone of her rank back here to throw her weight around. Her simplicity humbled me. And she said in 2020 the things world leaders will be worried about would be water. Maybe like Shekhar Kapur says, if there is a world war, it would be for water. And it would be used a weapon to create social disparity. As if India is already equal. But the thought is scary.

This was the dinner before the summit where I also had a chance to listen to Rosanne Cash. Honestly, that was first time I had heard of her. The two days of the summit passed in a flurry of meeting people, amazing interviews and listening to some of the best opinions. Amongst the breakfast roundtables I attended, the one I liked the most was "Building a movement" by Catherine Coughlin of AT&T and Elizabeth Gore of the UN Foundation. Was amazing listening to the movements they started and the movements they have come across. 

Of all the speakers I heard in the summit I thought Indra Nooyi was extremely articulate and I loved the way she was so poised, the way she conveyed her thoughts with clarity and assertiveness. With a ring of honesty. No pish-toosh. No lah-di-dah. Met her after her speech and said hello. Took a picture. Perhaps the first time I went to someone I didn't know and ask for a picture.

Rosie O Donnell was a moderator for one of the discussions and she had the audience in splits throughout. I felt the audience visibly lighten up after her session. Loved listening to Glenn Close and there was a super short teaser of her upcoming film where she plays a man, was screened. She acted out how her character was afraid to look people in the eye, right there on stage. And it was amazing how she just transformed in that split second. 

I loved Chelsea Handler's attitude, the way she spoke about her team and her productions. Loved listening to Tyra Banks and about her journey from being a super model to studying at Harvard and creating Bankable. 

Somaly Lam, was successful in not breaking down on stage as she was being interviewed by the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg. She got the first standing ovation of the summit. Read more about her extraordinary story and how she is saving girls from sexual slavery and human trafficking here. If you can donate to her foundation, even better. Her daughter was kidnapped by people who thought this would stop her from continuing on her mission. Her daughter came back to her, telling her to continue. She reminds me of Anuradha Koirala of Maithi Nepal. Women like these are beyond extraordinary and courageous. Shame on the those men for whom this industry runs. And the women who help run it killing girls and women emotionally and physically.

Listening to Regina Dugan the first woman chief of DARPA was superb too. The presentation she put together especially the ones across history who were the naysayers like Ken Olson "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home" or Sir William Preece "The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys" or "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." was highlighted in her presentation. Throughout time there have been enough and more people who said "That is not possible" or "That cannot be done" and precisely as someone said, the person who says it cannot be done is interrupted by the person who is doing it.

Attending the summit once again gave me a new vision. Gave me new ideas. More than anything else, it seems like when women head an organization, there is so much more heart in the way they are run.

And before I forget, it was fun listening to Warren Buffet too. And to hear his thoughts on why it is fair that the rich in America should pay more taxes. 

Some other observations (some unconnected to the summit): 

1. LA, I hear is a very Vegan/vegetarian place. The food they served us during the summit was 90% vegetarian. I love the way the US (or at least the places/restaurants/offices I have visited in the US is sensitive to food preferences. No jeering no teasing as I have noticed all the time here. But then that insensitivity warrants a totally new blog post.

2. I have a feeling too much water is being wasted in bathrooms/restrooms in the US. Perhaps that can be better managed. On a different note, the Ritz Carlton and St Regis at Laguna Niguel are amazing places to stay. And no I am not being paid for this. I just loved the hotels. 

3. If I heard right, (correct me if this is not true) there was no rain water harvesting in LA. Which I thought was sad.

So much needs to be done in the world and for the world. But I think with the kind of women and men committed to change, the world might be a better place in the future.

And finally when I thanked Joan for the opportunity and said I have no idea how I can pay you back, she said one thing which I knew she would say - "Pay it forward" :)