Women's Leadership Takes Centre Stage for the Global Goals

CEOs of business and civil society share life lessons on leadership to inspire others to step up for the  Sustainable Development Goals

New York, NY — Far from the gridlock surrounding the United Nations Secretariat in mid-town Manhattan, where world leaders were gathering to discuss how to solve urgent challenges facing the world today, in part, through the Sustainable Development Goals, seven women representing business and civil society inspired an audience of more than 1,000 people, most of them students, on how women can—and must—lead to create a more sustainable and inclusive world.

As part of the fifth annual International Conference on Sustainable Development, the Business Commission, along with its partners, hosted “Behind Every Global Goal: Women Leading the World to 2030” to fill the gap in the current dialogue about women and the SDGs, which has largely positioned them as beneficiaries rather than leaders who are needed to drive achievement of the Global Goals. The event was held at Columbia University’s Morningside campus in partnership with Women’s World Banking, the UN Foundation, The Earth Institute and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. (The video of the entire panel can be viewed online at www.ic-sd.org.)

Moderated by Sam Mostyn, President of the Australian Council for International Development and a commissioner, the speakers included: Kathy Calvin, President & CEO, the UN Foundation; Fiona Dawson, Global President, Mars Foods, Drinks, and Multisales; Mary-Ann Etiebet, MD, Executive Director, Merck for Mothers, Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO, Women’s World Banking, and Amy Jadesimi, Managing Director and CEO of LADOL.

The conversation kicked off with how, under the women’s leadership, their organisations were solving urgent challenges including: achieving maternal health; facilitating economic sustainability in developing countries; opening access to financial inclusion and increasing financial literacy among women in emerging markets; and accelerating partnerships to achieve the Global Goals. It ended with inspirational personal stories about the obstacles each speaker has had to overcome to be in the leadership positions they are in today.

The women underscored the need to change the conversation about women’s leadership---moving away from empowerment and toward language of inclusion.  

Mary-Ann Etiebet from Merck spoke about working with Ugandan midwives, who face challenges in accessing resources and capital, and how, by providing practical training, Merck for Mothers is creating more women leaders and a sustainable approach to maternal health in developing countries. One midwife, she said, was now advocating for the inclusion of midwives into the national healthcare system in Uganda as a result of their work.

When asked to share advice she would give to her younger self, Kathy Calvin, underscored the need for women to step up and lead, reminding the audience that there are more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies named “John” than Fortune 500 CEOs who are women, and that the dynamics around women in business, in power – everywhere in the world – can be difficult to navigate. Her advice to women: “Challenge yourselves, but don’t worry if it’s not perfect. Men don’t do that.”

The Business Commission has also released a discussion paper, “Behind Every Global Goal,” to change the narrative about women’s leadership for the SDGs, and to mobilise both women and men to step up and lead for a stable, inclusive and sustainable economy by 2030.