This plenary session, featuring Richard Leftley, president of MicroEnsure; Claudia Kennedy, the first woman to achieve the rank of three-star general in the U.S. Army; and Sheryl WuDunn, best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner, discussed microinsurance, global security, and the empowerment of women through access to education and microfinance.
Richard Leftley, president and CEO of MicroEnsure, explains how life insurance can protect clients when natural disasters or other crises hit. “It didn’t take long until we realized that health insurance was not the only product clients needed. In Malawi, farmers told us they needed help purchasing seed and making ends meet in the growing season. We developed weather-index crop insurance to protect them against drought, excess rain and typhoon, and it helps farmers increase their yields. Now we work in Tanzania, Rwanda, the Philippines, and more.”
Lieutenant General Claudia Kennedy, the first woman to earn the rank of three-star general in the U.S. Army, and member of Opportunity’s Board of Advisors, is interviewed by Rob Meloche, our VP of Communications. “Kennedy discusses how global development and diplomacy are the keys to global security. We need to employ ‘soft power’ to bring stability to developing world. What I love about Opportunity gatherings is that people come here thinking very actively about these problems. There is no reason that people should go hungry. The majority of the world’s poor live in coastal areas. Climate change can cause natural disasters, including flooding, and we must offer them access to protection against these crises. If someone’s rocking the boat, we’re all on the same boat. It is worth the cost of mitigating the effects. We cannot give up.”
Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American to win the Pulitzer Prize and co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, spoke about the need to unleash the economic power of women in the developing world, to mitigate the effects of abuse and oppression through microfinance and education. “When women have access to education, they live longer lives. In the developing world, there are actually more men than women, partly because girls have access to poor or no health care in the developing world.”
WuDunn on the economic impact of educating women and girls: “We think one of the best ways to fight terrorism and poverty is to bring girls into the labor force. When you educate a girl, she tends to marry and have children later, and that impacts her poverty level. Once, at a conference I attended with Bill Gates, he told a member of the audience, ‘If you are not utilizing half the resources in your country, you cannot grow an economy.’” WuDunn went on to emphasize the difference that microfinance can make to improve the lives of women, telling the stories of women she met who were able to earn economic self-sufficiency and independence through access to microloans and savings. This helps them improve the lives of their families and communities, protecting them in the event of the death of their husband or other unforeseen crises. “We in the developed world have won the lottery of life, so how will you use that and what will you do with that privilege?”
In addition, Susan Gillette, board member of the Women’s Opportunity Network (WON), presented Sheryl WuDunn with WON’s 2010 International Women’s Leadership Award, with the accolades, “Sheryl WuDunn, we honor you for the attention you are bringing to the injustices suffered by women and girls in the developing world, which is a cause that we all feel strongly about.”
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