On a certifiably gorgeous afternoon in Paris, 21 young women gathered from their respective countries for the second G(irls) 20 Summit. It is just two weeks before the world's most influential leaders will make a similar trip to France for the sixth G20 Summit on Financial Markets and the world economy.
Forget the jet lag, these girls who represent each of the G20 countries -- plus one representative from Africa -- are busy announcing their arrival through Twitter and Facebook and eager to exchange handles with one another to suitably connect in the online world.
Now, listen: I'm a girl who can spend countless hours talking shopping, design and the latest fare from a top chef. If I had been invited to Paris at the age of 18, I would have been eager too, but mostly for the boutiques, local clubs or the Parisian co-eds. Needless to say, I am a bit humbled to learn that the first thing these women do when they all finally meet at a small Parisian hotel is get to work on the business of changing of the world.
Ahem. Yes, changing the world. No small feat, but seemingly possible for a group of inspired, motivated young women who were selected among hundreds of applicants globally.
Over the next few days, with the stately Academie Diplomatique Internationale as their backdrop, they will be immersed in debate, discussion and ideas.
With five panels and three workshops featuring global leaders on topics like commoditization of girls and women, education, economic empowerment and using your voice for political change, the delegates will rally around the theme of 'economic innovation' and girls and women as 'engines of growth'.
The culminating result of five intense days will be a communiqué of recommendations that will be directly delivered to the G20 leaders, courtesy of a top aide to France's President Sarkozy.
How this even began is a story of innovation unto itself; enter Belinda Stronach and Farah Mohamed. Interested in propelling the mandate of the Belinda Stronach Foundation forward, they committed to up to five million dollars over five years to the empowerment of girls and women at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative.
The first spark of an idea was to both economically and politically empower young women and it seemed, that with the G8 and G20 hosted on Canadian soil in 2010, the opportunity for girls and women's issues to find a platform was serendipitously ripe.
The result? A G(irls) 20 summit, modeled closely after the G20, addressing and tackling the same issues and following the same agenda but with young women aged 18-20 at the helm.
Fast-forward one year, and the summit already boasts 50 International partners, including powerhouse private sector partners like Norton Rose, Nike, and Google.
In the same lobby that the girls met one another, I caught up with the indomitable Farah Mohamed, president of the Belinda Stronach Foundation, on the eve of the summit. When asked about the purpose of empowerment as an underlying theme of the workshops and panels, she said: "People can empower women in many different ways. It doesn't matter if you're a politician, a businessperson, a singer, a model: what we have to showcase to these 21 girls is that no matter what you do, you have the power within to elevate the role of girls and women. You just have to find your vehicle."
To that end, the girls will be exposed to a wide host of speakers and panelists, many famous in their own right, all with a message of empowerment and all with the ambition of inspiring the 21 delegates to ensure their recommendations provide a blueprint to the G20 leaders of how to utilize and engage one the best resources in the world -- girls and women.
But what seems like a daunting agenda to cover in five short days appears to fuel the very motivation of each young future leader. If it's an indication of how these girls perceive their role at the summit, one young delegate from South Africa promptly introduces herself as an "idea generator."
It's this kind of self-identification that holds the promise of the summit, the unexpected topics they'll conquer and the future work of each of the delegates when they return to their own countries.
But on the first night, as some of the delegates wind down a discussion on poverty, they're all motivated by something a little more touristy and quintessentially Parisian -- the lighting of the Eiffel Tower.
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