The inaugural day of the Women in Public Service Project Summer Institute at Wellesley was a truly inspirational event for all involved. What was most illuminating during the event was a common theme among the speakers: the importance of storytelling.
Stories throughout the day came in all forms. Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly started the day off by telling the”Wellesley story,” particularly, how Wellesley’s motto “not to be ministered unto, but to minister” and being “women who make a difference in the world” were appropriate themes for the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) Institute.
Farah Pandith, Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the United States and co-founder of the Women in Public Service Project (and a Smith alumna), told the story of how women, internationally, are underrepresented in all levels of government. This fact was made even more vivid with her personal story of when she was at the White House debating an important initiative and looked up to realize that she was the only woman in a room packed with men. She described how, at that moment, she realized that “good leadership decisions could not take shape if half of the world is not represented.” After that, Kavita Ramdas, head of the WPSP Planning Committee and former Head of Global Fund for Women shared stories from around the world on inclusive models of leadership.
Then came the stories from the anticipated Keynote speakers of the day. For more about the remarks of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,Wellesley ’69, see the previous blog post devoted to her speech.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Wellesley ’59, had the crowd roaring with laughter when she described a recent interaction in the airport when a woman didn’t recognize her and was confused as to who she was. But she also told stories of a more serious nature. She told stories of how she got to where she is today along with her accomplishments, like efforts for justice in Kosovo. She also told stories about why women are necessary in public service because of their unique perspective. For example, she said that “women would view the problem of security in broad terms;” not just looking at the problem of arms, but also at problems like poverty and moral development. Her speech ended by commenting on what she hoped the stories of our grandchildren would sound like, saying I hope they “will grow up wondering what all the fuss is about Women in Public Service.”
After lunch, the storytelling was primarily focused on intimate, personal stories from the speakers and delegates. Mu Sochua, gave a presentation on her journey to becoming the leader of the opposition party in Cambodia. She told stories of how she was able to make change by connecting on a personal level with the people of Cambodia; she even disguised herself in order to understand the struggles of women who were subjected to human trafficking. The Honorable Judge Nancy Gertner told her personal story of how she was inspired by advocacy when protesting against the Vietnam War. She knew that she wanted a career that would help people and used her Yale Law Degree (where she was a student with Sec. Clinton) to stand up for rather than “fear the world” as her parents had taught her.
Anne Timmons, a Wellesley Alumna and professional voice artist, spoke to the delegates about how storytelling could be used in a professional setting. She argued that storytelling is a particularly persuasive means for women to convey their message because women are good storytellers and can better convey emotion in their stories.
At the end of the day, the delegates were urged to tell their stories (using the ideas that Anne Timmons suggested) and the audience learned about the incredible women attending the Institute. Delegates told of the struggles they overcame to enter political office, stories of their passions for promoting education or freedom of the press, and stories of how forming networks with other women inspired them to work for women’s causes. One young woman even told how she started a taxi service of female-only taxi drivers in her home country after hearing how women were being raped by male taxi drivers.
We hope to use social media to continue to tell the story of the Women in Public Service Institute these next two weeks. For live quotes from the events, please follow our Twitter @WPSProject and tweets using the trending hashtag #WPSP Institute. For photos of the event, please check our Flickr at the Women in Public Service Project. And keep checking this news section for more thoughts on the keynote speakers and photos of the events. We will also be including reflections from the delegates themselves so be on the lookout for their posts!
Alexandria Icenhower ’12 recently graduated from Wellesley College where she earned a BA in Political Science with a minor in Art History. She has a special interest in a career in Public Relations and Government Affairs and will be contributing to the WPSP social media presence during the WPSP Summer Institute.