The Power of We
Global Women's Leadership Convening: Women in Public Life brought participants together at St. Kate's for intentional collaboration.
BY ELIZABETH OTTO
Three women stand on a small stage in Coeur de Catherine's Rauenhorst Ballroom. One speaks into a microphone.
"I've found my voice," she says. "I've used it in this convening, to be authentic, to speak truth to power. This is really important. Yes, I know that the road is long, but we have started. This is the beginning." After pausing for breath, she adds: "My heart is beating very hard right now."
"Well, it's a big heart," says the woman to the speaker's left, and the audience chuckles.
The speaker is Dr. Rula Quawas, professor of American literature and feminism at the University of Jordan, and the one making the gentle joke is Rina Bar-Tal, chair of the Israel Women's Network. This moment between these two women represents an extraordinary connection, one that overcomes barriers of culture and tension between two Middle Eastern nations. The connection was formed at Global Women's Leadership Convening: Women in Public Life, an international conference that brought women leaders from Israel, Jordan and Minnesota together for a week this past summer on St. Catherine's St. Paul campus.
Global Women's Leadership Convening, sponsored by the University's School of Business and Leadership with funding from Allianz Insurance–North America, was the result of a collaboratively planned effort by the third woman who stood onstage, Paula J. King, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business and Leadership. Another key organizer and convener was Minnesota State Senator Sandy Pappas (DFL–St. Paul).
Conference participants included three women from Israel, three women from Jordan and women leaders from around Minnesota, including current state legislators Pappas, DFL Representative Rena Moran (the first African-American state legislator to serve St. Paul) and Senator Patricia Torres-Ray (DFL-Minneapolis). These leaders formed the core participants in Global Women's Convening.
For conference planners, the goal was to collect the wisdom of women leaders and apply this knowledge to propel more women into leadership roles in public life and civil society. A less formalized goal of the conference was to foster relationships among women from the neighboring nations of Israel and Jordan. Although Israel and Jordan have had an official peace treaty in place since 1994, historic tensions continue from wars fought in 1948 and 1967 and from the unresolved question of the Palestinian homeland. The complex relationship between the two nations makes citizen interactions challenging and fraught with suspicion.
Politics was off the table, however, at the conference. The ground rules instead were designed to foster respectful listening, sharing stories of leadership and struggle, and describing practical strategies that work.
Pillars of strength
As the week progressed and trust was forged, dreams of working across the Jordan River — the 40-mile stretch separating these women who had traveled so far — began to take shape. Participants set aside long-held stereotypes to unite behind the common goal of promoting the status of women and fostering women's participation in government and other leadership positions in the Middle East region.
King identified the relationship-building among core con-veners as one of the most gratifying outcomes of the gathering. "Working across the borders of Israel and Jordan, despite a peace treaty between the two nations, would not have happened if the women had not come to a neutral and safe place," she says. "Here at St. Kate's, common ground, trust and a desire to work together surfaced. Here, the seeds of change were planted."
Global Women's Convening provided a clear example of how the School of Business and Leadership focuses on global justice as one of the four pillars that guides its curriculum and programming. The event was planned around a process called "emergent design," highlighting another of the school's pillars —
"Emergent design is based on the assumption that over-planning every minute of a gathering or pre-specifying outcomes does not allow the group to surface and address the topics or ideas that are front and center on people's minds," King explains. "The sessions were designed around questions that would begin conversations rather than around desired outcomes that must be met."
Although the core discussions of Global Women's Leadership Convening were open only to the global leaders themselves, community members were invited to participate in a panel discussion about women in government featuring former gubernatorial candidate and former Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher and former State Senator Sheila Kiscaden of Rochester; an
A World Café is a conversational method designed to engage participants in dialogue around significant questions of social change. "The ideal is that multiple conversations build off of each other to explore the issues deeply," King explains.
The World Café involved some 100 attendees exploring the question, "What bold moves can we make to propel more women into leadership roles in public life?" Participants shared their answers in small groups. After about 20 minutes, all except the table host moved to a different table to address the question with a new group. The table host sparked the next round of dialogue by sharing key insights and questions from the previous conversation.
After three rounds, table hosts and others who wished to speak were given the opportunity to tell the entire group about some of the ideas and knowledge gained from their conversations. Then, World Café facilitator Amy Batiste, adjunct faculty in the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program, read "A Time for Boldness," a poem she composed during the evening inspired by the opening remarks and bits of dialogue captured from conversations at tables.
Gestures of unity
By the end of the conference, participants from Israel and Jordan committed to working together on issues of mutual concern, including United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 — which, according to the website for the U.S. Department of State, calls upon all countries to support "the essential role played by women in all aspects of peace and security, recognizing their leadership in peacemaking and ending sexual violence in conflict."
In an inspiring gesture of unity, planners also announced their intention to invite women from Israel to convene in Jordan in the near future, offering hope that the relationships forged at St. Kate's will build a small but significant bridge of peace between these nations.
Quawas, flanked by King and Bar-Tal, concluded her remarks in Rauenhorst Ballroom with words that resonate with St. Kate's mission to educate students to lead and influence: "It is a precious gift to be here, to make a difference, not to be still in one place, stagnant," she said. "We can make things happen. We have started to make things happen. Don't ever forget that."
Elizabeth Otto is an assistant professor of communication studies at St. Kate's.
PHOTOS BY REBECCA ZENEFSKI '10