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On meeting Hillary Clinton and other Women of Influence

07 October 2014

Larke Riemer With Hillary Clinton

I suppose I should have thought about it: if you’re attending a three-day event at which a former US President is the host (Bill Clinton), the current US President, Barack Obama, is going to speak (but for security reasons no one is sure when), and the possible future US President (Hillary Clinton, pictured above right) is playing a significant role in proceedings, then you better expect DEFCON1.

In fact having just returned from the Clinton Global Initiative, my best advice is don’t stay in the venue in which it is held. I’ve never experienced anything like it. My handbag was searched every time I came in or out of the hotel and I lost count of how many times they ran the detector over me. The usual niceties: the porters to help with your bags; readily available taxis; airport transfer, didn’t exist. As for New York’s renowned traffic grid lock, the security presence at the Sheraton venue on 7th Avenue and 52nd Street only added to the chaos.

Westpac and the Global Banking Alliance for Women – of which I have been appointed Chair again – are both CGI members. Figuratively speaking, I was there with two hats on.

The CGI attracts thousands of delegates. I counted 222 speakers on the agenda and attended dinner on the Monday night (September 22) in the new Barclays Centre - the home of the Brooklyn Nets - on its basketball courts. It was the only place big enough to accommodate the number of people attending.

On this sort of scale, the networking is almost overwhelming, but that’s just one of the points of the CGI, the real aim is to get member attendees to commit to action.

We did and here’s how: the Global Banking Alliance for Women is seeking to overcome barriers to lending to women by leveraging the power and success of 15 member banks to share their experiences and data globally. Our commitment has three levels: 1) Proving the business case for serving women through first-of-its-kind sex-disaggregated data collection, 2) Scaling knowledge transfer to promote rapid adoption by additional banks, and 3) Leveraging partnerships.

Our Commitment will mobilise $4.3 billion in new capital to invest in women-owned businesses, which will support 900,000 additional women small business owners and their employees, and give two million additional women access to capital and financial services, substantially advancing financial inclusion for women and helping to sustainably grow women’s wealth across the globe.

A lot of what we dealt with at the CGI revolved around empowering women and girls. It’s something close to my heart and, of course, to Hillary Clinton’s heart, and as her possible run for Presidency lent her presence at the event the most currency it was her interests that were high on the Reimagining Impact agenda.

Eradicating gender discrimination, whether you’re a developed or developing nation - First or Third world country - needs a hand. Our own 100 Women of Influence – and we have just announced our 2014 awardees – are at work to further equality and diversity but it can be hard going.

You only have to look at the flack and bullying UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson copped because she dared to give a speech that condemned the harm gender discrimination causes both men and women to understand that gender equality is a global problem.

Hillary closed the conference on September 24 hosting a panel with philanthropist Melinda Gates on empowering women and girls, at which she also announced a US$600m plan to encourage the enrolment of girls at secondary schools worldwide.

The exciting thing for Australia: it will be led by our own former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Julia wasn’t the only mention Australia received. I attended another of the large plenary sessions chaired by Hillary, which deliberately used an all-male panel. Once the floor was thrown open to discussion, the predominantly female attendees wanted to know how they should approach the issue to get men to listen. I couldn’t hold back, snagged a microphone and, after explaining who I was and where I came from, proceeded to say that you need data and then use that data to frame your answer in terms of profitability. It’s then that you will get and retain the attention of men. Hillary proceeded to agree and went on to vouch for what we do in Australia having seen it in action and encouraged everyone who was interested to get themselves across Westpac’s industry leading work and the work of the GBA.

I certainly felt the warm glow of pride.

Other attendees at the events included the Clinton’s daughter Chelsea (who gave birth to her first child, a little girl, just after the CGI finished up), actor Matt Damon, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, Ginni Rometty CEO IBM, and, of course, Barack Obama, who I managed to just miss.

It was Tuesday and the lunchtime session was not one of the strands I had been following – nor were its ‘advertised’ speakers - so I decided to pop out to escape the frenetic security of the hotel and get some fresh air. I realised almost immediately I’d made a mistake. The activity on 7th Avenue, actually the lack of activity, was eerie, and the cavalcade of cars coming toward me could only mean one thing… Mr. President was here. By now, though, the Sheraton was in lockdown. No one was getting out and certainly no one was getting back in. The cars swept by and I had to be satisfied with that.

Minutes later, as you do in New York, I ran into Sofia Vergara from TV’s Modern Family. Seeing the Golden Globe/Emmy Award winning actress seemed fair compensation for missing a glimpse of Barack Obama across what would have been a very crowded room.  

That night was the Goldman Sachs dinner at which Hillary again starred. Inez Murray, the GBA’s CEO, and I were guests of the CEO of 10,000 Women, Noa Meyer.

10,000 Women is the Goldman Sachs initiative empowering women in business in developing countries by increasing their ability to access finance. Our table was next to Hillary’s, making it about the fourth time I’d been up and nearly close-and-personal with what many people were touting as the future US President.

Not that Hillary has announced she is running, yet.

Wednesday rolled around, and my time for a photo op with the host of the CGI was fast approaching when I noticed that my induction pack had me down for a shot with Mr Clinton.

All well and good, I thought, but I really wanted a shot with the ‘future’ not the ‘past’. I rang my account manager and she apologised, saying there had indeed been a mistake and it was Mrs Clinton with who I would be meeting for a photograph.

The line-up to meet Hillary was long and the encounter - with picture - over in a few seconds. In the small talk leading up to being presented to the former Secretary of State we were discussing how well the oranges and browns I was wearing would go with the gold Hillary was wearing that day, and I almost forgot to smile for the camera. From there it was up the lifts to my room to grab my bags and out on the street to find my car to the airport.

Wrong.

Even though I had confirmed my pick-up earlier that morning the airport transfer company I’d booked through had cancelled the car, telling me when I rang to find out what was happening that they weren’t coming near New York City as it was just too hard to move.

There was nothing to do but leave my bags in the gutter and walk out into the middle of the street and… hail a cab. It took a while but finally one stopped and said he’d take me. I made my flight with a whisker to spare and he got a big tip.

About the Clinton Global Initiative

Established in 2005 by President Bill Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), an initiative of the Clinton Foundation, convenes global leaders to create and implement solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. CGI Annual Meetings have brought together more than 180 heads of state, 20 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations and NGOs, major philanthropists, and members of the media. To date, members of the CGI community have made more than 2,900 commitments, which are already improving the lives of more than 430 million people in over 180 countries.

CGI also convenes CGI America, a meeting focused on collaborative solutions to economic recovery in the United States, and CGI University (CGI U), which brings together undergraduate and graduate students to address pressing challenges in their community or around the world. For more information, visit clintonglobalinitiative.org and follow us on Twitter @ClintonGlobal and Facebook at facebook.com/clintonglobalinitiative.

PHOTO: Barbara Kinney/Clinton Global Initiative

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