Perhaps the most striking aspect ofthe conference, true to Marie Wilson's prediction, is the cross-pollination of ideas. Evan Ryan, who works for an organization that helps provide books, supplies, and teachers to children in areas of conflict around the world, is thrilled to meet Cary Weatherby. And because Ryan's project is a plan to help returning Iraq vets, she's also excited to meet Amy Callis, who has turned her attention to another war zone, providing stoves to Darfuri refugees. And when Jenny Hwa meets Callis, she has a brainstorm: Hwa's line of eco-clothing could incorporate a Darfuri flower print, with a portion of the proceeds going to the refugees.
On Sunday evening, the participants return to the hotel ballroom. Responding to a random name call, each woman stands and delivers a one-sentence mission statement—a "lite" version of the elevator pitch. ("Through Sisters-in-Law, policewomen will gain invaluable training and professional support in achieving leading roles in their agencies," says Davis. "Companies to Classrooms gets surplus office supplies and equipment into the hands of teachers," Weatherby follows. "The National Urban Indian Family Coalition will improve the lives of Native people in our cities," asserts Comenote.) As they speak, they fulfill the Hopi proverb that says: The one who tells the stories rules the world. Many of them had mothers who directed the show from the backseat, raised to believe that leading would take them away from their duty. Now these daughters can comfortably take charge, front and center.
For a closing ceremony, the women form a circle and, one by one, offer a word to sum up the conference: "Strength." "Strategy." "Invincible." "Network." "Possibility." Hugs are exchanged along with business cards, as they rush off for trains and planes. "I loved the theme of getting knocked down but finding a way to pick yourself up and navigate your way through obstacles in a positive fashion," says Evan Ryan, heading for the Metroliner to Washington, D.C. "Focus, focus, focus—it's the results that matter," says Cheryl Mathieu on her way back to California. "It's okay to be of service to people and make money. The world needs me and my story—yes, me!"
The application for Women Rule! asked: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? As these new leaders head out to change the world, they now have some answers to guide them. We'll be following their progress.
Get started! Visit O's White House Leadership Project to meet each of the 80 winners, plus find resources to help you turn your own dreams into action.
Thanks to everyone from the White House Project who worked tirelessly on Women Rule!, including Marie C. Wilson, Joan Hochman, Jaime Peters, Elizabeth Hines, and Tiffany Dufu; also to Shifra Bronznick, a leadership consultant for the White House Project who collaborated on the training agenda.
Additional reporting by Polly Brewster, Kristy Davis, Lauren Dzubow, Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg, Dorothea Hunter, Kate Sandoval, Blythe Simmons, Sara Sugarman, and Carolyn Wilsey.
Support for rooms and meals was provided by Affinia Manhattan Hotels, Philanthropiece, and the Sunshine Fund.