Today I stepped back onto American soil for the first time in eight months. No plane ticket, just my passport and a couple of security checkpoints. It was a short visit to the United States Embassy, but it was long enough to catapult me out of the Women as Change Agents mindset and hit me in the stomach with the reality that although I was surrounded by a group of entrepreneurial, global minded citizens, not everyone in the world thinks that way.
The past few days have been full of inspiring speakers who have looked deep inside them selves to find their passion and have turned that into something positive for humanity. These speakers emphasized the importance of emotional intelligence, knowing your surroundings, asking questions and keeping an open mind. I think most of the women are on a high and feel like with all the tools they have been provided, they can conquer the world and make it a better place for everyone. That is, until “Stan” walked in.
“ Everyone needs money to buy food and a television to watch American TV, well maybe not all shows these days, but people are happier when they have TV and we like happy people.” Gulp….For the past 8 months I have surrounded myself by friends working for companies with sustainable business plans like the Peace Corps and Global Brigades. Asking questions and listening to the true concerns of a community is a slow process, but one these organizations understand is necessary for effective change. I felt that “Stan” was disconnected from this approach and he is a diplomat representing the United States Embassy. My country. First I was confused, then frustrated and finally just embarrassed. All I could think about was how typical his words were to the perception outside countries have of us and our foreign policy. Sometimes it is not what is said, but the words that are used to express it. On top of that, he was the first male speaker at our conference and after many days of women empowerment, did not score men very many points.
In a way, I am thankful for “Stan’s” presentation on the economic policies. It was not the welcome I wanted to receive from my country after my 8-month hiatus, but I tried to use my emotional intelligence to channel this feeling of embarrassment and frustration into something productive. “Stan” is a reminder of the opposition that I will face. Not every person I will work with in the future will have the openness and desire to understand other cultures, like the women in this program. Not every person I will work with in the future will formulate a plan of action that I agree with. I am reminded how important the tools I have been given this week are to formulating a successful plan, but I am also reminded that sometimes opposition can lead to a stronger plan. Leadership Exchange is giving women the courage and tools to effectively question the “Stans” in our world and for that I am thankful!
In the meantime, one interesting program for women entrepreneurs that the United States Embassy is partnering with is Pathways to Prosperity. Check it out!