Monday, March 23, 2009

A Presidential Slip

My daughter participates in a disability bowling league every Saturday morning. It’s probably the #1 thing she looks forward to during the week. Her presents at Christmas last year were her own bowling ball, shoes and bag.

I don’t know if she ever breaks 100 but she sure has fun. Thus, President Obama’s comment about “Special Olympics bowling” last week really hit home.

I’m not quite sure what to think about what he said. (I’m also not quite sure what to think about the President of the United States going on the Tonight Show!)

On one hand, when you are as overly scrutinized as he is, it is easy to make a blunder. His staff caught it during the taping and had an apology out before the show even aired!

On the other hand, the verbal “slips” that we make in public are often things that we may easily say – and believe -- in private.

Like the President, I grew up playing basketball and have played my entire life. I was an all-star, leading scorer, played Division I ball in college, but I learned more about life from basketball after I started coaching in a youth league. My daughter played in the Santa Monica YWCA basketball league and was on a team of nine-year-olds.. I was the coach. Erika usually had trouble catching the ball and would either fumble it out of bounds or get called for traveling. But one time, our top player, Stacy, got a pass from Erika and scored a lay-up. While running down to play defense, Stacy ran over to Erika and gave her a high-five to thank her for the pass. The audience knew Erika well and erupted in cheers to acknowledge the assist.

When I repeat that story, I add, “It took me to the age of 35 and a group of 9-year-old girls to show me the real meaning of basketball.”

Maybe President Obama hasn’t had the honor of having an Erika in his life, or seeing such an important play as Erika’s pass to Stacy. I have no doubt that President Obama has the best interests of the disabled in mind when he looks at policies, sets policy, etc.

Maybe this was a fortunate “slip” as it has increased awareness about the disabled and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more on the subject. I understand some Special Olympians will be visiting the White House.

Now the challenge will be to keep the agenda for the disabled front and center, as there are many issues even more important than their bowling scores, such as employment opportunities, services, access to health care (including mental health services), etc. From the experiences of raising my daughter, I think that discrimination against the “differently abled” is the most prevalent discrimination we have. I also see it in my travels around the world. It by far surpasses most of the issues that get far more press. We may end up owing President Obama a thank you for bringing this to light by an “innocent”, yet no less demeaning, comment.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Here are highlights of my presentation:

The number of women-owned enterprises is now growing faster than the economy at large in many countries around the world. Women-owned firms comprise more than one quarter of businesses and are starting up in every industry sector. International trade offers new markets and new opportunities for businesses that can’t be ignored in this global environment.

With the cost in money, time and physical wear and tear of travel, communication and work projects will heavily depend on technology. This technology will need to address ways to find each other, get acquainted and build trust and actually carry out business.

However, these advancing technologies can not completely cut out personal interaction, especially for women who insert a lot of intuition and relationship-building into their business decisions. These factors are also more important in other cultures than they are in the U.S. culture, thus, technology will not take place of all face to face interaction, and using video on the internet will become standard operating procedure.

Women business owners, already good at collaboration, will find alliances to be of significant strategic advantage. A joint alliance, or teaming up, can provide an ideal and unique alternative – to team up through a contractual agreement to provide services, yet stay independently owned and operated. Joining forces with the right partner in another country or continent can leverage power and increase financial stability, helping a small company to effectively compete in today's ever-changing marketplace. The rewards can include personal and professional growth, immediately strengthening and growing your visibility and marketing efforts, and expanding your eyes and ears out in the business arena.

Associations, organizations and technology sites that give women in business an opportunity to easily connect and build relationships will be key in the expansion of accessing international markets. (Such as Although a social context is important for women to get to know each other and build a level of trust and respect, these entities will need to go beyond social events and business matchmaking. Women in business will demand more from these entities than gathering business cards, attending gala dinners and passing out awards.

It will be key for women to share resources and best practices and expand their networking arena to work together in important areas that impact women overall, such as policy, access to capital, communications, project management and leadership. Forums will need to be provided for education, discussion and carrying out work projects.

For example, training of even the most well-off and successful entrepreneurs in public relations and communication areas is vital. By combining leadership and communication training, women business owners can discover how the two go hand in hand and become skilled at using communications in a strategic manner. Women are historically reluctant to “toot their own horn” and share their triumphs, successes and inherent knowledge.

Government agencies worldwide, and in the United States, have historically focused their programs, trainings, funding and all forms of assistance at exporters of products, particularly manufacturing. Programs, trainings, financing, trade missions and other forms of assistance will need to focus more on women business owners, and even more specifically, service businesses. By reaching out to these specific sectors, governments should see exponential growth in export.

Friday, March 6, 2009


My computer’s auto-correct feature keeps changing WIEF to WIFE. I did not catch that on my hand-out. So the headline on my hand-out was

Presented at WIFE Businesswomen Forum, March 1, 2009

A Freudian slip, to say the least…..


The night before the Forum, I had dinner with Deb Leary, President of the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs. Amongst other important topics, we were discussing our hairdressers. She pays 250 pounds to have her hair cut and colored in London, whereas I just paid $165 in Arizona. The next day, when Dr. Mohamad said at the Forum, “We need to be seen as more than just women who wear scarves,” I tried to make a joke that I’m not sure came across well. I said, “Yes, we were discussing the high cost of hair care last night so we might all switch to wearing scarves on our heads.” Dr. Mohamad quickly said, “Oh, we still spend a great deal of money on our hair, too.”


When you think of spike heels (probably four-inches) strappy red sandals, do you think of:

1) Heidi Klum on the runway

2) What a Muslim woman wears under her long dress

3) Julia Robert’s favorite shoe in “Pretty Woman”

4) A holiday shoe—for Christmas or Valentine’s Day

I think very few people would select #2 as the right answer. Rina Fahmi Idris, Chairwoman of the Indonesian Business Women Association, wore the greatest shoes under her long dress during the Businesswomen’s Forum. Yep, they were strappy red sandals with spike heels. At lunch on the second day, I asked her if she was wearing her red shoes again. She said, “No, I just have slippers on today.” When she got up to leave, I saw her beautiful brown sandals which “only” had a two-inch heel.


The liaison officer’s job was to assist us in any way we needed and other than sleeping, Citra and I were together from the moment I arrived at the Jakarta Airport on February 28 until I left on March 3. And I mean together—I told her she did NOT need to go into the Ladies Room with me!


I was the only speaker at the Forum from the United States, but less than two weeks earlier, our U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Indonesia. When my 86-year-old mother commented to me that she saw this on the news, and it was the same place where I would be going, I said, “Yes mom, Hillary is doing the advance work for me.”


One of the stats I gave in my talk is that research from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shows that 96 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States. Therefore it is vital that we look beyond our borders to do business. Further research by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce showed that women business owners who engage in international trade grew at a rate of 57 percent while those without international business grow at less than half that rate.

In contrast, another speaker said that, “The rest of the world can no longer depend on the 250 million US consumers. We must all become consumers for the good of the world’s economy.”


I may have been the only speaker who did NOT mention President Barack Obama. The excitement and the new optimism about the United States were apparent and I was proud in so many ways of my new government. It was as if I was the kid in a classroom, being showered with praise instead of scorn. The mood about the U.S. has definitely changed from my previous trips overseas during the past five years. I felt like I was being embraced again, instead of being held at arm’s length.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Greetings from Jakarta, Indonesia

I had the honor of participating in the Businesswomen’s Forum of the 5th Annual World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) on March 1 in Jakarta, Indonesia. There were women participating from many Asian countries, as well as Uganda, Kenya, UK, Pakistan, Egypt and Holland. I was the only attendee from the United States. The title of the day event was “Women Entrepreneurs: The Driving Force Towards a Stronger Future.”

We have set up a forum at to continue our discussions, and anyone that wants to join in is most welcome. The goal of the WIEF Businesswomen’s Forum was “not to talk too much about challenges but move forward in working together” said Dato’ Dr. Norraesah Mohamad, Chair of the WIEF Businesswomen Network. “We want to look beyond national borders and create serious and workable ventures together.”

I was quite excited about attending the event, and in talking about it with friends and colleagues in the U.S., most people would say, “Islamic women and economics? Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

Unfortunately, we are buying into the stereotypes we see in the media. Not only are terrorists a fringe group of Muslims, but so are Muslims that constrain women and their role in the family and the economy. The women I met at this conference are dynamic, educated, driven, strong, powerful, committed and about every other positive adjective you can think of to describe business women.

I met a woman from Malaysia whose company had revenues last year of $3.9 billion. I verified that with her, because it was hard to believe—of any woman or company! Her company builds and maintains highways in Malaysia, which recently privatized its road system.

I had a terrific talk with another public relations consultant from Indonesia. Mercedes Benz is one of her clients. We plan to stay in touch and continue to share stories.

We are all hoping to find ways for the associations to which we belong—such as the NAWBO and WIPP; the Indonesian, Egypt, Pakistan and Malaysian women business associations; and the Islamic and Ugandan Chambers of Commerces—to fully work together and stand united by sharing resources and ideas. And maybe, most importantly as a first step, to help break down barriers and stereotypes.

When I pursued this a bit further with Attiya Nawazish Ali, Assistant Secretary General for Coordination of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, she said their biggest need now (from US women business owners) is the sharing of resources and knowledge. “There is not a lot of interest or need now in doing business in the United States. We have such a big network that we can do business amongst ourselves first, while we learn.”

Ayesha Zaheer, Director of Zaheer Ahiekh Architects and Engineers in Pakistan, implored that women and the associations work together for another reason. “It is the women who will find peace in the world.”

Each conference speaker had a “liaison officer” that we dubbed “our shadow.” Citra Harshari was my liaison. She just graduated from a University in Australia in business and finance and is looking for her first professional job. I will write more about the great experience of working with her in a later post.

To illustrate that the stereotypes go both ways, Citra said she was very nervous about meeting me. I am the first American that she has met and she thought I would be arrogant, because that is how we are portrayed in the media.

But we departed almost tearfully after our three days together, we have already connected on Facebook, and I look forward to mentoring her in the future and continuing this new relationship. I am glad I was able to break through another stereotype.