Women of Power and Influence Remarks: As Delivered June 2011

Thank you so much—I am deeply honored….and deeply humbled to be included among NOW’s 2011 Women of Power and Influence; and to join the exceptional list of Women of Power and Influence alumna, which includes many of my own personal heroes and mentors, women whom I’ve admired for many years and whose careers and personal generosity I’ve been inspired by and have aspired towards….indeed, this is truly humbling.

When I learned that I’d be a recipient of this honor, as has been the case when I’ve achieved anything in my career, I called my parents immediately.  I reached my father first and excitedly informed him of what I thought was pretty good news.  He responded initially with a bit of a “so? So what?”…. hearing my frustrated silence on the other end of the line, he went on to offer a rather muted, certainly withdrawn, “that’s nice sweetheart.”

Now before everyone starts giving my father (who by the way is sitting right over there) the evil eye…let me offer an explanation; the explanation he offered me.  Frustrated by my father’s notable lack of enthusiasm, I’d gone on to ask him, “well Daddy do you think Grandma and Grandpa Brown at least would be excited?  That they’d be proud of me, of this accomplishment, of this honor?” 

My father responded by telling me that my late grandparents were never excited by the award, the honor, the accolade, the achievement for the sake of the achievement itself.   While they expected us to do well, they didn’t care too much for recognition—because what really mattered, was not the trophy that would go on the shelf, the honor that might be hung on the wall, the news story someone might offer to tell, or any other boost to ego that might accrue…those things, while nice, did not implicitly or explicitly do anything to advance the cause of justice, to benefit humanity or to solve the world’s considerable challenges.  My father explained further that what was actually relevant, what he and my grandparents actually did care about, is what I would choose to do as a result of the recognition, how I might use my own successes to further improve, benefit and inspire the lives of others around me; how I might use my influence to solve problems.  Recognition for past work or past accomplishments did not and does not mean there aren’t more challenges ahead, more work to be done.  “It’s not about you or the award, sweetheart, it’s about how you will wield that power and influence to improve the conditions and opportunities of others.”

I got it, I get it—and I agree; ….but being aware of this responsibility—because indeed receiving an award like this is as much responsibility as it is honor, it is as much obligation as it is achievement—being aware of this responsibility, which I take very seriously, is awesome, daunting and a little scary.  I cannot leave here this evening and congratulate myself, think of myself as somehow “greater”, because there remains so much work to be done, so many challenges to address.  There are still far too few women serving on corporate boards, running major businesses, serving at the highest levels of government, there are two few women bankers, and partners in global law firms.  There is a lot of work to be done.  But it’s not just about the professional classes or professional aspiration—and we can’t allow ourselves to think that it’s just about advancement in the professions, business and government—because while those might be the challenges some of us here tonight are focused on—we must also be cognizant of the huge numbers of women here and around the world who day in and day out are denied their basic and essential human rights, their dignity, their humanity…such that they can’t even begin to envision something as grand as running a global company…the obstacles they face are far greater.

And so my commitment to you is to use whatever power and influence I’ve gained as a consequence of tonight’s recognition to continue to address these problems, to challenge myself further and to challenge others to not only excel, but to continue to break down barriers, to use power for the good of humanity and not for self enrichment or self-aggrandizement; I hope, that everyone here will join me in this commitment.  And to the younger women who are here this evening, know that as I have stood on the shoulders of my mentors and role models, I am bending down, hoping that you’ll continue to step up and stand on my shoulders to challenge yourselves, and achieve your every dream and goal.  ‘Cause I think that ultimately, that’s what all of this is about.

Several years ago, Hillary Clinton reminded me after I’d expressed to her my reservations over power, the pursuit of power and power for power’s sake, that “Binta, you know you just can’t do any good without some kind of power.”

And so I once again thank NOW, as well as my amazing family and friends for emboldening me tonight—because what I know unequivocally, is that as a result of tonight’s honor, I’m in an even better position to do a bit more good in the world—thank you so much for this opportunity.

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