Inaugural US-India Shatter Summit draws high-profile speakers
Washington DC: High-profile speakers representing different sectors from the United States and India participated in the first US-India Shatter Summit, co-hosted by the Shatter Foundation and the US-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment, a public-private partnership between the State Department, US Agency for International Development (USAID), US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), and George Washington University, at the State Department on January 26, 2023.
Welcoming participants from government, private sector, civil society, and philanthropy at the Summit, US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman appreciated the Alliance for its mission to “empower women and girls to participate in India’s economy, spur its prosperity, enrich its society,” and to strengthen ties between US and India.
According to Sherman, Secretary of State Antony Blinken along with White House and USAID officials, for the first time recently announced the US Strategy on Global Women’s Economic Security – a key step to investing in women entrepreneurs, women owned businesses and startups, and training and education of women.
“In India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Maldives we’re advancing a program to make supply chains in the Indo-Pacific more diverse and resilient. We’re deploying our public diplomacy professionals to mentor women led early-stage ventures in India from an idea on the back of a napkin to a fully functioning business,” Sherman noted. “We’re helping quick female entrepreneurs in India and South Asia with the digital skills needed to compete in the 21st century, and we are supporting women disproportionately impacted by COVID-19…”
Delving in on the topic of mental wellness, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy while stressing that the concept of wellness is more important than ever, recalled how his mother taught his sister and him to meditate – as a means to calm themselves and bring mental peace. He also pointed out that he has continued to draw from those meditation techniques and tools.
“We now know through a growing body of data, that the mental health and well-being of employees is no surprise, deeply tied to their creativity, their productivity, and their retention in the workplace. So, investing in mental health and well-being in the workplace is not only good for workers, it’s good for organizations,” Dr. Murthy noted. “And that’s one of the reasons why a few months ago, we issued the Surgeon General’s framework for workplace mental health and well-being to lay out five key essentials that form the foundation for mental health in the workplace.”
Founder of the Art of Living Foundation, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who addressed the Summit virtually on the topic of ‘Supporting Business Leaders Mental Health and Happiness’ said “Now the issue today is mental health for both men and women. There is serious challenge to handle the mental health of the family, of coworkers, and of the society in general. Every 40 seconds one person is taking [his/her] life away is not a good sign of healthy society…”
“Business thrives on intuitive ability, sharpness of observation, and focus in work. You know all of this cannot happen if our mind is scattered or stressed. It is normal to experience stress time to time, but if it remains a daily thing it takes a toll on our mental health and our ability to function to our optimum capacity,” Gurudev said while emphasizing wellness as a crucial aspect in everyone’s life and that it is important to attend to body, mind, and spirit.
India’s Minister of Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani in her virtual address said, “As an Indian woman, I can proudly say that Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi has made central to his governance plan, the issues of women. Be it in 2014, his pronouncement that we, as a government will ensure that every individual home has a toilet so that women’s sanitation needs are met, and they live a life with dignity. That plan grew into an outcome of over 110 million individual household toilets being built in 70 years of our independence.”
Irani noted that Modi also fulfilled his promise to build separate toilets for girls in government schools, so girls don’t discontinue their education due to lack of adequate sanitation facilities. According to Irani, even during India’s G20 Presidency this year, Modi has undertaken women-led development issues as his primary priorities.
Ambassador of India to the United States, Taranjit Sandhu, who also addressed virtually quoted B R Ambedkar, the chief architect of India’s Constitution, “I measure the progress of our community by the degree of progress, which women have achieved.”
Sandhu underscored that through three generations of women in his personal life – his mother, wife, and daughter, he is aware of the challenges faced by women today. He talked about his mother, who received her doctorate from University of Ohio in a record two years in the 1950s and later sacrificing her career for the family; his diplomat wife, who is currently Ambassador of India to The Netherlands, and the way she efficiently manages roles at work and home; and his daughter who is currently a senior at Georgetown. Talking about his daughter, Sandhu chuckled, “She reminds me sometimes, that I’m still not fully gender aware.”
Sandhu while greeting participants on the occasion of India’s 74th Republic Day Celebrations, reminded, “The hands that unfurled the tricolor [flag] in New Delhi this morning are of India’s second woman President, the commander of our armed forces, who is also the first president from the indigenous tribal community. In a few days, Government of India’s budget for the upcoming year will be presented by another woman, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman.”
At the Summit, President & CEO of USISPF, Mukesh Aghi announced the launch of the US-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] Collaborative. Aghi told News India Times, “USISPF in partnership with State Department, USAID, and George Washington University is focused on bringing more empowerment of women economically. That means bringing more education, financing more loans, and creating more jobs so they represent a vital part of the economy.”
“The challenge that we have is that only 14 per cent of the women are in the formal workspace in India. And we need to work harder because that number, in the last 10 years, has been coming down, and accelerated with COVID,” Aghi added. “So, by getting more education, more opportunity, we can reverse the declining moment for women participation in workforce.”
Senior Advisor and Staff Secretary to President Joe Biden, Neera Tanden, said she was honored to be part of the important Summit with leaders who discussed critical issues. “And one of the reasons why I’m so thrilled to be here today is because women’s economic empowerment is a critical issue for the Biden-Harris administration… we understand how ensuring that women are reaching their full potential can have economic stability, economic mobility, are vital to core issues for us to expand democracy to ensure stable and equal growth, both internationally and in our own country.”
Senior Vice President for International Strategy and Global Initiatives, US Chamber of Commerce, Nisha Biswal while discussing a global priority for supporting women leaders in C-suite and in the government, noted “The pipeline to building women’s leadership really begins much, much further back. And so, if we’re not addressing the constraints that women face in entering and thriving in the workforce, which start well before they enter the workforce, then we’re not building the pipeline that we need to get women into leadership positions, into decision making positions, and operational positions.” That’s where the public-private partnership comes into play, she added.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Gender Policy Council, Jennifer Klein, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia at USAID, Anjali Kaur, Special Advisor and Executive Director of US-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment at the State Department, Radhika Prabhu, Founding Partner of Shatter Foundation, Shelley Kapoor Collins, and Actor and Producer, Kal Penn also spoke at the Summit.