Investing in the Vital Voices that Transform Our World
By Diane von Furstenberg
Throughout March, I was reminded of the power of women to transform the world. I celebrated this power with events at my studios to support Vital Voices – from Moscow to Los Angles, London, Madrid, and New York City, and I donated proceeds from store sales and online to further their important work around the globe.
I also teamed up to develop a global handbag design competition. The idea for the competition originated from the Vital Voices Artisan Export Development Program, supported by the ExxonMobil Foundation. Vital Voices worked with my team to select the best emerging female handbag designer from thousands around the world. I was so pleased when we selected Phelicia Dell, a rising talent from Haiti. Dell became involved with Femmes en Democratie, the Vital Voices chapter in Haiti, about three years ago as she worked to establish a successful clothing design business following the kidnapping and death of her husband. After her loss, she decided to remain in Haiti and build a life for herself and her young daughter.
Dell began designing clothes and was connected with Danielle Saint Lot, co-founder and president of Femmes en Democratie, who assisted her with identifying markets for her products and guided her product development. Soon after, Dell made the decision to focus on handbags. After carefully designing a few samples, she showed them to friends and they were a huge success. She also had the opportunity to participate in the 2008 Vital Voices of the Americas “Women as a Bridge to a More Prosperous Future” summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to gain further skills in design and product development.
Later in March, at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards in Washington, I had the opportunity to meet more women like Dell who have overcome unthinkable challenges. Together with my fellow Vital Voices board member, World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, I presented the 10,000 Women Entrepreneurial Achievement Award, a new partnership between Goldman Sachs and Vital Voices. The award identifies and honors an extraordinary young entrepreneur who is not only building a strong business, but reinvesting in her community as well.
Succeeding in fashion takes more than just a flair for design – it takes passion, perseverance, and a strong understanding of business principles. Tuokpe Esisi owns a contemporary African fashion design company, and to professionalize and grow her business, she applied to become a scholar in the 10,000 Women program – an unprecedented initiative to provide women around the world with high-quality entrepreneurial education. This education will create a new generation of female business leaders poised to change the world.
Both Esisi and Dell embody this smart investment and not only make me proud to be a woman, but proud because they believe, as I do, that success cannot end with one person. Both women are “paying forward” the investment made in them by investing their own success in the success of others. They are a testament to the power that can be unleashed when women with vision and talent are given support.