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After Many Fantastic Years at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, It's Time to Take Up a New Challenge

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TANZANIA WOMEN
AP

I have never been good at saying goodbye to people and places, despite the fact that during my life I have moved more than 18 times and have had exciting jobs on various continents. So I should be used to this. However, as my final weeks as the CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women approach, I have found it much more difficult than before to think about moving on.

The journey I embarked on when I started with the Foundation in early 2009 could not have been a richer or more rewarding one. What motivated me to move from a UN job in the Middle East to London and immerse myself in a start-up? It certainly wasn't the grim weather in London, the commute on the tube or the availability of marmite. Instead I was inspired by the focus of the Foundation's mission: to support women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging markets.

This was a real niche area in the landscape of international development organisations at that time. While others concentrated their work on women entrepreneurs in developed markets or on women in developing countries needing microfinance to start a business, very few focused their efforts on providing budding women entrepreneurs in developing and emerging markets the opportunity to both set up and also to expand their businesses into small and growing enterprises. Having lived and worked in Africa and the Middle East, I saw the enormous potential that such an approach could have, in particular when combined with evidence based research and innovative technology.

It was a challenge that tempted me but I was also only too conscious that starting an organisation from scratch might not be the easiest, given the economic climate following the global financial crisis of 2008. That could have been daunting, but I did not have to face it alone. From day one, I had the support of the best founder and patron any organisation could wish for - Cherie Blair. I had not met her before applying for the post but I knew she was a busy woman with many calls on her time. I was conscious that the project would need a big commitment, not just to get it off the ground but also to establish a real forward momentum.

Cherie not only has a passion for the purpose of the Foundation but much more besides - the necessary financial and intellectual resources and an infinite willingness to travel to carry out our work. Whether it be to visit our women entrepreneurs in India, the Lebanon, Sierra Leone or Tanzania - often several different countries in one month - Cherie has always insisted on spending time with the women we visit and talking to them one by one, no matter how late we were running. She found time to talk to me too, giving me guidance and advice throughout my time at the Foundation.

Saying goodbye to the Foundation is made a little easier by three comforting thoughts:

First, I am leaving behind not only a committed Founder, but a very strong and diverse team, and a brilliant Board and international steering committee members who together can carry forward the work of the Foundation.

Second, in my new role as Head of the Gender Secretariat at the International Finance Corporation in Washington, DC, I will carry on focusing on gender and private sector opportunities.

Third, I can look back on what we have achieved and feel proud. We have reached more than 70,000 women around the world. We have developed innovative programmes that help our entrepreneurs build confidence, capability and access to capital. We have also produced seminal research reports which have influenced a wide range of stakeholders to tackle the inequality of access to economic opportunities and life transforming technologies such as the mobile phone. We have contributed to international and local policy development of women's rights, for example on laws that help women to register their business and to own property.

One of the key principles of our work has always been the development of strong partnerships across the public and private sector with a mutually shared aim and a powerful learning agenda. I am eternally grateful for the countless opportunities of learning I too have had in building the Foundation, and working with a great team that is adaptable, flexible, talented and deeply committed to our work. I will miss all of that hugely. And I will miss my visits to the Foundation's entrepreneurs and learning from them, which has always been a particular privilege for me. My new job is an exciting one, to which I am looking forward immensely, but I will remain connected to the work and to the team by staying involved as senior adviser to the Foundation. We are already working to prepare for a smooth transition period, as we recruit a new CEO.

As if to make saying goodbye even more difficult, the weather has finally decided to resemble the tropics and of course London in the summer (when there is one) is the best city in the world. I will always look upon my time at the Foundation with immense fondness and as I move across the pond, I will carry endless good memories.

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