The Blog

Daring Greatly

When the likes of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey get together to call for a global gender movement, it's no surprise that the result is a tsunami effect. And the recent inaugural summit - aptly named The United State of Women - with its impressive panel of engaging and inspirational female speakers, delivered powerfully.

Over 5,000 women from politics, corporate, entertainment and members of the public descended on Washington D.C to take part in the first ever White House event of its kind. They shone a light on the challenges and problems that are sadly all-too-pertinent in countries all over the world today, from economic empowerment, to health and wellness, educational opportunity and also violence against women. The event celebrated female accomplishments, but more importantly, discussed next steps towards equality and solutions for change.

If there was ever a moment to be proud of the collective force women can have when they get together, this was it.

I believe that the attendees and thousands of people that have since signed up to join the movement have displayed great courage in their actions and determination to instigate change. In a world where it is so easy to be shut down or unfairly labelled for speaking-up with controversial views, causes and passions - it is admirable that they have chosen to stand together in one collective voice to be heard.

This group of women and their action perfectly encapsulates the thinking and inspiring insight from renowned research professor, Dr Brené Brown, who I had the pleasure of seeing at South by Southwest this year.

Brené is best known for her Ted Talk on the Power of Vulnerability, where she describes vulnerability as having the guts to show up and be seen - putting yourself out there - risking criticism and hurt. She talks about creativity being the way things travel from the head to the heart and into the hands. And that there is no creativity without vulnerability.

In the case of the 5,000 women at the summit and others supporting from a distance, it is evident that there is also no change without a degree of vulnerability.

I was struck by how Brené captured this insight so well in a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, from a time when people like Donald Trump would have never made the ticket. In this context I have shortened it and done a gender swap, but the sentiment remains:

It is not the critic who counts; not the person who points out how the strong stumble.

The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and who strives valiantly.

Who errs, who comes short, again and again,

But who does actually strive to do the deeds;

Who at the best, knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement,

And who at the worst,

If she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

If we look for them, there are examples of people who are daring greatly everywhere. I see them at work, in the news and in my friends and family.

There are everyday names and also high profile examples. At Google's Zeitgeist conference last month, I listened with real interest to Amal Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Martina Navratilova talk about the causes they care about. But the speakers who moved me most were the youngest ones there, including a woman from Sierra Leone named Michaela DePrince.

Michaela was orphaned by civil war in Sierra Leone at the age of three. She told her story which was incredibly hard to hear. She spoke of how she watched as her pregnant teacher was cut open while soldiers bet on the sex of the unborn child. The child was thrown into the bushes and her teacher's arms and legs were cut off and she was left to die.

But even in the most desperate times one looks for inspiration. When Michaela saw a picture of a ballerina she tore it out of the magazine and clung to that dream for survival. She was adopted by an American couple and is now one of very few professional black ballerinas, dancing with the Dutch National Ballet. These are the sorts of stories that The United State of Women is looking to inspire.

Inspiration comes from many places, some certainly less extreme than others, yet still important. In the UK this month, I had what has now become the annual honor of speaking at the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction - an award that Diageo and I are hugely proud to be sponsors of.

Every year, in some shape or form, the Baileys Prize comes under scrutiny over its role in today's society and the need for female-only accolades. I wrote about this in my last Huffington Post blog, defending the great work that the Prize does to put a spotlight on female writing and works of fiction that could otherwise be overlooked. I stand by that position and even more so today when I see the hard work and courage these authors display in getting their work published and recognized.

If we think about all of the writers considered for the Baileys Prize - and the risks they take in sharing their ideas and inner worlds with us amidst the uncertainty and emotional exposure to what people will think, say, and tweet - we should look to commend them. These women are, whether knowingly or not, setting an example to those around them to believe that opportunity exists. These women are daring to achieve, and daring to create change.

The novelist and co-founder of the Baileys Prize and my most quotable friend, Kate Mosse, puts it best:

'If there are no women writers recognised, then no one thinks it could be them.

If there are a few women, a woman might think it could be her.

If there are lots of women, then a woman will ask, what kind of writer will I be?'

I applaud the work of The United State of Women, the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, and all other inspiring collectives of women striving to make any kind of positive change in our lifetime for the future generations.

My belief is that we can all dare greatly. That we all have the ability to put ourselves out there, to risk failure knowing that we can get back up again. To understand that we learn the most when things don't go our way. That being vulnerable is not only the path to growth, to creativity and to greatness, but also a source of inspiration, empowerment and ultimately, the path to change.

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