By Christie McCarthy
Originally published on the Vista Solar blog
Advanced nations are beginning to understand this phenomenon: that healthy economies cannot exist without the contributions of women; and to the extent that women thrive, countries thrive. As Secretary of State John Kerry says, “women’s issues are not just women’s issues, they’re family issues, they’re economic issues, they’re community issues.” In 2011, that key understanding inspired Hillary Clinton to create TechWomen, a professional and cultural exchange program for women from Africa and the Middle East.
Having spent the last five weeks immersed as a mentor in TechWomen 2014, I’m compelled to share my observations.
In order to participate, young women from Africa and the Middle East apply for 78 highly competitive spots. Those selected are the cream of the crop: educated, accomplished, and disposed toward careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). The selection process is no less competitive for mentors (both professional and cultural) who need to show capacity, accomplishment, and commitment.
What happens next is:
- The selected women from Africa and the Middle East (called Emerging Leaders – or EL’s) spend five weeks with American business women (Mentors) at work and play, engaging in the best of American work and culture.
- Through shared experience and communication, strong relationships form between the EL’s and Mentors, as well as among the EL’s and their host companies (which include top-tier businesses like Cisco, LinkedIn, Twitter, SolarCity).
- During their 4-week internships, the EL’s work on projects that yield practical knowledge they can take back with them and put to use in their careers.
- After their internships, the EL’s and Mentors spend one week together in Washington DC at the U.S. Department of State with important officials who listen, interact and show remarkable care for the program.
- After Washington and many teary goodbyes, the EL’s return to their home countries, taking with them the ideals, best practices, experience and support they have received from the U.S. government, their mentors and their host companies.
- Once home, the EL’s have a phenomenal success record. Since these women were driven from the start, they tend to keep that momentum going in their lives and careers, inspiring those around them, and lifting those that follow. Their families, friends and co-workers experience the positive impact of their time in America, and the results are exponential.
As TechWomen continues to deliver year after year, the net results are 1) increased good will for the United States in other countries; and 2) economic growth in these countries through the advancement of women.
This is good for American security.
Christie McCarthy has held management positions within the three key solar industry market segments of manufacturing, distribution and integration. She recently spoke on the Women in Renewables panel at Intersolar North America, and is the co-founder of the popular annual solar industry event, Solar Battle of the Bands, which is now entering its fifth highly successful year. In addition to her work in solar, Christie is an award-winning singer-songwriter and the creator of the solar anthem and video, Rise and Shine.