A Tale of Two Bs

The bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly. Aerodynamically speaking I mean, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly. But, as the saying goes, the bumblebee doesn’t know this and so continues to fly, untroubled by any evidence to the contrary.

This is partly folklore and I am decidedly not going to draw any ridiculous comparisons between bumblebees and businesswomen, but, I will say that this idea of achieving perceivably insurmountable heights amidst a sea of naysayers served as the crux of many of my conversations with women business leaders at the annual Womensphere with Newsweek Global Summit in New York. The difference of course being that women business leaders, unlike bumble bees, have always known what opposing minds think.

We have always known the public rhetoric about our perceived place and capabilities. This public discourse has obviously changed over the years and certain industries (in certain countries) traditionally characterized by cufflinks now have many women in the mix if not at the helm… but it is still interesting to note the role of adversity in the creation of a business woman’s success story.

Womensphere, a unique global leadership community and independent media organization hosted the Womensphere with Newsweek Global Summit on Sept 24-25th. The well attended Summit served as a platform of exchange for business women of all demographics and backgrounds from across the globe to share perspectives on a multitude of topics – social entrepreneurship, advancing women’s leadership in companies and boardrooms, global leadership and strategic problem solving, green economics and enabling sustainability, and driving economic growth and development. One of the keynote speakers, Angela Leaney, CMO of Newsweek, stated it best when she described the conference as a forum to bring together “people who are united around a common theme: to create new opportunities in leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainability.”

Over the course of two days, a who’s who of Summit speakers including women CEOs of multinational pharmaceutical companies, presidents of investment banks, and founders of global NGO initiatives took the podium to share their stories and host roundtable discussions. A commonality across all seemed to be a crucible on adversity. At one point in their professional trajectories they had each been told “No, give up. It can’t be done.” Resilience, perseverance, and a stalwart defiance to those who thought otherwise made their careers flourish and transformed their start-up ideas into full fledged global businesses.

Another visible link amongst the speakers was a clear passion for what they were pursuing. Yet it’s comforting to know that many of them did not simply wake up one day to see their life’s purpose emblazoned in neon flashing lights. They all acknowledged that it took time to develop and courage to realize what it was that truly motivated them.

Great advice was given on how to socialize business ideas (target family, friends, and fools) and how to build and sustain momentum in your start-up (focus on people software, generate positive energy, engage full diversity of resources, build from the top of the bottom of the base of the pyramid, and scale is the holy grail), but what I found to be the most compelling portion of the conference occurred on the second day.

While moderating a panel on challenges and opportunities transforming the world, Dr. Pamela Hartigan, Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship (and author of The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World) provided us with a piece of advice that really stuck with me. She said, “Everyone tells you to always keep your options and doors open. Well, my advice to you is to start slamming doors. Close them one by one until you find a door that actually interests you. You’ll then start to really focus on what drives you and what your passion is. Be prepared to face criticism along the way and be prepared to face difficulties. But if it’s the truth that you’re after, these hardships will fade and your passion will materialize.”

Hmmm. it’s certainly something to think about.

Dictated by the theories of that time scientists thought bumblebee flight made absolutely no sense. It didn’t fit into any preconceived mold for how insects were able to fly. Yet, upon further analysis it was determined that the bumblebee’s unique wingspan, wing speed, placement, and movement pattern allowed it to do just that. Positioning the wings in any other locale on the bumblebee would render it immobile. The bumblebee was actually made to fly; it just came in a slightly different packaging compared to what people were accustomed. Altering a way of thought, revisiting assumptions, and tackling the same question from a different angle provided these scientists with their answer.

If you find yourself in the seat of the skeptical scientist it might be better to first obtain a more thorough understanding of the business scene and evolving game before being quick to wield the pessimist wand. If you’re that bumblebee, a businesswoman fighting for a noble cause against great odds and making bold decisions in the face of adversity sounds just fine on paper and in hindsight it’s easy to be a hero. It’s when you’re slammed with the prospect of losing everything, when everyone is telling you to stop, and when everywhere you turn you see the word “no” that you must persevere, find your passion, and (shall I say it?). fly onwards.

Q&A with Analisa L. Balares.
CEO & Chief Investment Officer, Womensphere www.womensphere.org
Chair, Womensphere Global Summits

Analisa Leonor Balares is a social entrepreneur and CEO of Womensphere. For over two decades, Analisa has been committed to women’s leadership development, entrepreneurship,ÿ innovation, sustainable development, and education.ÿ She has produced, directed, and co-produced over 100 conferences, summits, events, and media around these themes.

Analisa was selected by the New Leaders Council as one of its 40 Under 40 New Leaders Award winner in America in its annual 2009 selection process throughout the country.ÿ Analisa has also been recognized by CBS Radio/1010Wins as its Tomorrow’s Newsmaker Award Winner for Business.

Analisa holds an MBA from Harvard Business School; while at HBS, Analisa founded and co-led the non-profit Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), and served as a President of the HBS Entrepreneurship Club.

What were your motivations for founding Womensphere? What did you hope to accomplish?
I believe that there is a great opportunity to advance women’s leadership in the world, to truly enable women to reach our full potential, whatever part of the world we are talking about.ÿ Womensphere exists to truly live up to our mission: To unlock women’s potential. To enable and empower women to create opportunities. To inspire greater impact by women across all fields of major endeavor. And by doing all this, to harness women’s power in transforming the world – through the companies that we run or are a part of, the businesses or social ventures that we start, the families and communities that we belong to, and the broader society as a whole.

How did the idea for the Global Summit Conference develop?
At Womensphere, we believe that key pillars to delivering upon our mission are bringing women together with leadership and resources, educating and enabling women to become effective leaders, inspiring women to new heights, and connecting women with each other in a powerful community. Womensphere’s Global Summits are designed to accomplish all of that!

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing women business leaders today?
Our potential and opportunities are boundless – but there are many forces, internal and external, that create major gaps between our potential and opportunity, and what we are currently accomplishing and achieving.ÿ Thus, I believe that the greatest challenge that women business leaders face today is bridging the structural, social and psychological gaps that exist between our vision and potential, and what we are currently achieving, who we are currently becoming.ÿ We must bridge these gaps and eliminate these barriers, and we must continue to create opportunities ÿ- for ourselves, and for women around the world. ÿÿ