Columns of women made their way to the Long Beach Convention Center, where the Women's Conference was held at the end of October 2009. Billed as “the nation's premier conference for women,” the event is organised annually by Maria Shriver, First Lady of California, to inspire, empower and educate women to become “architects of change.”
This year, the lsmaili Council for the United States was a sponsor of the conference and sent a delegation that included members of the Jamat as well as a number of guests from the University of Southern California's faculty and administration. The conference, whose theme focused on empowering women to take charge of their own lives and embrace change, featured two full days of speakers and events.
– Shenila Khoja-Moolji, an attendee from New York
CNN's Paula Zahn was the master of ceremonies, and introduced speakers that included Geena Davis, actress and founder of See Jane, and Anne Sweeney, President of Disney/ABC Television. Sessions hosted by speakers such as television star Dr. Mehmet Oz and renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz were held throughout the day covering issues such as managing one's health, changing the world through the web, and starting a new business.
A panel on leadership brought together California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group and Sheila Bair, the Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which oversees banking institutions. They shared their experiences of navigating decision-making in difficult times.
Over lunch, participants also heard from a panel consisting of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President Valerie Jarrett, CNN contributor Amy Holmes, and ABC journalist Claire Shipman, who discussed where America is today in incorporating women in the workplace and positions of leadership. Katie Couric followed with an inspirational speech about her personal journey to the helm of TV journalism as the host of the CBS Evening News. Finally, California's First Lady Maria Shriver, talked openly about the recent loss of her mother and of her uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, before leading a panel on “Grief, Healing, and Resilience.”
The conference also afforded participants the opportunity to visit booths set up by hundreds of sponsoring organisations. The Ismaili Council for the USA had a booth that showcased the work of the Aga Khan Development Network, programmes that illustrated the Jamat's engagement in community service initiatives, as well as profiles of three accomplished American-Ismaili women, originally from Tajikistan, Pakistan and East Africa.
The conference taught participants how to become agents of change and help make a difference in the lives of women. It provided the Council with ideas on how programming for women – as well as the broader Jamat – may be improved and enhanced. And attendees will be able to make recommendations on the involvement of the Ismaili Council in future Women's Conferences in California and elsewhere.