Visionary Women is a community-focused nonprofit organization that focuses on engaging with innovative leaders and funding high-impact initiatives for women and girls. Its most major event of the year is just around the corner— the International Women’s Day Summit— and will bring to millions of screens a lineup that includes Ellen Pompeo discussion the gender/pay-equity gap, Dr. Laurie Santos on happiness and Cindy Crawford on being a conscious entrepreneur. On March 3 and 8, the virtual event will also feature Kristen Bell and Arianna Huffington, among an array of the 21st century’s most compelling voices, and the awarding of the first-ever $100,000 Visionary Prize for Women’s Economic Empowerment from the Hostetler/Wrigley Foundation and Visionary Women.
Ahead of the summit, Modern Luxury chatted with summit organizers Shelley Reid and Thea Andrews to learn more about this year’s program, the outstanding Visionary Prize and the connection between women’s issues and happiness.
What are you looking forward to most about this year's program?
SR:We have world class speakers, and we're really looking at a big global overview of where we are as women in 2022. And we have some firsts. We have the first call to action we're doing in support of the United Nations Women's Peace and Humanitarian Fund.
The other first for our summit is our Economic Empowerment Visionary Prize that the Hostetler/Wrigley Foundation is partnering with us on and that's a very big first for us and one that we hope will continue annually.
TA: Visionary Women has celebrated International Women's Day for several years really since the inception of our charity and so in the past, it had been a very celebratory occasion. Obviously, when COVID happened and we moved online, the nature of our International Women's Day has changed, but we see this as an incredible opportunity to sort of shed light on some of the topics that are most pressing for women domestically and globally right now.
We really wanted to have a conversation about what is happening in our country right now as we come out of this global pandemic, what the outcome has been, where we stand, so that when we look at these issues from the domestic childcare crisis to pay equity.
You have a number of entertainment figures who are part of the summit, including Ellen Pompeo, Cindy Crawford and Kristen Bell. Why is it necessary to have discussions around the industry when we’re talking about women’s issues?
SR: Well, Ellen Pompeo, of course, is one of the most notable women who stood up and spoke out. When you hear her segment, it's about what she experienced in entertainment, but she has now gone on as a real crusader in a lot of different areas.
We look to get those people because we know it's going to draw our audience and last year we had an audience of 4 million people in 38 countries. It's competitive out there and both Thea and I come from entertainment, so we understand that.
TA: I think we're all acutely aware of the powers that celebrity has to provide a platform for issues that are important and to draw light to things and attention to things that people might not otherwise be talking about. One of the most powerful conversations in this show is between Ellen Pompeo and Nina Shaw. She really doesn't focus that much on herself, even though her own fight to be fairly paid on her show obviously made national headlines. It was of great interest to people. But you'll see in this show, she's talking about farmworkers, how they're treated and paid. She's talking about how nurses are treated and paid. It's a topic she knows a lot about and she speaks very passionately about. It was interesting because she brought issues to light with regard to what nurses are facing right now in this country. And let's be honest, we've talked more about nursing in the national conversation in the last few years than we probably ever have thought about in the last 20 years, which is a shame, which is wrong.
I love the fact that because she has this fame that, of course, through her TV show, people connect her to the idea, even though obviously she's an actor, she has formed this connection and she's able to advocate on their behalf. I think it's a great way to use your platform.
It’s interesting that one of the summit’s topics is the science of happiness, which is in conversation with Mara Schiavocampo and Dr. Laurie Santos, who teaches a class on happiness at Yale . Why is this an important part of women's issues?
TA: There's been a lot of conversation, in particular in the last few years about mental health in this country, especially coming out of this pandemic. Everyone wants to achieve happiness, but no one ever thinks about the science, that it actually is science. And we thought as we see these disturbing statistics about how women's mental health, in particular, in the last few years has been affected in this country by the pandemic— you're seeing rising rates of alcoholism, abuse.
We thought it was an important time to focus on some of the uplifting work that Dr. Santos is doing that actually can play into this national conversation. I love the idea of it because I love the idea of a democratization and an accessibility of the most popular course of Yale history. I went to school, I didn't go to Yale, so I love the idea that we can all have this one little piece of an Ivy League education free online. I think there's something so wonderful about that and when we talk about equity and inclusivity, that's just a little piece of it. I think it's wonderful that she offered that to the world.
Can you tell us more about the necessity of The Visionary Prize for Women’s Economic Empowerment?
SR: I think that there's all sorts of statistics of how difficult it is for any startup to get seed funding, but particularly for female-driven and female-run startups. We do give a lot of grants. We grant all our money out, but we are not specifically focused on any one area. We support and award grants to organizations and initiatives that support women and girls, so that crosses a lot of different areas. But this is specifically for economic empowerment for women.
We can't announce who the winner is right now, but we can tell you that we had an abundance of applications— all of them very, very worthy and the process of elimination and deciding was really tough, and there might be a little surprise on the show even because the decision was so tough.
TA:We were overwhelmed by the number of people who applied, but it's not a surprise given what we've seen in particular in the past two years. I think we all know that we’ve always, since the inception of this charity, supported causes that try to create opportunities for women nationally and abroad. But I think now in particular, when we see women so disproportionately, negatively affected economically by the pandemic and the statistics are shocking— let's face it. When you have women dropping out of the workplace, and that's really where what we saw over the pandemic, or going to part-time or less, there's going to be an economic fallout. So we were trying to think about what we can do in this moment to step up and to help.
What else is important to know about the summit?
SR: It’s going to be the best summit of any summit on women's issues! That's not being immodest. It's just we're in love with it. We love it. We love every guest we had. We think each topic is equally important and compelling, and we're too excited.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Register for the summit here.
Photography by: John Salangsang/BFA.com; Courtesy Visionary Women