Evan Easton-Calabria is a DPhil student in International Development at the University of Oxford, where her work focuses on refugee self-reliance. Evan was a member of the 2015-2016 Oxford Global Leadership Initiative.
The conference is held in an art gallery in the middle of Berlin, if that gives you a sense of its uniqueness. At one session, I am barefoot and dance. In another, I sit on the floor, listen to a speaker, and begin to cry. The gallery exhibition shows the work of Cindy Sherman, a photographer and social critic known for her portraits of women representing – and deconstructing – stereotypes and cultural norms. Big, wild portraits hang on vast walls; not one woman in them fits inside a box. From the frames on all sides, we are asked who we want to be.
This spring, through GLI’s support, I had the opportunity to attend FemmeQ, the first European Summit of Rising Women, Rising World (RWRW) in Berlin, Germany. RWRW is comprised of fiercely compassionate visionaries, leaders - and implementers - who aim to address the failings of leadership in business, politics and our society as a whole through what they term ‘feminine principles’. Intuition, compassion, listening, and inclusivity, as well as Ubuntu (reverence for all life) and new ways of being are all values held at the core of the pathway to world change that RWRW has set out. Its leaders include Dr Scilla Elworthy, the founder of Peace Direct, an organisation which supports local peace-builders in conflict areas; advisor to ‘The Elders’; and three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee for her work in creating dialogue with policymakers, activists, and other citizens around nuclear weapons. As a participant of GLI, I had the privilege of receiving mentorship from Scilla, and through her learned about the FemmeQ summit. Although she is rich with impressive titles, I was most struck by the leadership skills she demonstrates through listening, and with the respect she shows people - through making space for them to speak.
The conference abounded with such inclusivity, as nearly 200 women and men from different continents, with different passions, came together to listen to speakers and attend workshops. The focus was on how we can create innovative frameworks – political, economic, and social – to help move our society from competition and conflict to collaboration. Some of the points discussed were simple, but profound: Often, our world leaders do not listen to each other or their citizens; instead of dialogue there are strategic deals and deep mistrust. How can we do this differently? What values can we promote instead?
Thomas Huebl, a well-known German spiritual teacher, spoke, and reminded us that witnessing can be a form of leadership, that using meditation as a means to connect to world events can in so doing cultivate world citizenship. Throughout the conference, as I observe incredible listening skills, witnessing, and vulnerable sharing, I think of the power of leaders who embody the belief that the process is also the outcome. As Karen Maezen Miller writes, ‘Your life is your practice.’ I am also reminded of how far there is to go, how many people do not have the financial or social privileges I have had to sit in this room and learn.
Through discussions as well as the title of the conference itself (‘FemmeQ’), I also reflect on the gendered nature of leadership. RWRW leaders are very clear that the movement they seek to strengthen is for humanity, for the world, and is not confined to women. Feminine principles are those that we all hold, regardless of gender identity, and alongside masculine principles. The point is not to reinforce a false binary but instead to point out an imbalance. The goal is for equal partners around the world to help shape the future, not through brute force or because they are the loudest speaker in the room, but because they have recalibrated, are collaborating, and have the wisdom to listen to the feminine as well as the masculine inside.
Although this process must begin internally, the aim is for it to reach the world. It is only through following both feminine and masculine principles, RWRW believes, can we achieve the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is only through rebalancing as a global community that we can truly reduce global inequality. To this end, FemmeQ Summit is only one of multiple gatherings hosted by RWRW; others have been held at the UN in Geneva and New York and the British Parliament in London. Our leaders must become our role models, for not just the results they provide but the process through which they achieve them.
The day after the conference, I leave Berlin on one of those almost-summer evenings where the sun keeps stretching towards the sky. Over the past two days I have laughed and cried, been enraged by injustice and emboldened by stories and role models. For me, the FemmeQ Summit was a meditation on leadership and new ways to move forward. I touch foot back in Oxford and continue to ask myself who I want to be.