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Earlier this year, I had the good fortune to meet Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris. I was there to participate in an awards program organized by La Fondation d’entreprise ELLE and Le Comptoir de L’Innovation (CDI), a global social-investment firm. Nine editions of ELLE were asked to select a woman from their country who is engaged in a social entrepreneurial business, and then the editor-in-chief of each edition would travel with them to Paris for the conference. #toughgig Each finalist had three minutes to present her business to an esteemed panel, chaired by Hidalgo, who would determine the winner. Later that evening, the finalists had 30 seconds to present their cases before 1,000+ potential investors. Their projects are impressive—from designing fuel-efficient stoves in India and solar-powered backpacks in Africa to building best-inclass early-childcare centres in Kenya. What is even more inspiring is their passion and enthusiasm to change the world. Winner Thato Kgatlhanye, who designed the backpacks for underprivileged schoolchildren, says that she is always telling other young women that if they want a rich career and life they should “start a business that is meaningful and the work that they do will matter.” In her acceptance speech, the 23-year-old South African said that she and others “stand on the shoulders of strong, beautiful women who teach other women to go out into the world to make a difference.” One of these strong women is Hidalgo. After the lunch with the finalists, she met with the nine editors-in-chief to chat about her time in office, how she dealt with the terrorist attacks on her city and what she wants us to do to help bring about change. “One of the most difficult things I had to do during the campaign was win credibility,” she said. “It was the first time a woman was the mayor of Paris. Like all women, I had to present with a certain authority, which isn’t considered feminine. During the campaign, there were many questions about whether I was up to the task, which are rarely asked about men. Authority can also be a feminine characteristic.” In fact, her gender may have uniquely influenced her response to the terrorist attacks on her city. Hidalgo said that people wanted her to be firm yet maternal. “They were expecting very strong, very firm yet reassuring words,” she recalled. “I felt like a sponge soaking in all this suffering around me. I was very impressed with the dignity of Parisians during this tragic time. They want to go on living. Terrorists want to keep us from being free. They want to silence us. They want to silence women and children. We mustn’t give in to this threat. We mustn’t fall inside of ourselves.” When Béatrice Ercolini, editor-inchief of ELLE Belgium, asked what the media could do, Hidalgo smiled and said: “Women don’t function in networks the way men do. We are victims of the good-student syndrome. We always want to work very hard, even when we are exhausted. We also want to believe that we can do everything on our own. Help establish these networks and highlight what women are doing. Women can often be invisible. Make them visible.” On that note, please read about the remarkable women finalists in “Change Makers” (page 94). And then start to think about how you can make a difference.
Noreen and her fellow ELLE EICs chat with Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris.
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