Cherie Blair talks global collaboration, solutions at Wheelock College

June 20, 2013

Boston.com

Cherie BlairCherie Blair, a lawyer, women's rights advocate, and the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is encouraging non-profit organizations, government agencies, business leaders, and fellow advocates to work together in order to solve some of the world's most pressing issues.

"We must collaborate; we must celebrate. We want to work together in strategic partnerships. We need to value diversity not just within companies within our own countries, but on a global scale," Blair said Thursday during a keynote address at Wheelock College's international conference on Global Challenges and Opportunities Facing Children, Youths and Families. "We need to understand it's a modern, interconnected world."

Blair told the audience that international partnerships across specialties allow advocates to develop innovative and long-term solutions to an array of complex, global issues such as widespread poverty, discrimination, violence against women, and corruption.

"Now is the time to seize the opportunity to make a collaborative impact. Now we must work together to develop long lasting solutions to these problems," she said. "Big challenges require big solutions, and we cannot effectively address them alone."

Blair encouraged groups to share their successes and failures and collaborate on project rather than working in silos while trying to address the same issues.

"If we're going to truly solve the problems of the world we've got to share our information whenever we can and strategically include one another in or efforts," she said.

Blair's organization, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, works with groups and businesses to provide women in developing countries with the skills, technology, networks, and access to financing to start or grow their own businesses.

"With the right support, women can't just change their economics, they can also change their social status and their political voice," Blair said. "If you invest a development dollar in a women she will reinvest it back into her families and her communities and have a sustainable impact."

Blair's foundation has worked in 70 countries in South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, providing women with training, mentoring, and support that allows them to develop skills and establish themselves financially.

In India, for example, the foundation partnered with a mobile phone company and a local wholesaler to develop an app that would allow women who sell dried goods door-to-door to place their orders via text message and have their orders delivered. The technology allows the women to sell their products instead of spending a day traveling and helped the wholesaler improve its ordering process.

"We can only do so much, but working with others we can do so much more," Blair said in an interview after a panel discussion. The foundation also has partnerships with non-government organizations, and agencies including USAID and the U.S. State Department. "This way we can really multiply what we do together."

The foundation's support not only helps women and their communities financially, Blair said, it also allows them build confidence and gain freedom in cultures that often do not respect or value women.

"They need confidence, and a lot of this is saying to women--who have been told for so long that they shouldn't have a voice, they can't do these things--that actually they can," she said. "I think having to make your own business and to make your own money gives you that confidence to enable you to make choices."

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