By Julie Schlosser, Altruette co-founder
Everyone needs an annual refresh. Mine comes each fall when I attend a women’s conference that Fortune sponsors. It’s called the Most Powerful Women Summit, but in some ways, that name doesn’t quite capture what goes on inside the conference. You might imagine dozens of women in suits networking their way to the top. And while there’s plenty of networking (and a few suits!), it’s a really organic and positive environment. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of business content (panels on board management, global risks, cyber threats) but there’s also a level of generosity between women and a major focus on giving back (whether it’s helping younger women in the workplace or helping build schools for girls in Afghanistan).
Attending this conference when we were journalists at Fortune motivated me and Lee to quit our jobs and start Altruette (more from us on that in a future post). But now I get to go back each year and help Fortune motivate young girls to think beyond their environment and to dream big when it comes to their own futures. In a sense, I now go back with my Altruette hat on. Here’s what I do: I run a mentoring program for juniors and seniors in high school. This year, we teamed up with Girls Inc, a nonprofit that we’ve long admired. Girls Inc empowers girls throughout the US and Canada to succeed through programs that teach them about economic literacy, science and technology, setting career goals and several other important areas that girls can use help in. I had met the head of the organization Judy Vredenburgh three years ago and I was committed to making this week’s event happen. It did not disappoint. We hosted 32 girls from Girls Inc’s D.C. and Philadelphia programs and we paired them one-on-one with powerful leaders at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit for five rounds of mentoring. And thanks to Ann Inc, one of Fortune’s sponsors, the girls were given professional outfits to wear to the event. After being mentored, the girls attended a gala dinner at The National Portrait Gallery with a surprise guest…Mrs. Obama. The girls sat center stage and listened to the First Lady discuss her new Let Girls Learn initiative and listened to advice from the First Lady, Ursula Burns, the head of Xerox and Megan Smith, the CTO of the United States, on how these girls could change the world. Mrs. Obama ended her talk, stepped down from the podium and into the group of menses where she greeted and hugged each of them. The room of over 300 women fell silent as the First Lady embraced these young and promising girls. I’ve attended a lot of dinners in my life but there was something really magical happening on Tuesday night. It not only changed the lives of 32 high school girls, it changed my life and I think the lives of many of the women in the room.