Where the Future is Bright

August 26, 2019

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We’re never too old or too young – or too anything – to reinvent ourselves or make an impact on the world.

Since day one at FleishmanHillard, I’ve felt encouraged to treat my work – for our clients, our teams and our business – as an open invitation to make something better, and to make a difference bigger than ourselves.

As professional problem solvers and creative makers, it’s second nature to always keep our heads up. Stay alert to trends and spot contradictions, injustices, needs and gaps in society. We don’t look away. Our instinct is to get involved. Figure out new ways to smooth the world’s wrinkles.

When it comes to women’s equality, for example, there’s been encouraging progress. Yet – no matter where in the world you sit – there’s still much work to be done.

After my sons reached school age, one issue I could no longer ignore is the need for greater diversity on boards.

The gender gap remains massive. And the pace of change, glacial. In Hong Kong, representation of women on boards of its leading listed companies rose only 0.1% to a mere 13.9% last year. Even less in Japan at 5.3%. Higher in the West – 27.5% in the UK, 22% in the US and 19.4% in Canada, for example – but the global average of 17.9% is still far from equal.

Lynne Anne Davis (center) with students at the Asian University for Women 2019 benefit.

The consequences?  According to the McKinsey Global Institute’s “The Power of Parity” report, if countries in Asia worked harder to further women’s equality and raise female participation in its workforce, $4.5 trillion would be added to its annual GDP in 2025, a 12 percent increase over the business-as-usual trajectory.

My first step was completing the Financial Times’ Board Director Program to fully understand the responsibilities and skills required to uphold strict corporate governance. It opened up a path for me to help address another gap too massive to ignore: access to tertiary education for women in Asia’s most marginalized communities.

In 2015, I became a founding member and board chair of the Hong Kong Support Foundation of the Asian University for Women (AUW) based in Bangladesh. AUW is an independent, liberal arts university providing top-quality education to students from 15 different countries across Asia and the Middle East, representing 35 ethnicities and five religions.

We raise AUW scholarship funds to educate high-potential women regardless of means and prepare them to lead positive change in their communities. They include displaced women from the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar, the factory floors of the garment manufacturers, rural mountain villages out of reach of health and other services, as well as conflict zones such as Yemen and Syria, for example.

They overcome enormous cultural barriers to go abroad for university when a large majority are the first in their family to attend university and child marriage and other repressive customs are so well rooted. These students spend their first year learning English. Go on to master the Socratic method for critical thinking in undergrad. Some go on to pursue master’s degrees at Cambridge and Stanford. Ultimately, they prove that talent and excellence is just as prevalent in underserved communities as in any other group.

Lynne Anne Davis (left) with a student at the Asian University for Women 2019 benefit.

The transformative power of education is undeniable. I’ve seen how these AUW students emerge confident, articulate, highly capable women ready to fiercely challenge norms and lead from the front in places where they will be the first to do so. Places where women are far from considered equal. Where they do not have the same rights.

Change in these corners of our region must be hard fought. Even the smallest degrees of progress are hard won. It requires unwavering courage.

AUW graduates return home to tackle many of the toughest, most daunting social issues facing the world today, equipped to make a difference.

Albert Einstein put it best: “we can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Today’s problems demand new answers and fresh points of view. Having more women in positions of authority to lead change where it is needed most will make all the difference in the world.

It makes me proud that through FH4Inclusion our firm actively advances the missions of transformative organizations like AUW by generously donating our expertise and resources to shape more tolerant, diverse communities where we operate. With our clients we’re also making great strides in improving society and creating shared value.

Too many questions need new answers. Our opportunity to do the most meaningful work of our lives is rooted in enlisting the full strength of our influence and resources to move progress faster and keep aiming as far as forever – where the future is bright.