The Conversation: Snowstorm & No Ceilings 2

Hillary Clinton may no longer be in office but she has no trouble drawing a crowd in New York, as Jane McClenahan reports.

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton with Melinda Gates at NYU. Courtesy Leslie Dewees.

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton with Melinda Gates at NYU.  Photo by Leslie Dewees.

Not many people could draw a crowd well over capacity in the midst of a heavy snowstorm in New York City. Whilst other New Yorkers were trudging their way to work, the excitement was palpable among those who gathered at New York University’s Kimmel Center waiting to hear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her daughter Chelsea and Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation.

America’s former First Lady had the crowd in the palm of her hand as she outlined a new initiative by the Clinton and Gates Foundations to track women’s progress towards equality around the globe.  It’s timely as in March the  UN Commission on the Status of Women meets in New York to discuss women’s progress with regard to the Millennium Goals.

‘No Ceilings: the Full Participation Project’ combines two themes close to Clinton’s heart – women’s empowerment and technology as drivers of development.   The ambitious project seeks to gather data on all aspects of women’s lives and make that information accessible around the globe by interested parties on multiple platforms.  As an example, Gates mentioned tracking vaccination rates in Ethiopia, which allows checking on where they are being delivered, in what numbers and so on.

Clinton stressed the need to make the economic argument for women’s participation to many national leaders as “they don’t want to hear the moral or the rights argument.”  Having the data to show what countries are losing financially because they aren’t educating their girls strengthens the backbone of her case.  However, there wasn’t much on the detail of the initiative.

As always with Clinton, it’s just fascinating to hear her talk. On anything. Whatever your opinion of her, her passion and intellect are difficult to fault.  Here, the former New York Senator was preaching to the utterly converted. She appeared in robust health and humor throughout – which should provide more fodder for the already interminable speculations about her plans for the 2016 presidential elections.

She and Gates talked at some length about the challenges to keep girls in science and math as they struggle against the more relaxed attitude of boys in middle school classes. It’s called the ‘perfection complex’ and it hits girls hard. To illustrate Chelsea Clinton told a story of phoning her mother hysterically crying ( her words not mine ) whilst she was in college. When she calmed down, she confessed to scoring B-minus on a test. She had never got a B-minus before. Her mother asked her if she enjoyed the course and liked learning and told her that was the most important thing. Allowing yourself to be less than perfect.  The crowd lapped it up.

When asked what advice she would give to women on how to succeed, Secretary Clinton replied that “being a change-maker, it’s important to learn how to take criticism seriously but not personally.”  No-one would argue she is well qualified to say that.  Now it just remains to be seen if she will take on the challenge of running for office again to achieve America’s greatest political prize. As she well knows, other crowds will not be such a cakewalk.


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