Who can ever be prepared for a life changing experience?
Going to Algeria to represent The United States as a lead partner on a project established between The US State Department and The Aspen Institute was certainly one for me. And security concerns, language barriers, the role of women in society, and my lost luggage all offered me opportunities to stay focused on WHY I was indeed asked to be there.
About $100K of personal investment and my endless sweat equity for the past four years, has brought me to the true launch of my new adventure- The IAE- through this opportunity. My desire to teach others how to embrace art and cultural exchanges in new and exciting ways- through entrepreneurship- in both the US and the Meghreb region will soon begin to be realized. And to my astonishment, my own core beliefs about what the arts need most to thrive and become (again) a highly-valued and vibrant contributor– through new lenses of cultural diplomacy and advancing economic opportunity– were FINALLY ideas being validated by others right in front of me in Algeria. So much good news!
Never mind that I met US Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fenandez in a pair of jeans I had worn for 2 days because my luggage with all my best clothes never arrived- I still got to meet him and now he knows my name. Never mind the fact that my French is rusty and easy to misunderstand- I tried to speak to most everyone and did so effectively enough (and where I fell down a translator jumped right in to assist me). Never mind that I barely could sleep while I was there. Or that I kept pinching myself out of disbelief that government officials from several countries in the Meghreb, business men, and regional entrepreneurs, repeatedly initiated conversation making it clear of their interest to fund and/or participate in our portion of the project. It was certainly clear to me through out all my conversations, frankly, that a valuable new role for arts and culture to play was of great interest, in general, to the Meghreb region.
While I am still in awe of the receptivity to new ideas and the kindness extended to us by truly most every person I met there, it was the strong women from the US State Department, US- Algerian Business Council, The National US-Arab Chamber of Commerce, The Aspen Institute, and The Algerian SEVE organization that most impressed me.
In my prior life in the retail and distribution business in the music business I was surrounded by ” good old boys”. Male business executives that (narrowly) placed women in supporting roles only. I was like a bull in a china closet for almost 20 years craving the strength of a sisterhood of collaborative leaders instead. The conference in Algeria served as the launch for our project with The Aspen Institute. Over 25 hand selected speaker and 250 by invitation only participants were selected to attend this conference which was envisioned, negotiated and organized by 5 women under the age of 35. SIMPLY AMAZING!
In the Meghreb, their culture embraces women– many of whom are veiled and expected to be submissive to their husbands, staying home to raise a family. The visibly open appreciation from all of the men who attended this conference for the amazing all star female team of leaders who birthed it into being– Elisabeth Lord Stuart of the U.S.-Algeria Business Council working with Dr. Ismail Chikhoune, The U.S. Department of State’s team led by Julie Egan and Jillian DeLunaby, and Vanessa Zubai and Andrea McDaniel from The Aspen Institute — was truly inspiring. ( And a BIG THANK YOU to Elisabeth Lord Stuart for loaning me some of her clothes. By the way- my luggage was delivered to my home today)