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Changing the world: spotlight on tomorrow’s female leaders


Sabine Clappaert
Freelance journalist

Early this morning, 20 successful young women gathered around a table at the Women’s Forum (see WVoN story) in Deauville, northern France, to tell their remarkable stories.

Called ‘The Rising Talents’, they have been distinguished as highly talented young women who are on their way to becoming influential figures in our economies and societies.

For instance, the Indian head of Gumtree, a Brazilian chef and social entrepreneur; an American author; the CEO of a major British non-profit; and a senior director at PepsiCo China.

Aged between 30 and 40, they all have one thing in common: they don’t plan their careers more than five years ahead.

“It’s not so much about having goals as it is about having a purpose in life,” says Suchi Mukherjee, Managing Director and General Manager of Gumtree (Ebay, Inc.), who is about to launch a technology start-up in South-East Asia after a successful career as investment banker and internet start-up manager in London.

“You have to dare to dream,” she adds passionately, “and you should never allow people to tell you ‘ah, but you can’t do that, it will never work!’”

All the women agree: having a clear purpose of what you want to achieve ensures that there is some method to the madness.

Asked if the path to their success has been linear, there is an emphatic no.

“The rate of technological change, and the rate at which we are able to connect with each other has increased exponentially over the past few years,” says Mukherjee.

“I never dreamed a year ago that I’d be where I am today. Things change so fast, paths open up, opportunities present themselves everywhere, it’s just a question of grabbing them.”

These rising young leaders are also clearly not afraid to fail.

Muna AbuSulayman, Secretary General of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, said: “The paths we follow to achieve our purpose are not linear, but that also means that there will be some failures along the way.”

The others agree and it’s the way in which they view failure that sets them apart.

“Many people have such a deep-rooted sense of self-doubt that failure becomes very personal. We don’t see it that way.

“I think the difference is that we believe in ourselves, and we continue to believe in ourselves, even when some ventures fail.

“Maybe that’s because these usually are ‘good failures’ – cases in which we know we gave it everything we had, but still it failed, for interesting reasons: the wrong timing, changing market conditions,…” adds AbuSulayman.

“Failure forces one to reset,” adds Claire Boonstra.

Many women around the table have left impressive high-flying jobs with big multi-nationals to follow their life’s purpose.

Mukherjee left a successful corporate career in London to head back home to India: “I’m leaving a well-crafted corporate career for entrepreneurship, some people call me crazy,” she laughs.

“But I don’t think it’s such an uncalculated risk. I am leaving the corporate world with a lot of experience and the skills I gained along the way are now great tools to help me succeed.

“I’m now also surrounded by a network of rich people – not financially rich,” she explains, “but knowledge-rich people who can support me along the way.”

What is her purpose, I ask her?

“I want to go back and make a difference to my country. I want to enable entrepreneurs across Asia – many of them women – to realize their dreams.”

It comes back time and again in each story: they want to help change the world.

Cindy Lin, of PepsiCo China, agrees: “I mentor a number of people. There is nothing that motivates me more than when someone comes to me and says ‘my life is different because of you’.

“I want to help people discover their purpose. As long as I can do that in the corporate world, I will stay.”

Their message is clear: the path they take may not always be clearly delineated, but the purpose they have is.

“You only have to know one thing,” smiles Mukherjee: “What is your true north? That’s all that matters.”

Rising Talents 2011

  • Muna AbuSulayman, 38, Saudi, Secretary General, Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation
  • Claire Boonstra, 36, Dutch, Co-Founder, Layar
  • Bel Coelho, 32, Brazilian, Chef, Dui Restaurant
  • Daniela Nascimento Fainberg, 37, Brazilian, Founder and Director, Instituto Geração
  • Noelia Fernandez, 38, Spanish, Head of Audience & Content, Yahoo! Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA)
  • Jennifer Hill, 36, Senior Associate, Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, LLP
  • Ornella Indonie, 39, Haitian, Senior Managing Director Latin America, Apple, Inc.
  • Elsie Kanza, 35, Tanzanian, Personal Assistant to the President, Government of Tanzania
  • Clotilde L’Angevin, 33, French, Secretary General of the Paris Club and Head of the “international debt” division, French Treasury, at the French Ministry of Finance
  • Claire Leigh, 30, British, Governance Advisor, The Africa Governance Initiative
  • Cindy Lin, 39, Taiwanese, Senior Director New Business Development, PepsiCo China
  • Courtney E. Martin, 31, American, Author/Speaker/Blogger
  • Suchi Mukherjee, 38, Indian, Managing Director and General Manager,, an eBay Inc. Co
  • Jessy Tolkan, 30, American, Executive Director, Citizen Engagement Lab
  • Leila Cristina Velez, 37, Brazilian, CEO, Beleza Natural
  • Camille de Verdelhan, 33, French, Chief Financial Officer, Casino France, Groupe Casino

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