Last week I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2023 Forbes 30/50 Summit, a five-day International Women’s Day event that celebrated women’s empowerment, featuring some of the most influential female figures of our time. I traveled to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, for the first time by myself, while keeping my eyes and heart wide open. I was thrilled to meet the women attendees from the Middle East. They are authors and athletes, business owners and leaders. As a woman from the United States, I have no comparison to the obstacles they’ve overcome and the policy changes they’ve overturned – which certainly puts any hardship I’ve ever encountered into perspective.
Forbes created a fully loaded agenda with opportunities to learn, tour, volunteer, and experience all that the UAE has to offer. Each day we sat among the world’s most revered women – from Hillary Clinton to Gloria Steinem – to hear of their purpose, their journey, and even their fears. We traveled en masse to far-off destinations, immersed ourselves in cultural norms, mentored young women from the Cranleigh School, and unapologetically danced under the stars in a world away from our typical 9 to 5.
Each day we convened as a group to listen and learn in an intimate setting led by “Know Your Value” founder and MSNBC’s own Mika Brzezinski. I cannot think of more inspiring women than Hilary Clinton, the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska, Her Royal Highness Princess Lamia Bint Majed Saud AlSaud, Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King, Moira Forbes, Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Catherine O’Hara and Misty Copeland to name only a few who shared their incredible journeys with us.
These speakers had no agenda, no ego, and no pitch. They showed up to unite, celebrate and participate for the entire week. No matter your values or beliefs, political ideologies, country allegiance, or preferred pronouns, the content was focused on building bridges and changing the status quo.
In the evenings, we ventured to architectural masterpieces, from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to the Qasr Al Watan Palace. We celebrated several living icons during a gala at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and then closed the week with a traditional Arabian feast fit for a queen in the desert.
I had the rare chance to sit with Gloria Steinem, the embodiment of grace, presence, and hope. It struck me that in all that she's accomplished, she is humble and selfless. She asked me about my impressions of the week and what motivated me. I told her of my values: Grit, Grace, and Gratitude, and she said, "Those are wonderful. I'd like to remember those."
Billie Jean King and I met in the lobby, where I shared our Play Your Game initiative, in which she suggested we collaborate with her Women's Sports Foundation. Play Your Game (PYG) is a platform created in 2004 with my two daughters that promotes confidence, community and conversation through early involvement in team sports. Early childhood bullying is an epidemic that too often silences young girls at an early age, which can lead to depression, illness, and even death. During the icons panel, Billie couldn’t have paraphrased our mission any better, “Sports teaches you to show up, be there, be present, and speak up.”
These are the "pinch me" moments in time, ones that cannot be bought, nor taken for granted. They only happened because I stepped out of my comfort zone, made the time, and said "yes" to travel across the world.
My village has grown to include the most extraordinary new friends from around the globe, who inspire me to be better, work even harder and change the world together. There were no labels on age, race, language, geography, or title. We were purely a cohort of women who learned, laughed, and were vulnerable together. It was truly the greatest daily Town Hall, coffee meet-up, ladies’ lunch, dress up, field trip, and therapy of my lifetime.
As I traveled the 15 hours home I asked myself questions like, “How could I possibly harness this energy and enthusiasm into my daily life?” “Will these conversations continue?” “Will we in fact make measurable change?” “How do we keep the spirit alive and truly stay connected in worlds so far apart?”
We will because it matters, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to those that come after us to “leave it better than we found it.”
Thank you Forbes and to each and every woman who said yes to this great adventure, who opened their hearts and extended their hands to one another. Each of you have made a difference in this world and in my life, and there’s no question we are just getting started.