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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Address to Mary Kay National Sales Directors of Latin America

Melanne Verveer
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues 
Washington, DC
May 30, 2012


(as prepared)

Welcome to Washington to each and every one of you! You are a magnificent site – so many truly accomplished businesswomen.

It is always a great personal pleasure for me to be with women like you at Mary Kay. Mary Kay is among one of our most valued partners for the empowerment of women. Independent business women all over the world, working for so many companies, are, like all of you, supporting themselves and their families, growing their countries’ economies, and contributing more significantly to the betterment of their communities. 

The US recognizes that a democracy without the full participation of women is a contradiction in terms, and economies without the full inclusion of women will not prosper. After all, no country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind. For women to take their rightful place in society,

they need opportunities to share experiences and to build strong partnerships. And many years ago, before he died sadly last year, the Vice Chairman of Mary Kay, Dick Bartlett, understood that. He would often explain why women’s economic participation was crucial and how women are the emerging market. Mary Kay herself was also about the power of investing in women. 

Each of you is an embodiment of that philosophy. As national sales directors, each of you is a leader. You were not afraid to take a chance in business. You know what it takes to persevere, to sacrifice, to work hard. You are problem solvers and you have confidence in yourselves.  

I also want to salute the husbands who have been a source of support for their entrepreneurial wives – for being there when it was not easy– during those slow sales days or even slow weeks, and to celebrate your success on a night like tonight.

Early in my tenure as Ambassador for Women’s issues, I traveled to Russia and in Moscow, I remember visiting with a group of Mary Kay sellers. They were a diverse group --- young and not so young, from different work backgrounds. Many told me stories of struggles during tough economic times, or about their lack of confidence or sense of hopelessness, but now they knew “they could do it!” They described how their lives had been transformed. They were not only earning good incomes but they were also giving back to their communities. They told me that the Mary Kay experience was not just about good business skills, but also about the importance of community and caring for others and working to address challenges that women confronted like gender-based violence.

The role that women play in the economy is critical to jobs and growth around the globe.

As Secretary Clinton pointed out in her keynote address at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit last year, “to achieve the economic expansion we all seek, we need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economies in the decades to come and that vital source of growth is women.”

Today there is a volume of research and data that shows investing in women is a high yield investment for poverty alleviation and a country’s general prosperity. We know, according to the World Economic Forum’s annual survey that in countries where the gender gap between men and women is closer to being closed in education, health, economic participation and political empowerment, economic competiveness and prosperity is greater. The World Bank has noted that “gender equality is smart economics.”

We also know that women-run small and medium size businesses are accelerators of GDP, creating growth and creating jobs. We know too that women spend a greater percentage of their incomes – upwards of 90% -- on education, health and other investments. This has a multiplier effect in local communities.

For these reasons and so many more, investing in women is not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing, the strategic thing to do. You prove these statistics every day. Like other companies we partner sith, you are growing. There is double-digit growth in your region. Mary Kay in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina is celebrating between 15 and 30 years of business in those markets. Entrepreneurship is at the center of this opportunity.

In the US, small businesses employ 50% of the private workforce, generate more than half of the nation’s GDP and are the principal source of new jobs. Increasing the ability of entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, the tools and training they need to run their businesses successfully is an investment with great returns.

At the Summit of the Americas this year, Secretary Clinton announced a major public-private partnership – a new initiative called “Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas.” We call it WEAmericas. It addresses major barriers that women face in starting or growing their business: access to training, mentors and professional networks; access to markets and access to finance.

Today most of the countries in the region have closed the gender gap in education, achieving near universal primary school enrollment for girls. And in secondary school, girls are surpassing boys in education enrollment and completion rates. The goal must be for both boys and girls to complete secondary education. Widespread gender-based violence threatens women and girls and is a scourge in the region and globally.

You at Mary Kay are working to help victims of abuse. Your awareness campaigns, shelter and support programs, like the “give love and hope” program in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico and across the region are making a difference. All of you are using your power as individuals and Mary Kay family members to confront the social challenges that impact women and girls. We know that economic independence enables women to achieve a better life – from access to education and health to being free from violence.

Mary Kay is one of the companies we work with that believes in women, invests in women and supports women in the Americas and around the world. We congratulate you and wish you well. You are demonstrating the power of women’s leadership to make a difference.

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