Remarks by the First Lady at the United State of Women Summit Dinner
7:45 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, good evening, everyone. How are you all? Rest yourselves, you’ve been busy. (Laughter.) I understand it’s been a long day. But it is a pleasure to be here with all of you tonight.
Of course, I want to start by thanking Ayo for that very kind introduction. And I have to say, she is an outstanding businesswoman because I walked in the back, I met her, we took a picture, and she said, “You have to try one of my bean cakes.” (Laughter.) And they were all laid out, and let me tell you, they were delicious! (Laughter.) Oh, my goodness. Good job. (Applause.) And I was hungry so it hit the spot. (Laughter.) I haven’t eaten yet. But we’re all so impressed with everything she has achieved and everything she will continue to achieve in the years ahead. So let’s give Ayo another round of applause. (Applause.)
I also want to recognize Evan Ryan and John Rogers for their outstanding leadership. Where is everybody? I kind of popped in. Hi, how are you? (Applause.) Yay. Thank you all for the work you’ve done and for being here today.
And of course, I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who made the United State of Women Summit such an incredible success. Thanks to everyone — oh, yes. (Applause.) You all worked so hard. And I just left — Oprah and I did our conversation. I don’t know — did you see it? Sorry, I know. (Laughter.) I would give you a synopsis, but it was really good. (Laughter.)
But I want to thank everybody from the White House Council on Women and Girls, and everyone all across the administration who helped to plan this event, including so many folks here at the State Department. It’s been an amazing day. People were energized. They may have been a little tired but we didn’t feel it. And I’ve had a few girlfriends give me an update; they said they were inspired, they’re ready to change the world. So you should be very proud of the work that you’ve done. I know you’ve spent a lot of time and energy. So again, congratulations. (Applause.)
I want to thank all of the amazing speakers, many of whom are here with us today. I’m seeing a few people in the audience. You guys, I heard you were wonderful.
And finally, thanks so much to Goldman Sachs for being such a vitally important part of this summit and for their extraordinary work to empower women across the globe through 10,000 Women. What an amazing initiative. And Ayo is a good representative. I also want to congratulate them on their new effort to help 100,000 women get the financing they need to grow their businesses.
Over the past eight years, 10,000 Women has given so many women the business skills, the mentoring, the networks they need to blossom from struggling entrepreneurs into successful businesswomen — oftentimes doubling, on average, the number of employees on their payrolls and quintupling their revenues.
And efforts like these don’t just boost women’s balance sheets, they also transform the way women see themselves and how their communities see them as well. Because when we empower women economically, they come to view themselves not just as business owners, but as leaders –- as people who should have a say in the workings of their companies, but also in the affairs of their families and their communities and their countries.
And as they start making their voices heard and taking their rightful place in their societies, that has a ripple effect, particularly on our young people -– both our daughters and our sons — who receive an unambiguous message that women are not property, they are not second-class citizens, but instead they are breadwinners. They’re change agents. They’re people whose voices and contributions matter. (Applause.) Absolutely.
And really, more than anything else, that is the idea behind the work that I’ve been doing as First Lady through Let Girls Learn to help adolescent girls worldwide go to school. Because I know what these girls have to offer — we all know. In my travels as First Lady, I have met so many amazing young women, and I’ve seen firsthand how smart and how strong and determined they are to fulfill their promise.
But as we all know, so often they face such overwhelming obstacles to getting an education — poverty, opposition from their families, cultural practices like female genital mutilation and forced child marriage. And girls in conflict situations face barriers that many of us couldn’t even begin to imagine — unbearable instability, horrific violence, the loss of loved ones –- barriers that often make it nearly impossible for them to get the education they need.
But we all know that whether or not these girls go to school –- not just primary school, but secondary school and beyond — I want to emphasize that that will absolutely determine how they grow up, who they’ll be — whether they’ll grow up healthy. Whether they can provide for themselves and their kids. Whether they can take advantage of programs like 10,000 Women and chart their own course in the world.
And that’s why, through Let Girls Learn, the U.S. government has been investing in girls across the globe — providing scholarships and leadership training, building bathrooms for girls at school, taking on issues like female genital mutilation and forced child marriage, and so much more. And since we launched Let Girls Learn, dozens of major companies and organizations have come forward to support this work. And tonight, I am thrilled to announce a number of amazing, new commitments from private and nonprofit sectors. These are big, bold commitments that will have a real impact on the girls around the world that we’re trying to help
For example, CARE — we all know CARE. It’s a wonderful organization that fights global poverty. They’re going to be providing intensive schooling for girls –- yay for CARE — (applause) — including working with girls in conflict areas who dropped out of primary school to help them catch up and complete secondary school and even college.
The International Rescue Committee will be expanding their education programs to reach hundreds of thousands of girls in conflict countries. Oracle will be funding STEM education efforts in Egypt — yes! (Applause.) And that includes summer computer camps and girls’ codefests, and all that cool kind of stuff.
The Hershey Company is working with the Peace Corps to fund girls’ education programs broadly, and we’re thrilled to have them on board. American Airlines is supporting girls’ education efforts through UNICEF. PayPal is featuring Let Girls Learn in its back-to-school charitable-giving campaign — yay. AOL is launching a Let Girls Build challenge to inspire girls here in the U.S. to use technology to close the education gap for girls around the world. And the Just Like My Child Foundation will be helping 10,000 girls in Uganda stay in school by educating them about issues that lead girls to drop out –- things like sexual violence, HIV, early pregnancy.
Now, altogether, these commitments represent more than $20 million of investment in the lives of adolescent girls across the globe. And I think we should give them all a round of applause. (Applause.) This is the kind of wonderful work we can do and be inspired by. These new efforts will have a ripple effect far beyond the girls who are impacted directly. Because we’ve seen time and again that when educated girls grow into successful women, they don’t just pat themselves on the back and enjoy the fruits of their successes — no, as they should, they reach back and they help other women and girls along after them.
And I could give you so many examples to illustrate this point, but tonight, I’m going to share just one. Of course, we’ve heard Ayo’s story, but the story — there’s another story of a woman who is here with us tonight at this dinner, Ciiru Waithaka. Ciiru, where are you? Because I didn’t get a chance to meet you. Hi, sweetie, how are you? (Applause.) You go, girl! (Laughter.) Ciiru is from Kenya. So we’re family. (Applause.)
Ciiru started a business called FunKidz — with a “Z” — to create furniture, accessories and educational tools for children that are based on African stories. Yes, that’s you! (Laughter.) But while there was plenty of demand for her products, she found that as a woman, it was hard for her to get the capital she needed to meet that demand. But then, thanks to a business loan that 10,000 Women provided, Cirru was able to double her production capacity, hire new employees and start selling her products around the world.
And Ciiru didn’t just sit back and enjoy her success. Instead, she stepped up and founded a program for kids from struggling families to teach them about innovation and technology, and she’s already reached more than 350 children. So there you go. There you go. (Applause.) Ciiru, come up here! Come up here! (Applause.) This is worth stopping for a second. (Applause.) (A photo is taken.)
As we’ve seen time and again, women and girls who are out there working, they are truly force multipliers, spreading opportunity through their families and communities -– and not just by creating programs and nonprofit organizations, not just by hiring other women, but also by serving as role models themselves. And when girls –- and boys -– across the globe see their mothers and grandmothers and their aunts and their sisters creating their own products, and running businesses to put those products out into the world, and taking control of their own destinies with the money they earn — well, that’s a whole new model of what it means to be a woman. And it’s a whole new paradigm for these kids to grow up in.
That is the power of the dreams that it will take for our kids to embrace themselves and to do great things in the world. And I can’t even begin to imagine the impact that so many of you will have as you continue your efforts to lift up women and girls here in America and around the world. And I’m excited about the impact that we can have together through Let Girls Learn as we keep expanding our efforts to more villages, to more schools and more girls who are hungry to learn and bursting with promise.
Because while my time as First Lady may soon be coming to — I shouldn’t say “may,” it is soon coming to — (laughter) — let’s not get that confused. (Laughter.) When it comes to the issue of global girls’ education, believe me, I am just getting started. (Applause.) I am so excited to continue working on this issue not just for the next seven months as First Lady, but for the rest of my life. And it’s going to be good work, because there are a lot of good partners in this room. And I am so looking forward to really diving in.
And I hope that every single one of you here will join me in this work if you haven’t already. If you’re a leader in a company, I hope you will make girls’ education a priority in your philanthropic efforts, like so many of the companies have done here tonight. If you’re a nonprofit organization, I hope that you’ll get engaged in this issue, or expand the work that you’re already doing, or find others to join in.
And as powerful, influential individuals — who all of you are in this room — we need every single one of you out there serving as champions for these girls and raising awareness about this issue all across the country and around the world. Your voices and your platform can make such a transformational difference for these amazing young girls. And many of us have met these girls. We have spent time with them. We have seen them fighting for every bit of opportunity that they have. They don’t take anything for granted. And they deserve our help.
And tonight, I want to end as I started –- really by thanking you, thanking you for helping to lead this movement. Because many of you were doing this long before anybody knew anything about Michelle Obama. Thank you for the work that you’re doing for girls across the globe. Thank you for devoting your resources and your expertise and your passion to help women and girls pursue their ambitions and fulfill their dreams.
I am always inspired when I come into a room like this, and when I meet these amazing women. I’m inspired by everything you all achieve. And I can’t wait to see everything that we’ll continue to achieve in the years ahead.
So thank you all. Enjoy your dinner, you’ve earned it. Are you eating? (Laughter.) Good for you. You all, thank you so much. Have a great night. (Applause.)
8:00 P.M. EDT