Businesswomen extend networking to China
Seattle Times business reporter
When Laurie McDonald Jonsson first visited China in 1976, a phrase she heard there stayed with her: "Women hold up half the sky."
The Seattle businesswoman thought of those words, first said by Chairman Mao, before departing on another journey to China this week.
This time Jonsson is taking one of the largest high-level delegations of women to visit the country in recent years.
The 58 women, including many business leaders from local companies, will meet women entrepreneurs and others in China in an exchange meant to go beyond the usual business deals.
"We would like to make a statement to the world about what women can achieve," she said.
Jonsson, president of Seattle-based networking organization Stellar International Networks, said her mission is to "link women leaders around the world so we can share and learn from each other and so we can have more women sitting at the table with men around the world."
Jonsson has led previous women's delegations to Poland, Cuba, Sweden, the Baltics and South Africa. The group heading to China includes lawyers, doctors, professors, investors and a prominent politician — U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
They will spend eight days in Beijing and Shanghai hosted by the All China Women's Federation and the Chinese Association of Women Entrepreneurs. Harvard University's Women's Leadership Board and the Women President's Organization are also participating in the trip.
They plan to hold a series of discussions on topics such as energy, health, education and expanding opportunities for girls under the theme "commerce with a conscience."
Unlike a one-time trade delegation, the trip is the first step toward building lifelong ties with women in China, Jonsson said. Some of the women she met on previous trips — a banker from Sweden and a wine producer from South Africa — are joining the group in China.
"I think it is another instance of the power of the global perspective that we increasingly take toward social issues," said Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociology professor who is on the trip. "It's significant that women with power in their own societies are open to exchanging knowledge and perspectives with each other in the hopes of inspiring new business, new scholarship and new collaboration."
Schwartz will give a talk on the impact of women's success on their relationships and learn about how Chinese women are dealing with that issue.
The visit will also focus on women's health. Doctors from UW and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are going along to look for ways to cooperate with institutions in China, said Julie Gralow, professor of medicine at UW. They plan to visit two major cancer-care centers in China and the Chinese Center for Disease Control offices, hear from Chinese patients and learn about the role Chinese medicine plays in women's health.
"We are really excited," she said. "Our goal is to promote dialogue, awareness and education between our countries that will improve breast-cancer prevention, screening, treatment and survivorship."
Some members of the group will focus on education, including a project to bring young Chinese women to study at Harvard. Jonsson, who is bringing her 16-year-old daughter along, said she is interested in learning how girls in China have little trouble mastering math and science, while girls here have had not fared as well.
Sandra Taylor, senior vice president for corporate social responsibility at Starbucks Coffee, said she is looking forward to talking with Chinese businesswomen about the growing interest in China in contributing to local communities.
Starbucks began a project this year to train teachers and provide materials in five rural Chinese provinces. The idea of responsible business resonates in China because of the growing income gap and the realization that many have been left out of the country's economic boom, she said.
In China's political buzzwords, the concept is known as "building a harmonious society."
"We describe what we're doing as contributing to a harmonious society," Taylor said. In Beijing, she will discuss corporate social responsibility on a panel that includes Microsoft Vice President Pamela Passman and Yang Mianmian, president of one of China's largest manufacturers, the Haier Group.
On the same day, Cantwell will speak to the group about positive engagement with China and the potential for new renewable fuel technologies developed in the Pacific Northwest to find a market there.
Another participant, Kimberly Harris, who heads regulatory policy and energy efficiency at Puget Sound Energy, will share the company's experience with energy-efficiency programs and new technology such as wind farms, solar power, dairy digesters and automated meter-reading technology from Spokane-based Itron.
"If you really look at who is going to be focused on the future for our children and the future for our planet, the women's delegation is key," she said. "If you have a booming economy like China, like the Puget Sound area, you need renewable energy choices."
While the Puget Sound region is building on top of existing infrastructure, China is building new energy systems from the ground up, she said. "In both countries there's a lot of lessons learned that we can share."
Joseph Borich, director of the Washington State China Relations Council and former U.S. Consul General in Shanghai, helped Jonsson plan the trip and will accompany the group to China.
"I feel very strongly and positively about this delegation, about what it's trying to do," he said. The U.S.-China relationship is "too important to leave to the hands of politicians and diplomats. If the relationship is going to strive and do well, a lot of it is going to have to come at the grass-roots level."
Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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