It Takes a Community

Facebook vice president headlines 13th annual Women’s Leadership Conference.

Women's Leadership Conference
Panelists Mary Ellsberg, Shilo Groover Karzen, B.A. ’03, Dianne Sherman, MVC ’76, and Akshaya Kumar, B.A. ’03.
April 03, 2013

By Jamie L. Freedman

Great things can happen when we harness the power of social media, said keynote speaker Marne Levine at the 13th annual Women’s Leadership Conference March 29 on the Mount Vernon Campus. A case in point: Organ donation registration soared by more than 500 percent the day that Facebook launched an application seeking lifesaving donors.

“Social media empowers people to come together and help others in need,” said Ms. Levine, vice president of global public policy at Facebook, whose address kicked off the annual springtime conference celebrating women leaders.

The full-day event, titled “It Takes a Community,” brought together more than 100 professional women—including many GW staff members, alumnae and students—for a day of discussion, interactive workshops and networking.

Highlighting the many ways that social networking connects the world, Ms. Levine told the story of Oscar Morales, whose Facebook campaign against FARC—the Colombian guerilla organization—recruited 12 million people around the globe to join him in rallying against the terrorist group.

“Social media is not just about playing games like Farmville and Words with Friends,” said Ms. Levine, who joined Facebook three years ago from the Obama administration, where she served as chief of staff of the National Economic Council at the White House and special assistant to the president for economic policy. “By connecting 1 billion people around the globe, Facebook has helped create a borderless, global community and given the voiceless a voice.”

Next on the conference agenda were three parallel professional development sessions: “Getting Engaged in your Community,” led by Amy Cohen, executive director of GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service; “How to Leverage your Presence in Social Media,” led by Suzette Gardner, associate director of online alumni communications for the Office of Alumni Relations, and “Stress Management,” led by Patti Plaza, administrative manager for the Department of Exercise Science.

Participants then headed to Eckles Library for lunch and a health resources fair. Ames Hall was the site of the afternoon address, featuring Holly H. Shimizu, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden, who offered a global perspective on “Creating Community with Sustainable Landscapes.” 

Ms. Shimizu, who hosted the popular “Victory Garden” public television program for a decade, spoke about the importance of gardens to the health of our environment, as well as to our personal well-being. “Gardens create community and bring people together,” she said.

The conference concluded with a lively panel discussion titled “Creating Community Efforts,” moderated by Laura Taddeucci Downs, B.A. ’92, M.A. ’95, chair of the GW Council of Chairs, and featuring panelists Mary Ellsberg, director of the GW Global Women’s Institute; Shilo Groover Karzen, B.A. ’03, a news producer for WEAR-TV in Pensacola, Fla.; Akshaya Kumar, B.A. ’03, Sudan and South Sudan policy analyst for the Enough Project; and Dianne Sherman, MVC ’76, founder and principal of Dianne Sherman Communications.

Dr. Ellsberg, who joined GW last year, spoke about living and working in Nicaragua for 20 years leading public health and women’s rights advocacy efforts. “Living in Nicaragua before, during and after the revolution, I saw the women’s movement develop and flourish into one of the most vibrant women’s movements in Latin America,” she said. “It was wonderful to be a part of it.”

Ms. Sherman, who serves as vice chair of the Mount Vernon National Advisory Council, called herself “fortunate to wake up every day getting paid for what I want to do in life—ignite positive change in the world.” The world has changed for the better since she entered the workforce, she said. “Women have a greater voice now,” she explained. “It’s an exciting time for the young women in this room. They can truly change the world.”