Kim Azzarelli '97 believes that a woman working toward a larger purpose can change the world. She should know-her new book, Fast Forward: How Women Can Achieve Power and Purpose, which came out in early October, has been turning heads with its message that empowering women isn't just a moral necessity but also an economic one.
"Today the data is in," says Azzarelli. "Studies from McKinsey to the World Bank demonstrate that women are critical to driving both economic and social progress."
Azzarelli and her coauthor Melanne Verveer are no strangers to this fight. Azzarelli is the co-founder and steering committee chair of Cornell Law School's Avon Global Center for Women and Justice and an adjunct professor at the Law School, teaching Women, Law, Technology, and the Economy. She previously held senior legal and philanthropic positions at Avon, Newsweek Daily Beast, and Goldman Sachs. It was at Avon that Azzarelli first met Verveer, who was seeking partners at the time for her women's leadership nonprofit Vital Voices. Verveer, meanwhile, went on to serve as the first U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women's issues between 2009 and 2013, and is currently the executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security. The two also founded Seneca Point Global, a strategic advisory company focusing on women's and girls' issues.
And, they managed to snag another woman who knows a bit about power and purpose to write their book's foreword: Hillary Clinton, for whom Verveer had worked as chief of staff during the Clinton administration and as an ambassador during Clinton's appointment as secretary of state.
Fast Forward offers an argument that "sings in two octaves," as Azzarelli puts it. Part one is the empirical case. "The evidence case is very clear that women's participation in the economy drives GDP," Azzarelli says. "Women's participation in companies drives the bottom line."
"Women are one of the fastest-growing economic forces in the world today, poised to rival China or India," Azzarelli points out. "So leaders around the world are beginning to understand that they need to put women at the center of their strategy. Just like they have an India strategy, just like they have a China strategy, they are realizing the importance of having a global women's strategy."
But, the benefits of increasing women's participation don't just come from engaging a larger percentage of the population. Azzarelli and Verveer say that as women are empowered, they tend to use that power towards a larger purpose, and that benefits both the world at large and their own careers. "When you get out of yourself and use your skills and talents for something larger than yourself, it has this incredible multiplier effect, not only on your own career but also on your community, and even on your own thinking," Azzarelli says.
Azzarelli knows something about the effect that purpose can have on one's life and career.
In 2005, while Azzarelli was serving as corporate secretary of Avon, a doctor who had just returned from a volunteer medical mission in Cambodia with the Virtue Foundation, a women's leadership nonprofit founded by Verveer, told her about a baby girl who had been horribly injured in an acid attack while the child breastfed with her mother. "I realized, wait a second, I'm a lawyer and this crime, which occurs in over 20 countries, is being committed against women with impunity." Azzarelli said. "The baby was six weeks old and doused with acid, and I thought, surely I can do something more."
That was it; Azzarelli was hooked. She kept working with the Virtue Foundation, and went on to co-found the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at the Law School with the support of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The center, which works to eliminate violence against women and girls by improving access to justice, tackled acid violence as one of its first projects.
Verveer says that eventually, "We both came to recognize that we finally had to put this on paper, because the concepts that are represented in the book were ones that were not yet, and still are not yet, fully grasped by the wider community, by governments, or by the private sector."
Both Verveer and Azzarelli say the response on the book tour has been overwhelming. Fast Forward isn't the end for their plans. They've created Seneca Women, an outgrowth of Seneca Global Point that is aimed at helping readers find a network of like-minded people working to improve the lives of women and girls. "You don't have to be the CEO to have power," Azzarelli says. "You, whoever you are, if you're objective with yourself, if you understand your own talents, your own resources, you can recognize your own power and combine it with your purpose to create success and meaning in your life while building a better world."