Last spring, just one day after completing her last final, third-year Morgane Richer La Fleche sat aboard her flight to Moscow, preparing for an altogether different kind of challenge: working with 20 young women, all hailing from different countries, to develop a set of recommendations for the economic empowerment of women around the globe.
The occasion was the fourth annual G(irls)20 Summit, held June 15-19, 2013, which brought together one delegate from each of the G20 countries, plus one from the European Union and the African Union, to share their perspectives on the status of women in their countries. The 21 delegates, all ages 18-20, were then required to condense their policy proposals into a single communiqué and hand deliver it to the Head Sherpa of the G20 Summit in Moscow.
Coming at the heels of her second full year in the College, the summit hardly offered the much-needed break that many students were enjoying before starting internships or research. But the opportunity to discuss the issues addressed at the summit and to help direct the dialogue surrounding them "just seemed too good to pass up," Richer La Fleche, a History and Russian Studies double-major, explained.
"When you care really strongly about issues—particularly issues that are considered out of the mainstream, or not the main political agenda—it's hard to feel like you have avenues to have your voice heard and to contribute in a meaningful way," she said.
To get access to the summit, Richer La Fleche, who is originally from Montreal, had to apply and be selected from hundreds of applicants to serve as the delegate from Canada.
"I was pretty much sure that I wasn't going to get it, but decided that I might as well try anyway. I sent [my application] off and heard back three months later—three agonizing months later—and it turned out that I got it," she said.
'Seeing it come together'
Leaving Spring Quarter and the Atlantic Ocean behind her, Richer La Fleche arrived in Moscow for the start of the G(irls)20 Summit and met up for the first time with her fellow delegates.
The 21 young women applied their unique perspectives and months of preparation right away—attending roundtables and workshops, meeting with business leaders and policy experts. These experiences informed Richer La Fleche's position on the issues she was most interested in addressing through the group's communiqué, including her concerns about women in the technology sector.
"I am not a woman in tech, but many of my friends and close family members—like my sister—are. Seeing their struggles to be recognized and respected in their fields is what pushes me to stand for those issues," she said.
Although the delegates held similar views on many issues, they often disagreed on the most appropriate strategies for addressing them. But with limited time to draft their communiqué, they decided to focus on the essentials and engage in structured conversation and debate—not unlike a higher-stakes, girls-only SOSC discussion.
"We had one day to condense all this information, which was very challenging and was an exercise in management, but was eventually quite successful," she said. "It was definitely my favorite part because of the formidable challenge and seeing it come together, and being like, 'OK, it is actually possible to get 21 girls to agree on something.'"
Richer La Fleche recognized how the critical-thinking skills she has developed through her classes at UChicago, both in the Core and in her majors, enabled her to be a more effective participant in the summit.
"Being able to be the person in the room who is not afraid to ask the tough question, because you know that that's how you move forward, is something that UChicago has instilled and groomed in me," she said.
'You just have to keep going'
Although the G(irls)20 Summit wrapped up when the delegates delivered their completed communiqué, their involvement in women's economic empowerment did not end in Moscow. In fact, as part of their participation in the summit, the delegates are required to demonstrate a continuing commitment to the issues by implementing or joining a project back home.
For Richer La Fleche, this ongoing engagement will likely consist of a program to introduce kids to coding and computers—addressing her emphasis on getting more women involved in technology.
"My sister has an organization in Montreal that is trying to teach kids how to program—it's called Kids Code Jeunesse," she said. "I am collaborating with a team of mentors from Google to create a similar after-school coding initiative in Hyde Park elementary schools. The plan is to launch the process in spring 2014. I think that giving kids exposure to computer programming can really open up doors that otherwise are not readily made available by most schooling systems."
Bolstered by the experiences of the summit and the knowledge gained from her fellow delegates, Richer La Fleche aims to continue advocating for the economic empowerment of women around the world, an effort she hopes to integrate into other facets of her life and work.
"It was an incredible learning experience on so many levels, but I think what it really taught me was that when something really matters to you, you just have to hold onto it. People will always disagree with you, and people are going to try to take you down," she said. "I think it's easy to waver in your expectations and to say, 'This is hard. Can I ever really convince everyone?' But you just have to keep going."
By Austin Ward, Senior Media Editor, Class of 2015
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