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Thato Mokoena, current South African delegate for the G(irls)20 Summit 2012, poses in Alexandra, her native township, May 2012 (Benedicte Kurzen for The Globe and Mail/Benedicte Kurzen for The Globe and Mail)
Thato Mokoena, current South African delegate for the G(irls)20 Summit 2012, poses in Alexandra, her native township, May 2012 (Benedicte Kurzen for The Globe and Mail/Benedicte Kurzen for The Globe and Mail)

G(irls)20 Summit

Empowering women on a global scale Add to ...

Think of it as a business incubator in overdrive: Twenty ambitious young women from 20 countries gather to discuss their lofty plans and how to realize them.

And they network – with like-minded 18- to 20-year-olds and with representatives from some of the most powerful corporations on earth.

Delegates from each G20 country arrived Wednesday in Mexico City for the G(irls)20 Summit. They’ll spend the next several days in something of a social entrepreneur’s boot camp – tutored in the finer arts of business planning, digital navigation and dealing with the media.

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Then they go back to their home countries and, if all goes as planned, work on their own projects to give local women a better shot.

The summit’s stated goal is simple, and a universal crowd-pleaser: Empower women globally, on the political and economic stage. This wide appeal is evident in the summit’s broad spectrum of deep-pocketed backers. The list includes Shell, Google, TransCanada and Scotiabank. (The Globe and Mail is a media partner.)

The problem the program seeks to tackle is aggravatingly intractable: Women’s earning power remains well behind that of their male counterparts in even the wealthiest G20 countries. In many others, maternal health and girls’ access to education remain woefully inadequate.

The idea here, summit head Farah Mohamed says, is to kick-start young women with big ideas – to give them “a gentle push.”

“The conversation is unbelievable,” she said. “I don’t want to call it electrifying, ’cause that’s kind of weird, but look: I have no concerns about our future if you think and listen to what these girls are proposing.”

And, Ms. Mohamed notes, the impressive list of sponsors evinces the business case behind giving women economic clout. “If you’re serious about productivity, you don’t have the luxury of not paying attention to such a large population.”

The summit is designed to dovetail with the gathering of world leaders with which it coincides. Queen’s University post-doctoral fellow Adrienne Roberts argues that’s a shortcoming: The girls aren’t questioning existing power structures such as the Group of 20, just trying to get themselves heard.

“We don’t question their relevance,” Ms. Mohamed says. “They exist. We believe they exist for a good reason. And our mandate is to inform them on how they can benefit from the inclusion of women.”

The Globe and Mail sat down with two of this year’s delegates to get a sense of why they’re attending and what they hope to get out of the experience.

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