I have been at Edelman for six years and occasionally people will ask me why I’m still here after such a long time. One of the reasons is that sometimes Edelman will throw me a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a project that I’m immensely proud to work on and ultimately something that gives me a sense of achievement. This was one of them.
Last week I was asked to attend Tina Brown’s first Women in the World (WITW) summit in London. The job: takeover Edelman’s social channels and report live from the event. Edelman has been working on the event for months with Tina personally but for two days they adopted me to help spread the word through positioning me in the media pit by the red carpet and up in the rafters of Cadogan Hall with the rest of the WITW editorial team.
Women in the World is more than just a live event. It’s a news organisation. It brings globally relevant news and experiences directly to its readers and viewers. You hear about stories and news you just wouldn’t find in your newspaper or on your news app on your morning commute. You’re hearing stories direct from the survivors and campaigners mouths – there’s no media lens on it. It’s raw and real.
You may judge me for this or think I’m ignorant but before last Thursday I had no idea that ISIS is aggressively recruiting Westerners (4,500+ to date), how corrupt Russia is and that Yazidi girls as young as nine are being systematically raped and tortured by ISIS – plus that the current US air strikes are not helping them as they are “not in the area where they keep those girls.” I’m glad that Delan Dakheel Saeed said “I will not stop, I will keep telling those stories, I will let people hear us.” This is what WITW does. It creates a forum to ensure messages are being spread globally and since the event I have seen numerous news stories across national news sites covering these panels – helping us tell these stories even further.
I made a decision not to recount every single story and inspirational quote or anecdote I heard. Instead, here are some key observations and takeouts that I wanted to share.
Dove* kick-started a discussion on feelings of inadequacy and how social media is contributing to it. The idea being that people’s self-confidence is being dictated by how many likes they get on the pictures they post. A quote that has stuck with me for a while, and this actually came from a talk at Edelman UK a year ago, is that we need to “stop comparing our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” It couldn’t be truer. Every day most of us scroll through Instagram and Facebook seeing our friends and celebrities posting pictures of themselves looking happy and doing interesting things. Whilst you’re likely sat in your pyjamas make up free, and trying to figure out what to make with the two eggs, vodka and broccoli in your fridge freezer. No one shares the sh*t stuff on social media. Remember that.
We were fortunate enough to hear from Nicole Kidman who very rarely talks about herself publically. In 2002 she won an Oscar for The Hours and you’d assume that she would’ve been on top of the world after years of hard work following her divorce. She told us how she held the Oscar in her hands at The Beverly Hills Hotel and felt the “loneliest” she had ever felt. Another example of how no matter how good things look on the surface of someone’s life, whether in person or on social media, it’s likely you’re not able to see the hurt and sadness they’re feeling behind-the-scenes.
Women in the World is also about speaking up and having the courage to make a change. We heard many harrowing stories and something that the survivors have in common is that they have all decided to speak publically about their experiences and are working with organisations to prevent it happening to others.
These women and men talked about being sexually abused as children, seeing people murdered, raped and dying from disease and in Yeonmi Park’s case seeing her mother surrender herself to a rapist so that she could feed Yeonmi who weighed under four stone as a teenager. Yeonmi’s memories were so raw that it reduced her to tears on stage. This was the point I cried – something that felt very unnatural at a work event. Especially with your GM and CEO sitting behind you.
Some people find it difficult to tell their closest family and friends about experiences like this and here were these women wrenching up memories and telling hundreds of people sat in front of them and thousands more on a live stream. It’s brave full stop. I hope it encourages more people to tell their stories and help others.
The refugee crisis was another common topic. The words “no one chooses to be a refugee” stuck with me as we heard from Queen Rania of Jordan who commits 25% of Jordan’s budget to helping refugees – somewhere that isn’t as rich as other Gulf countries and the UK. Nicola Sturgeon MP encouraged the UK to support the crisis more and pledged that Scotland is committed to helping more too. We heard from survivor Mervat Alsman who recounted her journey in a lorry with no oxygen in. A lorry with a driver than wouldn’t stop to let them out when they were close to suffocation. It was so bad they had to call the police the make the driver stop. This is a situation she paid $2,500 to be in because she had no other choice to save herself and her daughter. She left her other children back in Syria to save the youngest. It’s likely they will never be reunited.
Occasionally I’ll experience, read or hear about something that will bring me back down to earth and put things in to perspective. Women in the World was one of them. I overheard a guest (in the bathroom) telling her friend “I’ve never heard so many interesting things in such a short space of time.” I may have taken my title of ‘roving Rhatigan’ a bit further than required at that point, but I felt that quote summed up WITW rather well.
As I scroll through news sites and Twitter I find that we have achieved what we set out to do last week but in the back of my mind I realise it will never be over and know there’s so much more work left to do. I’ll be following WITW in New Delhi in November and then on to New York in the spring. I hope you do too as I promise you that it will be one of the most inspirational and thought provoking discussions you have ever heard.
Thanks Women in the World and Edelman.
Written by Sophie Rhatigan, Account Director, Edelman