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Envoy says women's success can lead to peace

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on CNN.com providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Finland Bonnie McElveen-Hunter is the former head of Pace Communications, Inc., a large custom publishing company.
U.S. Ambassador to Finland Bonnie McElveen-Hunter is the former head of Pace Communications, Inc., a large custom publishing company.

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(CNN) -- Fifty of the top American women business leaders will be shadowed on the job next month by business women from Finland, the Baltics and Russia. Their visit will be the second part of the Helsinki Women's Business Leaders Summit held recently in Finland.

U.S. Ambassador to Finland Bonnie McElveen-Hunter hosted the Helsinki event, but she gives credit to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for advocating such new initiatives as part of "personal diplomacy."

The ambassador spoke with CNN about why the effects of the summit may spread around the world

CNN: Why was the summit a success?

McELVEEN-HUNTER: I think what was so effective about this is that each individual person had a partner. And it was not just mentoring, it was a true partnership.

I think the American women walked away amazed and inspired by the women, particularly in the Baltic region, and also in Finland, but particularly in the Baltics and what they had overcome and what they had been able to achieve from nothing and from obstacles.

One of the women from America, who is a Hungarian refugee who escaped the Russians, was partnered with a Russian woman. This American woman had never been back to Russia -- her husband has been to St. Petersburg and Moscow and she would not go. She said the Helsinki summit was a life-changing experience. She said she was going to help her Russian partner and, "I actually want her to be successful."

Another woman originally from the Ukraine -- she's been in America for 18 years and is now a CEO -- was also partnered with a Russian woman. And the American is now outsourcing her IT business to her Russian counterpart because she said she was so impressed with her professionalism and her ability. And so she has decided she can do it more efficiently and effectively by outsourcing it.

This can work and it can work over and over again because it is about one person reaching out to one person, and in an environment where we can let all the walls come down.

And there is this amazing and unique "can-do spirit" in America, which I think we undervalue. But I think it's incredibly important to share so that these other nations will have the opportunity of prosperity because I think there's no question that prosperity leads to peace.

CNN: What panels were the biggest draw?

MCELVEEN-HUNTER: The most popular program was called "Failing Forward: Surviving My Biggest Business Mistake."

What we learned was that America uniquely almost celebrates getting up again and doing it again. In other words, failure in America is a process to getting to success. It is not necessarily embraced with that same attitude outside of America. And we heard that in a lot of our e-mails.

In fact, women from other countries did not want to be on that panel. But Americans uniquely, I think this is one of our special and unique characteristics, say, "Look, we learned from this, we grew from this experience." And the three women who shared their ideas and so forth were remarkable.

But other areas of interest and discussion were accessing capital -- where do we get the money to grow our businesses, to grow our factories.

We also heard about secrets to success, and balancing life, career, and families.

CNN: Why only women?

MCELVEEN-HUNTER: This is not a gender issue, this is an economic development issue.

I believe in segmenting, I'm a marketing person. I'm a citizen ambassador. I come to this world of diplomacy through business. And I have found in business that you are much more effective if you can somehow create a niche or segment a market and do that exceedingly well.

I happen to have resources in the area of other women executives because I am one. So I brought my resources and put them to work.

I've never wanted to be "the boss." I've found that if you can empower other people to be "the boss," they'll help you build something far larger and greater than you could ever envision yourself.

This was the largest project ever undertaken by the embassy here in Helsinki. I could not have accomplished it without the support and enthusiastic efforts of the entire team.

And I think that is one of the unique qualities and powers of women. I think we're willing to subjugate ego, to perform the task and reach the goal.

Also, on the issue of the fact that this is focused on women, I believe that destiny stands in need of 100 percent of our resources. No nation, the Baltics, America or Finland, none of these nations can utilize just 50 percent of their resources. We have to fully engage the resources of both men and women.

And I think it's interesting to note that President Bush, in an entrepreneurial summit that he did several months ago, said that creating new jobs and entrepreneurism is becoming women's work. And it is in America because for every new business created in America, there are two started by women.

So I think we have something quite unique going on in America and I think that there is the potential of sharing and helping create that sort of potential with our neighbors and allies and friends around the world.

I think we see what happens in countries where women are not equals and given opportunities and are not empowered.

What's exciting about this summit is that this is a business model, this can be applied to the entire world. There's already interest coming in from all over the world, from Egypt, Singapore, Poland -- saying "We want to know how to do this."

These are relationships that I would be willing to bet that 90 percent of these relationships will be ongoing five years from now.

And I think that the benefits are not just economic. I think as Americans realize how interdependent we are after September 11, I think we recognize the critical nature, not only of building allies, but these people are friends. It will have an impact that is far greater than business and trade, and certainly more than economic efficiency.



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