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Jeju Business and Professional Women members travel to Helsinki congress
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승인 2011.07.03  13:26:39
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▲ BPW-Jeju members with women of the world. Photo courtesy BPW-Jeju past president Kim Soon Guk

Jeju women are famed for their strength – physical prowess as well as stalwart character.

A dozen female leaders of Jeju, local chapter members of the international organization of Business and Professional Women (BPW), recently traveled to the BPW congress held in Helsinki, Finland.

By definition, BPW members across the globe are women who are at the top of their respective fields. Unofficially, global networking opportunities might well be the primary motivation for a majority of women who attend the triennial congress.

“A life-changing experience” is how Elizabeth Benham described congress attendance. She is the outgoing president of BPW-International and a South African by birth who makes her home in the US.

“The international friendships one makes, the intercultural experience and knowledge one gains,” she said in a private interview, “is an investment in oneself.”

In Helsinki, these strong Jeju women mingled with their international cohort – 650 attendees in total.

The next such congress, scheduled for 2014, will be hosted by BPW-Korea and held on Jeju Island. Organized at the international level, the national federation and local chapter are nevertheless beginning their preparations in earnest now.

Indeed, as they won the bid for the upcoming congress in 2008, when that year's gathering was held in Mexico, they have already been making arrangements for some time.

Jeju Provincial Governor Woo Keun Min has pledged his support, including funding, for the upcoming congress on Jeju. The provincial government sent two officials to the Helsinki congress, one of them a representative of the International Convention Center Jeju in Seogwipo City, in order to learn how best to benefit the 2014 congress here.

Benham, who visited Jeju Island in September of last year, advised the Korean Federation and Jeju chapter to “begin immediately, and cooperate with one another” and expressed enthusiasm for the upcoming congress on Jeju Island.

“Jeju Island has everything you're looking for,” exclaimed Dr. Chonchanok Viravan of Thailand, past president of BPW-International who was in office at the time that Korea won the bid for the upcoming congress. She has also visited the island.

Viravan elaborated, “There's the ICC, world heritage, sightseeing, hotels and resorts, wonderful food, absence of a visa requirement – and the very welcoming members of the BPW-Jeju chapter.”

The primary goals of BPW are to enable women to sustain themselves economically. Toward that end, the organization also provides personal development programs. Recently, the Women's Empowerment Principles as outlined by the UN Development Fund for Women have been a particular focus.

BPW-International maintains representation in the United Nations, eight UN Specialist Agencies including UNESCO, UNICEF, WHO and others, four UN Regional Offices, Council of Europe, European Women's Lobby, and Organization of American States.

The slogan of this year's congress was “BPW: Power to Make a Difference.”

▲ BPW-Korea with the newly elected BPWI president, Freda Miriklis of Australia. Photo courtesy BPW-Jeju past president Kim Soon Guk

Meeting every three years, the congress officially focuses on a series of extended business meetings. At one such meeting a new executive board, regional coordinators, and standing committee chairpersons are elected.

Also on offer at this congress were plenary sessions plus multiple workshops and presentations in four tracks: Women's Empowerment Principles, Leadership, Access [global supply chain], and BPW [organizational]. Many social events and tours were provided as well.

An illustrious line-up of speakers filled the roster. Among them were government ministers, corporation CEOs, NGO directors, entrepreneurs, scholars, and many more.

Benham reported that the representation at this congress from various African nations, all of them relative newcomers to BPW, was one of the highlights of her term as president.

In a surprising show of strength, Nigeria brought 60 members, sponsored by their government. They were especially active in their networking, stating that they and their government were looking for as many partnerships as possible for the welfare of their nation.

The president of the BPW-Nigeria Federation, Angela Ajala, pledged to members from Jeju that BPW-Nigeria “will not only attend the 2014 congress, but will bring 100 members.”

Freda Miriklis of Australia, the newly elected president of BPW-International, spent some time with the Jeju members at a social event of the Helsinki congress. She expressed her interest in Jeju Island and her commitment to the success of the 2014 congress, promising to visit later this year.

“I and BPW-International will do everything in our power to make the next congress a success,” she stated, “and I'm sure that Jeju Island will be a wonderful setting for the gathering of so many powerful women.”

[Disclosure: This writer is a member of the Jeju BPW chapter and also attended the congress.]

Dr. Hilty is a cultural health psychologist.
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