‘Coffee across the Boardroom' provides 21 young girls an opportunity to interact with experts, and the chance of a lifetime

At first sight, the ‘Coffee across the Boardroom' session at Global Adjustments seems like any other conversation with women from the Harvard Kennedy School Women's Leadership Board, adorning jasmine flowers, draped in saris and drinking coffee out of steel tumblers, introducing themselves to young girls. But, in a few minutes, the light chatter takes a different turn.

Global Adjustments, in association with iLivetoLead, organised a four-day leadership summit in India this year to celebrate the 100th year of International Women's Day. The summit, which debuted in Washington DC in July last year, gives 21 young girls the opportunity to become global leaders. They are trained in etiquette, leadership skills, negotiation and communication skills with sustained follow-up by personal mentors. During the summit, they also interact with stalwarts from all fields, who impart knowledge through their experiences.

“According to research, it is known that girls between ages 15 to 19 often give away power. They concentrate on boys, clothes, but this doesn't help build their leadership qualities. The idea was to start with young women — people who could change the world — and make them global leaders. iLivetoLead hosted a summit last year with women from 17 different countries coming to Washington where they learnt networking, strategic planning and met people in the Senate, White House, Capitol Hill, and so on. This year we've come to India,” says Joanne Huskey, co-founder, Global Adjustments.

On the fourth day of the summit, members of the Harvard Kennedy School Women's Leadership Board, who are in India on a study tour, introduce themselves to the girls. The coffee session conversation will extend into a year of mentoring and personal development (from partnering companies) where they will be helped with the nuances of making any project successful. The girls are also involved in I CAN — where they choose a project they're passionate about and make it possible with help from mentors.

“In this session, the girls will learn all the necessary steps they have to take to make their project successful,” says Laura Bode, founder of iLivetoLead, adding, “These children have come up with wonderful ideas, and, over a year, they will find out how to make them happen.”

Ranjini Manian, founder and CEO, Global Adjustments, on the other hand, talks about empowerment at different levels. “This summit is not only to empower these young girls, but to also focus on the grassroots' level. Women from Thandalam, a village near Chennai, have made all the snacks that we are serving here, thereby helping themselves too.”

While we cut into the loud, excited discussion, the girls explain their projects animatedly. Amrithavarshini, a 16-year-old from PSBB, will be working on helping the underprivileged communicate better, “There are many people out there who don't know how to promote themselves even if they are good at what they do. If we can have weekly sessions to teach them how to put themselves across better, it'll change their lives drastically,” she says.

V. Devi, an engineering student wishes to provide computer education to children in her area. There are other ideas too, such as cleaning up public transport to encourage more people to take to it. N. Suryalakshmi from MOP Vaishnav wishes to eliminate superstitions that affect women. “I want to educate around 10 people about the evils of superstition, and split them into five teams to approach women who have been affected by these beliefs. We will help them, and then get them to join us to assist others,” she explains.

While the girls are given about a year to finish their projects, V. Amrithavarshini has been chosen to go to Washington to attend the international summit later this year.