Miami-Dade County

Chelsea Clinton talks about empowering women, girls around the world

Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton listens to speakers at the United Way's 14th Annual Women's Leadership Breakfast at the University of Miami on Monday, March 16.
Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton listens to speakers at the United Way's 14th Annual Women's Leadership Breakfast at the University of Miami on Monday, March 16.

Jumping effortlessly from statistics to heartwarming personal stories without once glancing at her notes, Chelsea Clinton on Monday urged an arena full of Miami women leaders to continue their work helping those who need it most. And she pushed them to focus on women and children in particular.

She jokingly referred to a saying in the Clinton family — “Investing in women and girls is not only the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do” — and encouraged the crowd to use it, no attribution necessary.

More than 1,200 women gathered at the University of Miami’s BankUnited Center for the 14th annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast of the United Way of Miami-Dade. Clinton had originally been scheduled to speak in late January, but a snowstorm kept her from traveling south. More than six weeks after that flight cancellation, she didn’t miss the opportunity to show gratitude for Miami’s warm weather.

“I’m very excited to be back in the sunshine,’’ she told the crowd, which erupted in laughter. Clinton was in Miami earlier this month, as part of Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), also held at the University of Miami.

At the breakfast she thanked the women for their work but warned that it was far from done, saying that gains remain "very tenuous" even in areas where progress has been made. Speaking about maternal health, she said there has been a decrease of 40 percent worldwide in maternal deaths, yet 800 women still die of pregnancy complications every day.

“That’s progress, but we haven’t yet met success,’’ she added.

She emphasized that theme while speaking about access to education and job opportunities as well. While there are almost as many girls as boys attending primary schools around the world, the participation rate drops dramatically in upper grades. “We need laws to change to ensure that there are expectations for girls to go to school and stay in school,’’ Clinton said.

What’s more, in more than 100 countries women can’t apply for loans or get credit without a male signatory. In other places, their ability to leave their homes unaccompanied is severely restricted. “All this,’’ she continued, “prevents women from pursuing our dreams and economies from growing.’’

Clinton used her personal experience as a new mother to talk about how important those first few months at home with baby Charlotte were for her. Yet, she pointed out the United States has no paid leave, for mothers or fathers. “We don’t have any time to waste,’’ she said. “Even this country needs to do more.’’

Clinton, who works with her parents, former President Bill Clinton and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as vice chairwoman of the Clinton Foundation was introduced by the philanthropic power duo of mother Sue Miller and daughter Leslie Miller Saiontz. Miller, who spearheaded the creation of the United Way Women’s Leadership 14 years ago, said Clinton’s work with her family’s foundation as well as her service on different boards were "a reflection of our aspirations for this community."

Saointz called Clinton “an obvious choice … she exemplifies what United Way stands for.’’

Clinton joined a list of well-known breakfast speakers who have come to Miami to encourage community leaders to continue their efforts to improve the lot of the needy and the powerless. Past speakers have included Academy Award-winning actress Goldie Hawn, fashion icon Donna Karan, ABC White House correspondent Ann Compton, and Leigh Anne Tuohy, the real-life mom from the blockbuster movie The Blind Side.

The Women’s Leadership group includes 1,700 women who give $1,000 or more to United Way every year. The first breakfast 14 years ago drew 200 women and since then both membership and breakfast attendance has grown steadily, a fact Miller noted as “a celebration of women’s leadership.’’

Event chairwoman Adriana Cisneros, CEO and vice chairwoman of Cisneros, one of the largest privately held media, e-commerce and real estate companies in the world, issued a call to arms to the women in attendance. She referred to a 2014 United Way study that showed 21 percent of Miami’s residents living below poverty level and another 29 percent scrambling to cover basic needs.

“The collective impact of our generosity is changing thousands upon thousands of families,’’ she said.