Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting Out More

Everyone says that travel broadens your perspective, stretches your horizons.  In today's global economy, it's absolutely essential to reach out beyond your comfort zone to learn about different people and cultures.

I remember when I first traveled to the Middle East, visiting a newly-built, multi-story mall with escalators and elevators along with Louis Vuitton and Nike.  I remember watching a young woman, fully garbed in the head to foot "chador," cautiously step toward the base of a quickly rising escalator.  She froze there, staring at this monstrous electro-magnetic mechanical beast that threatened to gobble her up.  It took two male friends -- maybe brother, husband or father, on each side to persuade and guide her to her first step forward into the unbalanced uncertainty of rising toward the skies on steel teeth.

As I watched this transpire, at first, I was shocked that a woman of her age did not know how to ride an escalator.  Then it dawned on me that she was doing exactly what I had done when I first encountered the beast at 2 or 4 or 6 years.  In a moment, watching her, I learned the scale of the challenge before us -- to bridge the gap between emerging and developed.

In order for her to become an effective consumer of Louis Vuitton, garbed in Nikes beneath her chador, she must take these first steps just as I had done so in my youth.  Someone, maybe her two male comrades or perhaps others, would need to educate her just as once we had to learn these same basic first steps.

This is not only the challenge of emerging consumers overseas. Sometimes we see that same scared, uncertain look on the faces of our own friends and associates among businesswomen -- those afraid to take first uncertain steps to start firms, employ a workforce, borrow money, invest and grow a business, build or serve on a board.  Too often, women hesitate at the edge of their futures, stay at home, opt out or substitute charity and voluntary commitments -- because they are the safe options.
If that is where some women want to remain, no problem.  But, when you see a woman, garbed in the chador of an ancient culture, take that first uncertain step forward into a future she cannot yet fathom, you know she is a woman of simple strength and courage.  And there is nothing more beautiful anywhere in this world.