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NewsOne Report — Following a rousing performance by the Soul Children of Chicago, who managed to get every First Lady on their feet during their performance, CNN International’s Isha Sesay (pictured below, far right) moderated the “Public Private Partnerships: Fostering Women’s Economic Participation and Promoting Healthy Lives Through Technology and Training” panel as a part of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush’s second First Ladies’ Summit.

Watch the Soul Children of Chicago also perform for the First Ladies here:

Opening remarks were delivered by Cherie Blair, who is the founder of her eponymous foundation for women. She made the audience laugh when she said, “I was the wife of the British Prime Minister. Actually, I’m still am Tony Blair’s wife.” Blair then continued, “In my 10 years that my husband was [there], I learned myself what a significant platform being married to the prime minister was, and during that time, I learned that there wasn’t just pressing needs in our own country, but the world.


“And during that time, I met with many first ladies from Africa, and I’m always inspired and impressed by the work that they do. I’ve been supporting and sometimes initiating great work in their country. I want to commend my dear friend Laura Bush and the Bush Center for all they are doing to foster and network first ladies, working to advance education, good health, and economic opportunity for women and children in Africa.

“But to be truly effective, first ladies cannot do it on their own. We need to foster and to grow public-private partnerships and that’s what this conference is about. Effective partnerships are the best way to effect change.”

The featured panelists for the event were (pictured above from right to left) Noa Gimelli of ExxonMobil, Neha Misra of Solar Sister, Kay Kuenker of Dow AgroSciences, Damaris Odeny of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Deb Elam of the GE Foundation, and Dr. Bernard Olayo of the Center for Public Health and Development.

Sesay began the panel by saying, “I am a proud African woman, so this issue is close to my heart. Africa is Rising, and we need to get more girls in school and we need to make sure that Africa’s growth is inclusive so everyone can benefit from the rise. And Africa is moving in the right direction and this panel is going to give you an up-close look at public-private partnerships.”

Misra went on to explain why energy and power — and her company’s ability to address these issues with solar power — is a women’s issue, “Solar Sister is a women’s issue, because energy poverty affects women. For example, energy poverty is a woman taking in two packs of cigarettes a day while she cooks in her kitchen. Energy poverty is a girl who can’t study at night, because of lack of power. Energy poverty is a midwife trying to give birth in the dark.”

Odeny, a scientist and farmer, spoke to what should be the chief concern of governments and economies throughout Africa’s development, “What is key is that [policies must] revolve around the women farmer. The women farmer knows exactly what she wants to achieve. It’s really important that [future] programs engage the women farmer at all levels.”

Watch Soul Children of Chicago perform here:

In addition to the panel presentation, announcements were made by Walmart, Caterpillar, the U.S. State Department, and the Children’s Investment Fund who all renewed their commitment to Africa and African women.

The Vice President of International Corporate Affairs of the Walmart Foundation Maggie Sans pledged $100 million to empowering women. The President of the Caterpillar Foundation and Global Director of Corporate Social Innovation Michele Sullivan partnered with the state department to offer $1 million for opening the first-ever training center for African women’s entrepreneurship, and the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom and announced that they are doubling the amount of children receiving antiretroviral drugs and giving $200 million to the Accelerated Children’s HIV/AIDS Treatment Initiative (ACT), $150 million to PEPFAR and another $50 million. Finally, the Executive Chair of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation Jamie Cooper-Hohn also announced that they would double within two years the number of children receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS as well.

This panel is part of the First Ladies’ “Investing in Our Future” Summit and is the second event to the initial First Ladies’ Summit, entitled “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa,” which occurred in July 2013 in Tanzania during President Barack Obama’s three-nation tour.

Award-winning U.S. singer Anthony Hamilton then performed three songs to close out the event.

Watch part of Anthony Hamilton’s performance here: