Founder and CEO of Orender Unlimited and Generation W, Former President of The Women’s National Basketball Association | USA
Donna Orender has been recognized as one of the top 10 Most Powerful Women in sports and one of Newsweek`s 100 most Influential people in the business of sports and is a best-selling author with her 2018 release of Wowsdom! the Girl’s Guide to the Positive and the Possible. Prior to the WNBA, Donna spent 17 years at the PGA TOUR where she was one of 3 senior executives serving in the Office of the Commissioner. As the CEO of Orender Unlimited, she works on the development of a strategic plan for the golf industry, initiated by the PGA of America. A Hall of Fame athlete at Queens College, Donna has been a recipient of the March of Dimes Sports Leadership Award and was honored by the UJA-Federation of New York’s Entertainment, Media and Communications Division for her dedication to the community. Donna Orender discussed the transformative role of sports in building inclusive and peaceful societies for all. Sharing her years of leadership experiences, Orender underlined the life-changing empowerment that sports provides for women and girls. As she elaborated on Generation W’s mission, she underlined that elevating girls means elevating the world.
Generation W, whose mission is educating, inspiring and connecting women and girls while building community, recently hosted the annual thought leadership event with the theme focused on the Vision 20/20.9 Generation W was excited to be exploring how they saw the world, the differing lenses, perspectives and who was focusing on what and why.
Then the unexpected happened. Who could have predicted, our eyes widely open, confronted by something one could not see, a small pathogen that would turn the world upside down? Today, as human persons, we could not have imagined previously such a situation and yet eagerly anticipated as all need to be together the interconnectivity of our global community. The need for the connection has never been more apparent.
The pandemic continues to disproportionately impact women and girls by laying bare the inequities that are found across the globe, despite efforts over the years to arrest them. The efforts from different quarters have not been lessened, on the contrary.
Our sense of urgency and pursuit of actionable change is heightened by the recent loss of one of the greatest champions, leaders and warriors. This is the American Supreme Court JUSTICE Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With her tremendous vision, intellect, powerful words and writings, paved the way for the policy which initiated tangible and actionable changes to creating a more equitable world. While progress has been made, all are well aware that women continue to disproportionately represent the encumbered, the beleaguered, the impoverished and the embattled.
In my work and passionate pursuits, I have been struck by how the world speaks to us. It tells us, women, in a myriad of ways who is worth more and who is worth less. As an athlete, who competed at all levels and ultimately as a professional athlete, I encountered signs, signals even silence that showed how the world valued me or it did not. It was the same for ultimately the strong accomplished women I was privileged to represent as the President of the WNBA. It speaks to all of us every day, women and men, whether we choose to see it or not in the resources afforded, economic support, business partnerships, marketing relationships, overall visibility, media support, fields to play on, it is a long list.
The summary of this struggle, when you stripped down, is about power; who has it, who does not. Ultimately it is important to underline how do we work together to show that power shared, is power amplified. Research has proven that diverse voices in any room where decisions are made, produces better results. It has been proven that women make great leaders, that they are innovators and managers. Most recently, women leaders across the globe, have charted the most effective responses to COVID-19 for their countries.
When sports is used as an analogy while one is putting together a team to compete, talent is a difference maker and having access to an entire talent pool, men and women only make a person stronger. Together makes us all stronger, stronger families, communities, cities, nations and a planet.
The most impactful tools we have today are not new at all. It has been proven to work for boys for generations. Equal access to sports for girls is a game changer for everyone. The physical and emotional benefits of better health, increased strength, confidence and specifically, a reduction in the incidence of cancers among women is life changing. Girls are learning how to compete, to lead others and themselves. As girls lead, they pull their families and their communities upward with them. The emphasis is not about making elite athletes, although that will and can happen, it is about building more inclusive communities through sports. Sports speak loudly to men. It is something they can see, a place where they can relate. It is a common space to build respect and understanding. It is more challenging in some villages and cities than others. However, it is happening as men increasingly come to champion their daughters’ opportunities.
The power of sports drives our global institution, lifts nations, forges peace and is the greatest of international languages. All people can speak about the power of the ball and most importantly how to share that power, how we can share that ball, teams win when that happens and that is statistically verifiable.
It is about the extra pass and not holding onto it for yourself. It is imperative that our future teams have gender parity and that young girls, who continue to face the realities of child marriage, genital mutilation, trafficking, domestic violence and lack of educational opportunities are given the chance to compete and succeed just as it has been for young boys for generations. I had the privilege, recently, to participate as a judge in the Beyond Sports initiative that drives collaboration to increase the ability for organizations to drive social change through sport and in this case with a particular focus on gender equality.
It was exciting and inspiring to see how:
• Soccer, and football becomes a platform for teamwork and physical strength but also a knowledge base for sharing better maternal health practices, and education around child marriage in Uganda and India. In Zambia, football is a way of teaching Through the Girls Money savvy Project, how to become financially literate where girls learn how to earn money to support their schooling just as boys do.
• In Nepal, Empowering Women of Nepal is a group that works with disadvantaged young women and girls offering a comprehensive training program to become trekking guides. Women who began with no self-esteem or a pathway to hope emerge with leadership skills and opportunities to become economically independent with an ability to pursue education. As reported, they become multipliers of positive change changing social norms around a society free of discrimination and oppression.
• In America we have many organizations, including the Women’s Sports foundation whose mission is to unlock the possibilities in every girl and woman through the power of sport founded by the inimitable Billie Jean King10. It is worthy to mention the World Surf League’s program, Rising Tides, that builds young girls` confidence through surfing around the world while teaching them the values of sustainability and the vital life force of our oceans.
• The strong correlation between athletic and business success speaks to the support of sport as a difference making strategy in changing the trajectory of girls and women’s lives. With EY research reporting 94% of executive women having a background in sport, 80% of fortune 500 women exec having played competitive sports and over 60% of those women believing that playing sports contributed positively to their career success and advancement. They are joined in that belief by male executives as well.
I am one of those women. Sports allows me to sit with all the esteemed leaders today. I am a part of a global community of athletes who have lived first-hand the opportunity to realize self, and then team and then world. It is the power of the mind and body that enables, unleashes the power of change. Yet all are still very much on the front lines of fighting for gender equality and equity here in America, both on our playing fields and in our board rooms. When I look at the game clock on this team sport called life, I am dismayed to see that humankind is way too far into overtime with respect to the wins they are looking for girls, women, their families. Society is losing their opportunities, collectively by leaning to believe in this WE situation.
One of the core beliefs at Generation W is: When you elevate a woman, you elevate us all. This intergenerational mentorship is the way all can learn, live and ultimately lead together. The interaction with Vital Voices, a global NGO borne out of Beijing 1995 Conference, has taught all that when you invest in women you improve the world. They bring to the fore an undeniable truth that women are essential to progress to their communities and that our world cannot move forward without their full participation. Thank you to their great leader Alyse Nelson.
Esteemed supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg shared her thoughts on a meaningful life, by stating, “A meaningful life is living not for oneself but for one’s community.”11 Where a devotion to equity and equality are goals worth fighting for every day. We should remember that what we do not see can be just as informative as what we do. Everyone should reach for new ideas, break out of the box, seek innovation, deploy technology for its best and highest usage, recognize that we must discard strategies that have not worked and demand with our actions that an acceleration of progress is the only next step that we can take.
The stakes are high not only for our daughters, but for our sons, for our families, for our communities. Life is a team sport and gender equality are a game changer. Let us change the game, and when we do, we all win.