2019 Global Women's Leadership Awards

Basel, Switzerland

Joining together in solidarity and a shared commitment to women’s economic empowerment, over 1,000 attendees from 70 countries participated in the 2019 Global Summit of Women in Basel, Switzerland on July 4-6. “Life-changing,” “electric,” and “inspiring” are a few of the words attendees used to describe the experience of the vibrant gathering of women leaders from all industries, sectors, and parts of the world. As it has done annually since 1990, the 2019 Global Summit of Women featured active networking, robust discussion, thought-provoking presentations, and a focus on solutions and skills-building unlike any other event with a truly global group of women leaders in business and government.

The diverse group of entrepreneurs, corporate executives, government ministers and senior officials were warmly welcomed by the city of Basel, which greeted Summit delegates with flags placed throughout the city. Under the theme of “Women: Re-Defining Success,” the delegates learned from over 90 dynamic presenters highlighting how access to equitable pay, leadership roles, and the ability to have “success” at home as well as at work can empower women as economic stakeholders. The Summit’s focus on creative solutions was never more evident than in Basel this July.

“In each and every session, I could see the depth of learning in the face of delegates,” said Summit President Irene Natividad. “Without a doubt, they will return to their countries, companies, and communities determined to use that knowledge to make an impact in their lives and on the lives of others.”

The Summit opened on July 4 with a joyous Opening Ceremony at the Basel Congress Centre. Taking the stage at the Opening Ceremony were the Prime Minister of Namibia Saraa Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, Prime Minister of Aruba Evelyn Wever-Croes, Vice President of Vietnam Dang Thi Ngoc Thinh, and President of the Government of the Canton of Basel-Stadt Elisabeth Ackermann alongside Summit President Natividad, the 2018 Australian Host Committee Co-Chairs Ann Sherry, former Chairman/CEO of Carnival Australia and Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO of BusinessEvents Sydney, and the co-leaders of the 2019 Swiss Host Committee Christine Schmidt, Managing Director, Credit Suisse & Head of Investment Solutions, Swiss Universal Bank, and Nora Teuwsen, General Counsel of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB).

“We came to Switzerland to support the efforts of Swiss women striving for greater equality by holding a global forum of exchanges on what works to progress women’s economic status worldwide and to accelerate their access to leadership roles,” said Natividad. “We were pleased to hold this global gathering in a city whose government leader is a woman and where new initiatives on parental leave and quotas for women board directors are being considered to advance women in this country.”


Prime Minister of Namibia Saraa Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and former President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga with Summit President Irene Natividad (left photo); and Prime Minister of Aruba Evelyn Wever-Croes (right photo)

In line with the Summit’s focus on women in leadership, Corporate Women Directors International (CWDI), the research arm of the Global Summit of Women, released its 2019 Report on Women Board Directors of the Largest Banks and Financial Services Companies Globally at the Basel Summit. Although the study found that women occupy only 24.7% of board seats in the largest financial institutions based in 18 countries, this was more than double the 10.3% women-held directorships in CWDI’s 2005 report on the financial services industry.

The European region had the highest percentage of women directors in its largest companies at 33.8%, easily eclipsing the percentage of women directors in the Americas (28.9%) and Asia-Pacific (12%). Accounting for Europe’s success in moving more women into the corporate boardroom is the proactive use of quotas now adopted by 28 countries globally. In the report’s Top Ten list of companies with the highest percentage of women directors, the majority are based in Europe with France dominating the list with six of its companies among the best performers. French insurance giant AXA, with a gender equal board, ranks first worldwide, joined by its French peers Group BPCE, Societe Generale. BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole, and CNP Assurances, among the best performers. Companies based in countries with quotas averaged 36.1% women directors compared to the industry average of 24.7%.

“The supply of board-ready women has been there for some time, but what quotas do is force the demand from companies within a specified deadline. That’s why they are effective,” states Summit President and CWDI Chair Irene Natividad.

While a quarter of board seats in these large financial institutions are now held by women, only 14.8% of senior executives are female, according to the report, which found that a large number of women on boards do not correlate with more women in senior management positions.

To advance more women into senior leadership positions, the report recommends the development of a talent pipeline for women to arrive at senior positions and the continued exposure of the “business case” – that more women in senior leadership correlates with companies’ better financial performance – to CEOs and C-suite executives so that they see gender diversity on boards as a business priority and not as a socio-cultural issue.


Summit President Irene Natividad presents Professor Muhammad Yunus, the Founder of the Grameen Model of micro-financing, and Oxfam International's Winnie Byanyima with the 2019 Global Women's Leadership Award.

The Global Summit of Women was honored to present its Global Women’s Leadership Award to two individuals whose lifelong pursuits have been to raise women out of poverty – Muhammad Yunus and Winnie Byanyima.

Professor Yunus, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, founded the Grameen Bank, a microcredit institution committed to providing small amounts of working capital to the poor for self-employment in Bangladesh in the 1970s. Over the ensuing decades, Professor Yunus’ model of eradicating poverty through microlending became the leader of a worldwide movement now replicated in more than 100 countries reaching out to millions of poor women from rural Zimbabwe to inner city Chicago. By making entrepreneurship available to the world’s poorest individuals – primarily women – Professor Yunus has given the tools to women to uplift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty and into lives which have improved the health and economic welfare of women and girls everywhere.

Winnie Byanyima is a grassroots activist, human rights advocate, and world-recognized expert on women’s rights who has spent her life working to ensure women and girls worldwide live and prosper in a peaceful environment. Currently Executive Director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima was a member of the Ugandan Parliament for 11 years, served at the African Union Commission and the UNDP as the Director of Gender and Development. She also co-founded the 60-member Global Gender and Climate Alliance and chaired a UN task force on gender aspects of the Millennium Development Goals and on climate change.

In addition, she was a signatory to her country’s 1985 peace agreement and has helped to broker and support women’s participation in peace processes in Rwanda, South Africa, Burundi, Sudan and other countries emerging from conflict.

The Summit also recognized former Swiss Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard with the Swiss Women’s Leadership Award. Throughout her 12-year tenure on the Federal Council from 2006-2018, she held the posts of Minister for Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications and Minister of Economic Affairs, Education, and Research, while serving as President in 2010 and 2017. In all her roles, she emphasized sustainable development and increasing access to jobs for women, youth, and older workers.