This week has been a whirlwind…and it began with the start of a 3 week tour across the United States. First stop: Washington DC where I was immersed in all aspects – political, culture, site seeing, music…and wine & food too! The last time I visited this city, was in grade 8 – a while ago! Memories of that school trip were few but impressionable including the inclusion of sign language in Lincoln’s hands at the infamous memorial & somberness of the hourly changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington Cemetery.
This time, my trip to Washington DC is far different. I was nominated and selected by the U.S. Embassy in Canada to be one of six Canadian women to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) focusing on Women in Trade and Entrepreneurship. This is a huge honour as over 30 Canadian women were nominated and I was one of six who were hand selected to be part of IVLP tour & to be involved in the post-tour benefits of being part of the worldwide alumni.
During our 3 week tour, we are stopping in at Washington DC, Kansas City MO, Austin TX, Denver CO and San Francisco CA. Our days are fully packed of meetings with American women business owners who are recognized as innovative and outstanding in their fields. In addition, we are learning from the feds about the resources & programs initiated by the US that are available to women entrepreneurs. This as a phenomenal opportunity to soak it all up, have my mind open to all kinds of ideas & have great discussions with the other 5 women in the group along with those who we meet along the way. Already on Day 3, my mind is buzzing!
3 weeks, 5 cities, 6 women & 8 suitcases….
As if we had known each other for years before, I instantly felt a strong bond within the 6 of us. Since Saturday when most of us arrived in DC, there have been lots of laughs along with many questions about each other’s business. I know that I am amongst a dynamic group of women who I will call friends for a long time to come. Joining me are:
Jennifer Brandle-McCall – CEO, Prince George Chamber of Commerce (British Columbia)
Stephanie Jecrois – President, Young Haitian Chamber of Commerce (Montreal, Quebec)
Amina Gerba – President & Founder, Afrique Expansion (Montreal, Quebec)
Nancy Phillips – Director of Investment and Trade, Greater Halifax Partnership (Nova Scotia)
Fiona Webster Mourant – President & Co-owner, Manrex Ltd.
What is the trip all about?
Since 1940 when it began, the IVLP has given hundred of thousands of emerging leaders – including thousands of Canadians – the opportunity to experience first-hand American culture and business society on a personal level. As explained by our hosts in the pre-trip briefings and in our first meeting in Washington, the IVLP recognizes Canadians who are emerging leaders and invite them to participate in the delegation to observe U.S. institutions and culture, and meet with professional counterparts to explore issues of common interest. Some twenty Canadians travel each year under this program on different themed trips.
To get a feel of the lay of the land – of Washington that is – we were invited to come early to Washington for a private tour of the city. We were definitely in for a treat as our guide – Jeannie Fogle – is a highly recognized historian and has authored many historic guide books of the city. A woman entrepreneur herself, she started – A Tour de Force – and I would highly recommend for anyone to call on Jeannie when you are next in Washington. She definitely knows her city! During the unseasonably warm Sunday, we wound our way through the historical sites by stopping in at the White House (of course!), Capitol Hill, The Mall, monuments galore – Grant, Lincoln, Jefferson, the new Martin Luther King and the impressive black wall paying tribute to those who fought in the Vietnam War. Jeannie had fantastic stories to share. Eager to learn more, I spent the afternoon wandering through Smithsonian museums including the National Portrait Gallery, Space and Aviation Museum, National Art Gallery and finished this whirlwind day enjoying an after hours chamber music once the National Art Gallery had closed.
Let’s get down to work!
Our meeting itinerary for Monday & Tuesday was built to provide us familiarity of the inner workings of the US federal government at all levels, the who’s who to contact for resources to grow our businesses in the US and to leverage resources of existing programs. We stepped outside of government office buildings to meet with Professor Clyde Wilcox of Georgetown University & learn about federalism and the various levels of government. Then were whisked off to meet Dr George Solomon from the Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence at George Washington University. Every last minute – including a to die for lunch at Vidalia Restaurant was organized by the Institute of International Education and the Department of State.
After the full day and with our heads exploding with information, the 6 of us celebrated ‘day one done’ with a fantastic meal at The Source – Wolfgang Puck.
Tuesday started with high security meetings with a large group of people involved in Canada-US relations and global womens’ programs at the US Department of State followed by a meeting and lunch in the US House of Representatives. Here, the hallways were chaotic with anyone who came to meet or lobby various government officials. And on the TV screens in every office were abuzz about the Dow Jones plummeting 200 points and the wild winter storm in the Midwest – especially Kansas City – our next stop!
Before I left Washington, I went to one of the hippest wine bars in town – Proof. This night was all about sampling great wines with my long time friend Mark Chandler from Lodi. I thought I would be seeing Mark at the end of the tour when we visit Napa, however as luck had it, he had just started working for Wine America as their new CEO only 2 weeks ago…and was in Washington the same week I was visiting.
Next stop…a 4 day visit to America’s heartland (and Dorothy’s home) – Kansas City.
Follow us on Twitter!
For in the moment tweets about our tour, follow our group on #IVLP and
- @savvydebbie (Debbie Trenholm)
- @Halifax_Gateway (Nancy Phillips)
- @JenniferBrandle (Jennifer Brandle)
- @PillPak (Fiona Webster Mourant)
- @amigerba (Amina Gerba)