The Massachusetts Women’s Forum hosted 828 leaders from thirty countries last fall.  The Conference provoked debate about education, entrepreneurship, global food, and women’s health–but also facilitated intimate discussion amongst attendees.

At a dinner I sat next to a Lebanese woman who said she was a security consultant working in Iraq.  Surprised, I asked if she wasn’t frightened.

“No,” she responded levelly, “I live in the Kurdish area.”

Those days brought daily news of Kurdish fighting and suicide bombings and Yazidi massacres. For a half hour I sat mesmerized by her everyday-stories. Stories so full of random violence and hopelessness that they belonged in another universe.  A twisted, godless universe from which I hoped my children—and every child on the planet—stayed far away.

She described a friend who was sleeping in his bed and got up to pee.  He returned to find a bullet hole in the pillow where his head had been.  He climbed back in bed and went to sleep.  Another friend went to pee in the middle of the night.  The only bullet to hit the house all night flew in the window and killed him as he stood peeing.  Her black eyes were straight as her mouth as the words came out.

Around us the formal room sparkled with light.

As President I saw our Forum shine and our guests return home changed. I did too.

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