PMC Honors Iris Burnett and Nell Merlino

On "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," PMC honored Iris Burnett and Nell Merlino with the College's annual award for Inclusive Leadership and Social Responsibility. The ceremony took place in the Founder's Room with an audience of more than 100 and was followed by a panel discussion chaired by Suzanne Bates, president of Bates Communication and formerly of WBZ-TV and consisting of Professor of Human Services Connie Chan of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Vicki Donlan '71, founder and publisher of Women's Business, Judy George, chairman and CEO of Domain Home Fashions, Mary Lassen, executive director of the Women's Educational and Industrial Union, and Patricia Forde, PMC's Director of Entrepreneurial Studies.

Burnett and Merlino are the co-founders of Count-Me-In (CMI), the first non-profit, on-line, micro-lending organization dedicated to helping women start and grow their own businesses by providing small business loans ranging from $500 to $10,000, and scholarships for business training and technical assistance. Since its inception in September 2000, CMI has made 110 loans.

Merlino, parenthetically, conceived of the idea of "Take Our Daughters to Work Day" in 1992, and, then, working together with the Ms. Foundation, introduced the concept publicly in New York City in the spring of 1993. Her impetus and inspiration was the realization that "the unfortunate condition that girls and women often share is that they are often invisible for who they are, and what they think, and what they are doing in the world. Unfortunately, women and girls are certainly recognized in the economy, but they are acknowledged and spoken to mainly as consumers—and in the case of girls and some women, as cute consumersŠcute is good, but it doesn't get you very far!" Her program encourages parents in the United States and throughout the world to take their daughters to their workplaces, to share an inside look at the work, and to help raise expectations for women's participation in all varieties of employment.

Iris Burnett is co-founder, co-chair, and president of Count-Me-In for Women's Economic Independence. She has more than 25 years of experience as a communication professional in media, government, academia, and the private sector. Prior to founding CMI, Ms. Burnett was a communication professor at American University and she was the senior vice president of corporate communications for the Sci-Fi Channel and USA Network, where she designed, developed, and implemented Erase the Hate an award winning national program to promote understanding and respect for diversity. She served as chief of staff at the United States Information Agency (USIA) and she helped create both the White House Women's Office and the President's Interagency Council for Women.

Ms. Burnett also served as an official delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where she directed all communications for the delegation. She has had key assignments in five presidential campaigns, was the political advisor to two presidents, and was the director of security for the 1980 Democratic National Convention, the fist and only woman to ever serve in this capacity.

Ms. Burnett is married to photojournalist David Burnett and has two children.

Nell Merlino is co-founder and CEO of Count-Me-In for Women's Economic Independence and the founder and president of Strategy Communication Action Ltd. (SCA) in New York City, a firm specializing in public education campaigns that motivate people to act. Merlino has extensive experience in the development and production of such national and international efforts as NGO Forum on Women in Beijing in 1995, Earth Day's 20th anniversary, "Picture What Women Do" for Lifetime Television, and the YWCA Week Without Violence. Prior to founding SCA, Merlino worked in two state governments, was an advance woman in presidential politics, a union organizer, and a Fulbright Scholar in the National Health Service in England.

For her work on behalf of women, girls, and families, Ms. Merlino was recognized in the book, Remarkable Women of the Twentieth Century—100 Portraits of Achievement, and named one of fifty New Yorkers to Watch in 1999 by the New York Daily News. She was named "Woman of the Year" by New Woman Magazine in 1993, and was awarded the 1994 Fulbright Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Ms. Merlino lives in Manhattan with her husband Gary Conger.

In presenting the award, President Nemerowicz said, "This Award for Inclusive Leadership and Social Responsibility is Pine Manor's way of recognizing individuals whose lives represent the principles of inclusivity and boundary breaking, collaboration and creativity, social justice and social responsibility."

"This is a day of celebration here at PMC,"President Nemerowicz continued. "We are gathered for this wonderful reminder that our College is part of a larger social movement for change. The focus here today is on the accomplishments of these two extraordinary women. Central to the College's mission of educating a broad spectrum of women for lives of inclusive leadership and social responsibility is the reality of the need for women to be strong, value conscious players in our local and global economy."

"We have seen the impact on this small, 90 year old College of confronting the economy of higher education when our College made a commitment to lower tuition by one-third," President Nemerowicz said. "One of the things that I hope you are celebrating with us today MC's continued commitment to keeping this fabulous educational opportunity affordable to a wide spectrum of women who need the kind of education we provide here. We are proud to announce that for the next academic year, PMC is likely to be the most affordable private, four year college in the state and among the most diverse in student populations as well."

"Finally, we also celebrate your participation with us today," President Nemerowicz said in conclusion. "We cannot succeed in achieving our vision of transformative education without you and the organizations that you represent. We really are all in this work of changing the opportunities and outcomes for all women together."

In accepting the award Ms. Burnett said, "Never underestimate the power of an idea. Ideas can lead to making real change in the way we live our lives and very big differences in our attitudes and perceptions. Three years ago, Nell and I were invited to participate in a White House Women's Economic Summit. We had an idea. There were 100 women from throughout the country, all with different jobs, and different economic incomes. Together we discussed women and money, and women and economic opportunity. At the end of the summit, we realized that women were invisible in this economy as producers of wealth and jobs."

"We knew that we needed to change that perception and change attitudes about women and money," Ms. Burnett said. "We also knew that we would have to create something—an event or an organization—which included women from all over the nation. Something that would unite us regardless of race, religion, physical ability, economic income, political beliefs, age, or sexual preference. As we looked, we discovered that there were very serious problems with women and credit—both personal and business. Woman did not have access to the capital that they needed. Not even small amounts of money. Women could not borrow money to start businesses because they were disqualified by a credit scoring system that did not accommodate the way that most women lead their lives. Women take time off from work to care for family members including children, and women are widowed and divorced so they have very no credit history or very thin credit files. Women, for the most part, never thought about a credit history as something that they needed to have."

"And so we had an idea," Ms. Burnett continued. "We would raise enough money (from women all over the country) and create a loan fund that would be used for women to start businesses. It would be on-line so everyone could have access to it, and the process would be computer operated and generated so we could make large number of loans in short amounts of time. This also meant that we had to redesign the loan application to accommodate the way women lived their lives."

"With the help of corporations like American Express, family foundations like the Barbara Lee Foundation, and the participation of individuals like you, we have raised enough money to make 110 micro loans in just over six months," Ms. Burnett added. "It's money raised to provide women with the opportunity to have their own businesses, change their lives, and have a positive impact on the economy of this country."

Ms. Merlino added to these remarks by providing anecdotal information about some of the loans that have been made as well as the loan recipients. She focused in on a group of women in South Carolina who started up a business designing dolls and then talked about how they assisted another woman who had applied for a loan to start a similar business in New Orleans and how they have recently all come together to help a group of women in South Africa who make dolls and want to market them in the United States.

She emphasized that "the connections made through CMI have truly been remarkable. Women have reached out to help each other by offering advice and by sharing information. They have served as role models for each other as well as inspiration."

The two concluded by saying, "We are very proud of what we have done and we are very proud to be at Pine Manor. During our visit, we have had the opportunity to walk around, meet, lunch with some students, and even sit in on a few classes. We saw that you are encouraging and preparing those young women to have many powerful ideas, to think critically, and never give up on an idea that might help to make the world we live in a better place. One that is more accepting of individual differences and more supportive of new ways to think. We are honored to accept the leadership award and be included in the Pine Manor family. Our heartfelt thanks and commitment to what you are doing."