There was a time not very long ago when few women had ever risen to positions of leadership in large organizations. And while the business world has taken steps towards equality, women have yet to reach top positions at the same rate as men.

Among the organizations attempting to remedy this disparity is the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting a women’s leadership summit Thursday, September 28, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Forsgate Country Club. Tickets are $130, $110 for members. For more information, visit www.mcrcc.org or call 732-745-8098.

The summit is set to feature speeches by Mary K. Murphy, executive director of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority; Junel Hutchinson, Urban Enterprise Zone coordinator; Jaz Carvajal, co-founder of Stay On Your Daily, and Joy Marini, executive director of global community impact for Johnson & Johnson.

Marini now leads the company’s philanthropic efforts in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, where the company runs programs for mothers and children, healthcare workers, healthcare technology, and other projects. In 2007 she became executive director of worldwide corporate contributions, where she was responsible for Johnson & Johnson’s international programs on health for mothers and daughters. As she told the J&J website in 2016, “my team and I need to understand global public health and development, keep up with the latest trends, and understand how health and wellbeing plays out in local communities.”

Marini is a graduate of the University of Western Kentucky, where she earned a bachelor’ degree; UMDNJ, where she earned a physician’s assistant degree; and Rider, where she earned an MBA. She joined J&J’s pediatric institute in 2001. There she collaborated with the Chinese Ministry of Health and other organizations on a program to train neonatal birth attendants in China to prevent birth asphyxia. In its first five years the program saved more than 90,000 babies.

Marini will be in the spotlight as an inspirational woman during the leadership summit, but in an article she wrote for the Huffington Post on International Women’s Day, she reflected on the qualities that make other women inspiring:

Each International Women’s Day, the global community pauses to reflect on women who inspire. Sometimes these women are famous, sometimes they are historical — but just as often they are seemingly regular women you’ve never read about in a newspaper or text book.

On a recent field visit with Save the Children in Uganda, I was inspired by Eva and Damalie, two midwives who face incredible challenges, yet still dedicate themselves to helping others. As I reflected on my time spent with these women, it occurred to me that no matter the country or circumstance, women who inspire share five common traits.

They have purpose. Even facing incredible challenges, inspiring women forge ahead with the confidence that they are making a difference.

On a sunny morning at the Nakaseke District Hospital in Uganda, I met a midwife named Eva. On the day that I arrived, the hospital had not had running water or electricity for two weeks. This is all too common in Uganda, where the infant mortality rate is 44 deaths per 1,000 live births. Even without those basic necessities, Eva arrived every morning full of hope that more women would come to the hospital to deliver their babies.

They believe in what they are doing. Women like Eva are not afraid to challenge the status quo, even at personal or professional risk.

That morning, as Eva and I stood by a bedside admiring a mom with her new baby, Michael, she revealed that the baby had been in trouble during his birth the night before. Following a long and difficult labor, he emerged quietly, not breathing. The physician sadly shook his head, believing the baby was dead. Eva stressed that the baby was alive and began using the skills to revive a baby that she learned in Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) training provided by Save the Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, USAID, and Johnson & Johnson.

Earlier that morning, Eva proudly pulled the doctor into the maternity ward to see healthy baby Michael breastfeeding.

They have empathy. They feel an obligation to help others.

Damalie Mwogererwa is a Ugandan midwife who always wears a wide smile on her face. She reminisced about a decade of working in the delivery room without adequate equipment or knowledge to save the lives of mothers and babies. “We didn’t even know that we could do something else,” she said, “I felt like I was delivering babies to die.”

They encourage others. Both Eva and Damalie love sharing knowledge with other midwives.

After learning the newborn resuscitation skills in HBB, Damalie enthusiastically began training other midwives. “I want to train other people so that we build the capacity… and we cause change.”

In addition to training others, Damalie and Eva motivate their colleagues by example. “We had many neonatal deaths” before the HBB training, Eva explained. “Since I’ve resuscitated many and I’ve seen them surviving, I’m so confident when doing it.” That confidence is infectious and motivates her colleagues to believe that change is possible.

They think big. Inspiring women aren’t discouraged by how things are now. They have a vision for the future. In Damalie’s words, “We can change the trend of newborn death in Uganda.”

With each newborn saved and each midwife trained, Eva and Damalie inspire those around them to work for a brighter future. And I’m no exception. This International Women’s Day and every day, I am inspired to improve the lives of mothers and children.

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