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Q&A with Moira Forbes: Leading Women in Asia

  • Frances Alonzo

FILE - World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Margaret Chan speaks during a conference on Universal Health Coverage for inclusive and sustainable growth in Tokyo.

FILE - World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Margaret Chan speaks during a conference on Universal Health Coverage for inclusive and sustainable growth in Tokyo.

Forbes announced its 10th anniversary of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women listing. Among the top 100 are 23 Asian women that include self-made entrepreneur billionaires, an entertainer with over 66 million social media followers and a head of state that oversees a 1.6 trillion dollar economy.

Moira Forbes, Forbes President and Publisher of ForbesWoman, told VOA's Frances Alonzo that nine Chinese women are taking the lead in Asia.

FORBES: Of the 23 women, China had the highest number of women on our power women’s list with nine women this year, followed by India with three women, Singapore with two women. Then other countries represented were Burma, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.

Women from Asia-Pacific on our list represent and exemplify the other trends that we are seeing all across the world. Our first is obviously the ways in which women are leveraging their political power, overseeing some of the largest and most influential economies in the world. The highest ranking woman from Asia on our list is the President of South Korea. She oversees a 1.6 trillion dollar economy. She came into office looking to rejuvenate the economy and rekindle relations with North Korea, which has been a challenge. But she’s someone who exemplifies, not just wielding huge influence in her own country and not just in Asia, but diplomatic and political relations around the world.

Another great trend that we’re seeing that is exemplified on this list as well is the use of social media. New to the list this year was the entertainer Yao Chen at just 34 years old. She’s an entertainer, well-known obviously in China and around the region. But what we thought was very interesting was the fact that she’s using her platform and she’s using her celebrity to drive change in meaningful ways. She’s the most socially active, or has the highest social following of any of our power women with more than 66 million followers on Weibo. But she’s also using that platform to be a champion for human rights issues.

And another trend is the rise of entrepreneurs. This year overall on our list, we had 18 women who either founded their own businesses or foundations. And we also had nine self-made billionaires around the world on our list this year, including women like Zhang Xin, number 62 on our list , who is a co-founder and CEO of SOHO China. So women are wielding huge influence in traditional power roles but striking out on their own and creating meaningful businesses in doing so.

ALONZO: You mention that the largest group from Asia is China. What is it about these women in China that seem to really dominate the list from Asia?

FORBES: What we [have] seen, not just on our power women list, but we’ve seen China representing a lot of categories where women are emerging into positions of political power. Someone like Zhang Xin, for example, cites the fact that even under communism, women were equally educated, had equal education on par with their male counterparts. The fact that they had access to education and its economy that’s booming. So when we are looking at these economies that are in high growth mode, or at least in high growth mode in relation to other parts of the world, often there is a talent vacuum where if you have a highly educated female population you are going to see more and more women rise up the ranks just because of that very talent vacuum.

We’ve seen a lot of female entrepreneurs emerge out of China. Self-made billionaires emerging out of China, seizing opportunities before them in ways that may not have ever been before possible. Often these women are Western educated, so they understand business acumen across different markets and they are creating businesses that scale far beyond the traditional scope of country borders.

ALONZO: What’s the youngest woman that you see there and the oldest?

FORBES: The youngest woman on this year’s list is Yao Chen at just 34 years old, and the oldest woman is Margaret Chan who is age 66, director-general of the World Health Organization.

ALONZO: What can women do to increase their own influence and their own power in their own worlds?

FORBES: I think you know the most important thing to be a change agent today, is the ability to connect with others. I think power today and always has been really about the ability to influence. How do you shape minds? How do you create a dialogue? How do you rally people around your vision as a leader? And so I think great leadership comes from the ability to influence and that comes from the ability to connect and engage individuals regardless of culture, age, ethnicity and the like.