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“Hi Katja! Good to see you.”
Crown Princess Mary stops on her way towards the hall at Industriens Hus where several hundred people are waiting for the royal VIP.
She hugs Katja Iversen and smiles before she, Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen (Danish Liberal Party) and the Director General of the Confederation of Danish Industry Karsten Dybvad hurry on towards the waiting conference which will be discussing the UN’s 17 global development goals.
Katja Iversen is not just anyone. She is on first-name terms with Crown Princess Mary and leaders of global organisations such as the UN and grass-roots associations in the poorest parts of the world.
“We have met many times,” says Katja Iversen about her brief encounter with the Crown Princess.
Less than ten years ago, Katja Iversen was living in Denmark contemplating whether to accept a job with the UN in the United States. Now she lives and works in New York as the CEO of Women Deliver, an organisation that has been working to promote the health and rights of women and girls across the world since 2007.
The organisation has grown steadily. Its partners currently include global organisations, governments, politicians and female role models such as Crown Princess Mary.
Katja Iversen joined Women Deliver in 2014 and has quickly become an important figure in the field of women’s health and increased equality, especially in developing countries.
Last year, she travelled for up to 200 days, she reveals with a wry smile, but quickly adds that she “sleeps very well on planes”.
This year is no different – Katja Iversen is particularly busy at the moment.
She is organising the so far largest international conference focusing on the health and rights of women. In May, about 6,000 delegates will be gathering at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, among them decision-makers, activists, journalists and organisations from across the world.
But at her allotment on the island of Amager – not far from the epicentre of the big conference taking place in the middle of May – Katja Iversen does not seem pressurised by her busy diary.
She smiles as she looks up into the spring sun shining down on the flagstone patio behind her allotment house which her mother and sister use and look after.
Somewhere between conference calls and flights, Katja Iversen has found time for a short visit to Copenhagen – among other things to meet some of the delegates at the conference on the UN’s global goals, do a series of interviews and put the final touches on the conference. She also has time to meet Crown Princess Mary who is the patron of the Women Deliver conference and has therefore had many meetings with Katja Iversen.
“This is the most fun thing I have ever done, and I can see that we have moved the organisation forward in leaps and bounds and really put women on the agenda,” says Katja Iversen, who after the conference in May will take over the role of president at Women Deliver.
Katja Iversen’s career as spokesperson for women has come about through a series of coincidences and being in the right place at the right time. But it is no coincidence that her job involves fighting injustice.
“I have always been driven by generating change, and I am lucky enough to have had a family where helping others was part of our daily lives. I have seen first-hand how much injustice in the world is the fault of humans and that is why it also needs to be changed by humans,” she says.
Especially her grandmother was a source of inspiration for Katja Iversen.
“My grandmother never had an education, but she fought for other women’s rights to an education and access to birth control. She passed that legacy on to me,” says 46-year-old Katja Iversen.
From the struggle for women’s rights to global development
According to Katja Iversen, the promotion of women’s rights has changed in recent years. It has gone from being about lack of equality, violence against women and ‘struggle for women’s rights’ to a greater context of global development and the world economy.
Women Deliver has pushed hard to produce surveys that focus on the economic consequences of equality – and the lack of it. Last year, a report published by McKinsey showed that increased equality at a global level would increase the world’s GDP by 11% by 2025.
According to a report published by the World Bank, up to 150 million people will be lifted above the poverty line if women and men are given the same terms in the field of agriculture.
“This is no longer only about the struggle for women’s rights. It’s about development at the highest level for everyone,” says Katja Iversen.
The theme of the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen will also be that women’s health, rights and economic opportunities mean a great deal for the global community as a whole and not just women themselves.
The Confederation of Danish Industry, with the help of Danida, is sponsoring a major photography exhibition which will showcase the efforts of eight Danish businesses abroad working to promote women’s rights. These businesses offer self-defence courses and childcare and work with women in local areas to allow the women to hold down a job.
Katja Iversen has seen a great deal of change in the business community in the past five to six years when it comes to investing in women and girls.
“These days there is no contradiction when you talk about making money and doing good. These two things can go hand in hand. The photography exhibition exemplifies incredibly well our message that women are able to deliver – more than babies,” she says.
Katja Iversen’s advice to the business community is to be inspired and really get involved.
“The business community is used to making investments. They can turn out to be both good and bad. But when we are talking about investing in women, it can almost only be a good thing,” she says.
46 years old.
CEO of Women Deliver since April 2014.
Degree in Economics and Communications from the Roskilde University.
Previously head of communication at Sex & Society, had her own communications business, worked as a media advisor and campaign coordinator at UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and head of communication at UNICEF.
Advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative and the World Bank.
“These days there is no contradiction when you talk about making money and doing good. These two things can go hand in hand. The photography exhibition exemplifies incredibly well our message that women are able to deliver – more than babies”