Today when I return to Sacramento, it will be three years since I stepped down as first lady of this great state. A lot of things in my life have changed since then, but not the friendships and love of my Sacramento circle.
It’s no secret I wasn’t thrilled in 2003 to leave my broadcast journalism career and go into what I’d thought of since childhood as our “family business” of politics and service. But the work I started here as first lady has turned out to be some of the most meaningful work in my life and still motivates me today.
I’m here to participate in “She Shares,” a conversation series dedicated to mentoring the next generation of women leaders ( www.sheshares.net) and inspired by the Women’s Conference – the biggest and highest-profile gathering about women in the world, produced and powered by women I met in Sacramento.
I’m looking forward to talking about our newest “Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink,” a comprehensive study I co-authored with the Center for American Progress ( www.ShriverReport.org.).
We reported that one in three women in this country live in economic insecurity – a shocking 42 million women and the 28 million children who depend on them living on or over the brink of poverty.
I met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office to discuss our findings, encouraging him to use the State of the Union to give voice to these women and their needs. I was thrilled to have him recognize our central thesis when he said, “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
It was, after all, during my time as California’s first lady that I was able to focus my reporter’s eye on the status of working women and their families. Sacramento is a city of many talented leaders and doers, and together we invented programs that are helping millions of people to this day.
When our team worked on the Women’s Conference, it became obvious very quickly that women were facing a new array of challenges in a radically transformed social environment. America had become a woman’s nation but didn’t really realize it.
This one-of-a-kind forum inspired a more expansive and detailed examination of the status of the American woman, and thus “The Shriver Reports” were born. And it was Sacramento native Karen Skelton who pushed me to keep the momentum going with three Shriver Reports – comprehensive examinations of seismic societal, cultural and economic changes affecting American women and families.
Together we’ll be giving this year’s Shriver Report to the governor, legislators and policy leaders who have made California a leader in helping working families. And I’ll encourage them and everyone I meet to watch our HBO documentary “Paycheck to Paycheck” on March 17 and do what they can to help move women off the brink.
It was the success of the Women’s Conference that also gave rise to innovative programs like “We Connect,” which, with the support of the California Endowment, is still helping families gain access to private and public support services that help them gain economic mobility. And, it launched “We Invest,” which became the first-ever national online micro-lending program, in partnership with Kiva.
I’m excited that today’s She Shares conversation will be held at our California History Museum. It was the Women’s Conference that inspired and helped fund the Minerva Award exhibit, the Remarkable Women’s exhibit and the museum’s California Hall of Fame.
I’m proud that we started California’s first-in-the-nation Cabinet-level Department of Service and Volunteering and that Chief Service Officer Karen Baker continues to serve, encouraging Californians to volunteer. Working with this office taught me that the job of helping people get off the economic brink wasn’t the job of government alone, but needed business and community groups as partners.
Sacramento was good for me and good to me.
I learned to use my voice to create initiatives that work. I learned that no one political party has all the answers and that I could do wonderful work and have great times with people who have an “R” and a “D” after their names.
And while millions of families struggled then and struggle today, I feel passionately about being here to recommend the public, private and personal solutions we outline in The Shriver Report so we can continue the conversation about how to move forward.
The song says that people leave their hearts in San Francisco. Well, I left part of mine in Sacramento, and that’s just fine with me. I’ve made lifelong friends here, and I’m excited to be back.
Maria Shriver is an author, producer and an NBC News special anchor reporting on the shifting roles, evolving needs and emerging power of women today.