This past June 6th was a special day for my good friend Adimaimalaga (Adi) Tafuna’i. She was in Washington with seven other extraordinary women from around the world to be honored at this year’s Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards.

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2012 honorees (left to right): Adi Tafuna’i, Marianne Ibrahim, Salwa Bugaighis, Shatha Alharazi, Samar Minallah Khan, Rosana Schaack, Ruth Zavaleta, Amira Yahyaoui.

With a strategic focus, wide array of programs, and deep support from many of the most prominent women in business, government, NGO, media, and entertainment circles, Vital Voices has become the preeminent non-governmental organization dedicated to empowering women.

Established in 1997 by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in partnership with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the Vital Voices initiative is intended to elevate the status of women through mentoring, training, building networks, and highlighting the extraordinary — but often overlooked — efforts of courageous, tenacious female leaders around the world.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.Please click through for image source.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, venue for this year’s Awards.

Held this year at the impressive John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the banks of the Potomac, the annual Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards celebrate women who are making a difference in their communities by strengthening and expanding democracy, increasing economic opportunity, and protecting human rights.

The gala evening attracts significant attention among opinion leaders and power brokers, and thus provides a valuable platform for raising awareness of the Awards recipients’ efforts. This year, for example, a variety of media including the Washington Post ran stories about the Awards, the winners, and their work.

Please click through for image source.Award recipients, board member, co-chairs of committees, and staff as Vital Voices hosts the 2012 Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center Wednesday, June 6, 2012 in Washington. (Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks)

The eight Award winners pose with Vital Voices board members, committee co-chairs, and staff before the start of the Kennedy Center gala.

Only a small handful of women receive a Vital Voices Award each year. Recognition of Adi is particularly important because women leaders from the Pacific are rarely included on such global lists.  When Adi took the stage in front a full house of more than 2,500 attendees including numerous celebrities, senior officials, and business leaders, she brought much needed attention to the power and potential of the women of the Pacific.

And from what I hear, she made full use of the networking opportunities, as I knew she would. At the event she apparently spoke with fashion legend Diane von Furstenberg about considering Pacific designs for future styles, and she arranged meetings later in the week at the World Bank, USAID, and other Washington-based organizations to discuss development issues and projects.

Please click through for image source.Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, left, Economic Empowerment Award winner Adimaimalaga Tafuna'i of Samoa and Andrea Mitchell, left, as Vital Voices hosts the 2012 Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center Wednesday, June 6, 2012 in Washington. (Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks)

Adi receives her award from U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (left) and news anchor and correspondent Andrea Mitchell (right).

The particular honor conferred on Adi was the special Vital Voices Economic Empowerment Award. I can think of no one more deserving of recognition in that category. Over the past couple of decades Adi has helped thousands of Samoan women take control of their lives, increase their skills, earn income from their homes, and uplift their families.

A visionary entrepreneur, she co-founded Women in Business Development, Inc. (WIBDI) in 1991 and has worked tirelessly to expand, strengthen, and improve its programs. With a growing network of colleagues and supporters she has used WIBDI as a vehicle to create sustainable, culturally rooted economic opportunities for Samoan women and indeed for all Samoans.

Please click through for image source.Chelsea Clinton speaking at the 2012 Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center Wednesday, June 6, 2012 in Washington. (Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks)

Chelsea Clinton speaking at the Awards show before Adi was honored.

WIBDI takes a strategic, diversified approach to economic development by building organically certified agricultural co-ops, seeding micro-finance capabilities, preserving and commercializing Samoan fine-mat weaving and other traditional crafts, providing training and mentoring services, and establishing farmers markets, among other things.

Under WIBDI’s organics project approximately 80,000 acres tended by more than 700 families have been organically certified to international standards. The certification adds significant commercial value to what is cultivated on the land, and opens new and lucrative markets for the end product.

To create the critical mass necessary to compete successfully in international markets, Adi and WIBDI have led development of a region-wide Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community. They are organizing women in Tonga, Fiji, Micronesia, and Vanuatu as well as Samoa to build capacity, create demand, and stabilize supply.

The 2012 Global Leadership Award honorees on stage at the Kennedy Center.

Adi being congratulated on the Kennedy Center stage after the Awards show.

A particularly good example of WIBDI’s work is the contract that Adi negotiated on behalf of Samoan organic coconut growers with The Body Shop of London, which gave many Samoan farmers their first exposure to international markets. Samoan coconut oil is now used in health and beauty products sold in more than 50 countries around the world.

A recognizable organic-and-pure Samoa brand is starting to develop, demand for Samoan oils is increasing, and additional formulations are being tested. To feed that effort, Adi is now working with her colleagues to develop a global market for health and beauty products made with Samoa’s traditional anti-aging secret, the fetau seed.

Please click through for image source.Adi Tafuna'i, Salwa Bugaighis and Ruth Zavaleta sharing a laugh.

Adi enjoying a light moment with two other honorees, Salwa Bugaighis of Libya and Ruth Zavaleta of Mexico.

Among Adi’s great strengths is that she is not just about business. She understands the needs and aspirations of people, and she is known for her kindness, generosity, and patience. Her work strengthens village life and creates a path for others to improve not only their economic but their political, educational, and health prospects.

As I learned first-hand when she and I judged the Miss Samoa beauty pageant together in 2010, she is blessed with more than the normal dose of wisdom and emotional intelligence, along with a fierce tenacity and stoic courage. She is a wonderful role model, and not only for women or for Samoans.

To learn more about Adi and her work, take a look at the video below, produced by the Vital Voices team as part of the Global Leadership Awards process. For more pictures from Adi’s tour of DC and the Awards ceremony, visit the Vital Voices gallery.


Visionary entrepreneur. Strategic thinker. Hands-on organizer. Bull-dog businesswoman. Simply put, Adimaimalaga Tafuna’i is a national, regional, and international treasure. She is making the world a better place, which is the highest compliment that anyone can be paid.

So, big congratulations to Adi on her much deserved Vital Voices Global Leadership Award. And thanks to her and everyone at WIBDI for paving the way for other Pacific women to follow.

Malo le finau mo mea lelei Adi! Ia manuia le tou alo atu i o outou faiva aua le atinaeina o Samoa.