FORTUNE -- The glasses of Sauvignon Blanc being passed about wasn't what was fueling the buzz that filled the U.S. State Department's Jefferson Room Monday evening. Instead, it was the knowledge that the "strongest advocate for women in the world," as assistant secretary of state Ann Stock put it, was about to enter the room.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed attendees of the Fortune Most Powerful Women dinner in Washington, launching the seventh annual Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership. Unable to stay for the entire event, Clinton joked with the crowd, "We worked out a date for the prime minister of Japan to come to Washington and when the White House said, 'Well, why don't you have a dinner for him at the State Department?' I said, 'Well, we've already got this other dinner at the State Department, and I'm not about to ask them to move.'" Instead, she asked Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to head to the National Geographic Society building just a mile or so away (the dinner she had to run to).
The mentoring program connects rising businesswomen from emerging economies with U.S. corporate superstars. Over the next month, the 25 mentees – from 17 different countries – will connect with women like Tory Burch, Molly Ashby of Solera Capital, Susan Chambers of Wal-Mart (WMT), Marissa Mayer of Google (GOOG), Bridget Van Kralingen of IBM (IBM), and Time Inc. CEO Laura Lang (Time Inc. is Fortune's parent company). "I really believe in this kind of mentoring and networking, because all too often it's lonely out there, it's hard out there, and you need support and guidance along the way," Clinton told the crowd. "And for me, that's not only important on a personal level, but I've seen the difference that women leaders, women activists, women citizens can make from one end of the world to the other."
Clinton then opened the floor for Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the longest-serving female in Congress. After making a joke about the now infamous picture of Clinton sipping on a beer in Cartagena ("It's hard to drink the water, and the beers are pasteurized and safe."), Mikulski shared a true nugget of advice with the mentees: You'll face hardship, you'll face ridicule, people will say no. But you're greatest no may lead to your greatest yes. More
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