What is BPW?

The International Federation of Business and Professional Women (BPW International) was founded by Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips in 1930


BPW International is one of the most influential international networks of business and professional women with affiliates in over 100 countries in five continents. Its members include influential women leaders, entrepreneurs, business owners, executives, professionals and young business and professional women.

International Theme 2021-2024

New Actions through Cooperation

President 2021-2024

Dr. Catherine Bosshart, Switzerland / France

Candle Lighting Ceremony

More than 90 years ago, in 1930, BPW International was founded by Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips from the United States of America and a few years later she conceived the idea of the Candle Lighting Ceremony. 

As we perform this ceremony, we will evoke historical memories, the many accomplishments and celebrate today’s achievements. The candles symbolize the ambitions and endeavors of dedicated women in every country around the world. 

> President's Message for the Candle Lighting Ceremony


BPW International develops the business, professional and leadership potential of women on all levels through advocacy, education, mentoring, networking, skill building, and economic empowerment programmes and projects around the world.


BPW International aims to unite business and professional women in all parts of the world to

1. Work for women's 

  • economic independence 
  • equal opportunity and representation in economic, civil and political life

2. Encourage and support women and girls to: 

  • develop their professional and leadership potential 
  • undertake lifelong education and training 
  • use their abilities for the benefit of others, locally, nationally and internationally

3. Advocate 

  • for the elimination of all discrimination against women 
  • for human rights and the use of gender-sensitive perspectives

4. Undertake

  • world-wide networking and co-operation between business and professional women 
  • non-profit projects that help women gain economic independence to present the views of business and professional women to international organisations and agencies, and to business, governments and civil society

UN Connections

The root of BPW’s advocacy is embedded in the work with the United Nations. BPW lobbied for the formation of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and supported many women’s issues. BPW was awarded a Peace Messenger Certificate from UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar in 1987. Esther Hymer, BPW representative at the UN, was the first Chair of NGO CSW committee and was named as one of three women playing a significant role in the work of the UN Commission by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1997.

Today, BPW continues its representation at UN Headquarters in New York, Vienna, Geneva; UN regional offices (UNECA, UNECE, UNESCAP, UNESCWA, UNECLAC); UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO, WHO, UNCTAD, UNIDO, FAO, UN DPI; Council of Europe; European Women’s Lobby and continues to work closely with UN Women.


  • Consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1947
  • Consultative status with the Council of Europe since 1977
  • Member of Civil Society of Organization of American States (OAS) since 2009


BPW International was founded as International Federation of Business and Professional Women IFBPW in Geneva, Switzerland, on August 26, 1930, on the initiative of Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips. As President of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs of the United States of America, she organized several "Goodwill Tours" to Europe in 1928 and 1929.

Hundreds of American women participated in these tours with the purpose of meeting business and professional women in Europe and promoting affiliation with them. The founding member countries of the international federation were Austria, Canada, France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States of America. Dr. Lena Madesin Phillips was elected as the first IFBPW President and served until 1947.

The International Federation of Business and Professional Women is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that has had Consultative Status with the United Nations through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1947. At present there are a total of twenty-one members serving as representatives of IFBPW at the United Nations and its subsidiary organs, specialized agencies and related organizations.