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Women for Change Launch

By Jessica Best, Programme Manager

Dame Stephanie Shirley launched the Women for Change Breakfast Club on Wednesday 23rd of September at Shiva Hotels’ iconic Kingsway Hall. The event was a huge success and we were delighted to welcome such an interesting and diverse audience. Voice of Freedom opened the evening with an inspiring and thought-provoking exhibition that managed to capture the plight of trafficked victims whilst highlighting the powerful message of hope and change. Leila Segal, the charity’s Director, spoke of the Women for Change as an “exciting, dynamic initiative that promises to connect those who want to end human rights abuses with activists and practitioners on the ground”.

The Directors of Shiva and GMSP Foundations, Meenal and Sonal Sachdev, introduced the Social Impact Series by highlighting the difficulties they have experienced when engaging with the social impact sector whilst working in the city. “Many of us feel moved and passionate about these issues, but we also feel somewhat powerless to help”. The Breakfast Club wants to address this problem by bringing skilled and talented women to a room where they can discuss how to move forward and make a real impact on some of the world’s most challenging issues.

Keynote speaker, Dame Stephanie Shirley, shared her story with a captivated audience, taking us through her harrowing journey of fleeing Nazi Germany to becoming one of the most successful women entrepreneurs of her time. After living with her foster family, Dame Stephanie developed a passion for England that “only someone who has lost their human rights can feel”. She challenged attendees to follow their passions and reflect on their potential as individuals to encourage change. She boldly stated that if you don’t commit to making a difference, you are really just taking up space in the world.

This message resonates strongly with the idea behind the Women for Change. As a network focused on developing the potential of women in the social impact sector, we think it’s critical for women to invest not only in developing their financial capital, but also to use their skills and resources for social good. By investing in these issues with a gender lens, it is possible to tackle some of the world’s worst human rights abuses.

In an ideal world, this network would be impartial to gender on the basis that men are just as much part of the solution as women. However, we believe that investment in this area has become dominated by the male perspective. Considering the number of issues that affect women every single day, including female genital mutilation, sexual exploitation and access to health, among others, how is it possible to design for women, but not with them? Our hope is that we can expand this scope to include more diversity in the way we address these issues and eventually influence more action.

City Philanthropy’s Cheryl Chapman got straight to the point in her speech when she identified giving as an opportunity to connect with others and connect with issues. The Women for Change network hopes to engage and interact its members in a way that allows them to participate with issues of their choice. The sector is constantly needing to be reinvented and we want women who are aware of their skills and talent to offer organisations doing social good the assistance they need to achieve the maximum impact. As Dame Stephanie perfectly summarised: “The more I give, the richer my life becomes”.

The network seeks to make this possible for our members by holding a series of seminars and workshops throughout the year that will allow them to connect and engage with leading experts in the field. Attending the Breakfast Club will give women the ability to identify their skills and resources and learn how to match these with the needs of social change organisations. The network intends for members to realise their potential and take action as we believe that women are instrumental in this fight to challenge and address complex social issues.

If you were one of the many people who lined up to buy a signed copy of Dame Stephanie’s memoir “Let It Go”, then you were probably lucky enough to speak to her directly. But if you didn’t have a chance, I would strongly recommend reading it, as it will not only inspire you to address the concept of giving and sharing head on, but it will offer you a whole new perspective on how to invest in society and in yourself.

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