In just a few weeks, Plan International USA’s Washington DC office will be alive with the sounds of 26 women from 16 countries meeting for the first time. Participants in Plan’s WomenLead Institute’s (WLI) Global Women in Management (GWIM) workshop, which has been sponsored by ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunities Initiative since 2005, will enter the training room. Although they may not realize it at the time, this cadre of women will soon become life-long friends and champions of each other’s success.
I’ve had the pleasure of sitting on a selection panel to review their applications. I know that each one of them has earned the right to be there. Their impressive credentials and experience will enrich the group. As one of the GWIM facilitators, I also know what awaits them over the next four weeks and for years to come.
The next month will be intense. The women will explore their personal leadership values and strengths, deepen their management skills to strengthen their organizations, enhance their technical knowledge for running economic empowerment programs, visit businesses and organizations, and hear from inspiring speakers. They’ll network and share best practices. They will do all this while juggling their responsibilities back home, often working late into the night to answer work emails and calls from their families.
I am often asked what makes GWIM so impactful. My response is that we invest deeply in a group of individuals that we believe has the potential to pay it forward tenfold. The month-long residential workshop is followed by a year of woman-to-woman coaching and networking support. These women are already remarkable leaders and the GWIM program affords them the opportunity to connect with other extraordinary women in multiple ways. With every GWIM cohort, I am in awe of what happens when you give women the space to grow, take risks, and support other women.
I frequently hear from alumnae, sometimes years after completing the program. They write and call to share stories of their successes and how they’ve passed on what they learned to others. My favorite stories are the ones where alumnae find ways to work together and support one another long after the workshop is over.
Take Tess and Elizabeth from Papua New Guinea. Tess recently won the Queen’s Young Leaders Award and had the opportunity to meet the Queen of England. She reached out to her GWIM sister, Elizabeth, a fashion designer she met when they both participated in GWIM 64 in Indonesia, to make her dress for such a distinguished occasion.
Then there’s Belen, an alumna from Argentina who was inspired after attending a regional GWIM in Colombia and asked to be put in touch with a Spanish speaking alumna in Africa, interested in collaborating on a project. A few months later she was in Equatorial Guinea volunteering her time and building a webpage for Sinforosa’s organization.
I recently received an email from Lucy, one of our long-time coaches in Ghana, letting me know that her former client from Cameroon, Mary, has invited her to participate in a regional gender conference where they will meet face-to-face for the first time. Mary attended GWIM 51 back in 2009 and the two have remained in contact since but have never had the opportunity to meet in person.
Every week my inbox has a story like these, stories of women building each other up and providing opportunities for one another. Through my work with WLI and programs like GWIM, I’ve seen time and time again that the GWIM motto rings true:
“When women move forward, the world moves with them.”
Follow the conversation on social media:
Use the hashtags #GWIM and #WomenLeaders