Simone de Beauvoir, the French writer, philosopher and feminist once said:
“Being a woman is not simply about being of a certain sex, it’s about being classified in society in a certain way.”
As my term as your President draws to a close, we reflect on progress and look forward to the future. It is now widely understood that for us to make global progress there must be equality, and UN Secretary-General, António Guterres is quoted as saying: “We cannot build the future we want and achieve the targets within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), without the full participation of women”. We know this, understand this, and we as Soroptimists will continue to take the steps forward to achieve this.
As SI President, together with the Board of Directors, Executive Team, Committee members, UN Representatives, HQ staff and Presidential appointees, our work has covered five key areas: Global Advocacy, Global Communications, the SI Convention, Strategic Leadership, and the Soroptimist International President’s Appeal. Many of the future-focused objectives first set out by the board in Rotterdam at the launch of my 2017-2019 biennium, have now been realised, each prioritising one of the five pillars of SI work.
As we prepare to welcome the new SI President, Sharon Fisher, the organisation now has representation at seven UN centres and I would like to thank a phenomenal team of 20 United Nations Representatives, led by SI Director of Advocacy, Beverly Bucur, who have re-energised our Global Advocacy, building and expanding on the excellent work that has gone before. This dedicated work has assured the promotion of SI and increased our presence as a Global Voice for women & girls on the international stage.
During the last two years I have joined many of our UN Representatives and Soroptimist delegates at key international events, engaging and negotiating; challenging structural and societal inequalities. The grassroots work of Soroptimists has been showcased – your work fuels the Advocacy fire – providing the evidence we need to demand the inclusion of the needs of women and girls in international development, national policies, and programmes.
The SI President’s Appeal 2017-2019 ‘Women, Water & Leadership’ Appeal has reached a level I could only dream of, thanks to your astonishing support. Responding to one of today’s top five global risks that deeply affects women and girls, the appeal has taken steps to implement SDGs 4, Quality Education; 5, Gender Equality, and 6, Water for all. Our projects in Kenya, Bulgaria, Indonesia, and Malaysia, not only generate improved access to water, but they go much further, working with women in their communities, many suffering the effects of climate change, water scarcity, and a lack of food security, and we have educated and empowered, positioning women as innovators and decision-makers, ensuring they have the opportunities to stand as key providers and drivers of their own water, food, and economic solutions.
Thanks to all of you, and the committed work of PA Chair Hafdis Karlsdottir, the Soroptimist International Federations, the country project leaders and their teams, together we have raised an astounding £405,000. We are working on a comprehensive impact report that will detail accomplishments and this will be available to you through the SI website in 2020.
I have often shared my belief that clear and transparent communication is vital to the future of our organisation – and I mean this internally as well as externally. Furthermore, that our key strength as a Global Voice for Women – is each and every one of you – more than 70,000 professional women, each gifted with their own expertise, skills, knowledge, and network – and when united, we form an unbreakable bond; we are the glue that binds our global organisation.
I imagined in Rotterdam, a means to utilise these skills and experience; to digitally connect the membership around the world and create a global communications platform – a vision that I hope to continue to help become a reality. In July 2019, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, welcomed the 21st Soroptimist International, hosted by the South West Pacific Federation. Honourable guests and a wealth of speakers presented on essential topics such as Climate Change; Human Trafficking; Gender Equality, Health, Water, and Food Security. I would like to share my thanks to SI Convention Chair Puan Sri Siew Yong Gnanalingham, the local committee, and everyone involved, who worked with such energy to ensure the Convention surpassed expectation and delivered a professional, accessible and memorable event worthy of a global women’s organisation of our distinction and heritage.
The Africa Task Force Teams, supported by you, Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland, Soroptimist International of Europe; and, Soroptimist International Head Quarters, has unified the aims, ambitions, and objectives of all, in the creation of a brand-new Federation. The work of the taskforce and the Committee has proved inspiring, and at the SI Board meeting in Kuala Lumpur, a unanimous decision was made to approve the SI Africa Federation Charter application, subject to the two thousand membership criteria being met, and subject to an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the clubs in Africa.
It is true that much of our strength lies within our history. The women in our past, and those here now, have given everything to change the outlook for women and girls. The breadth and diversity of our organisation is inspiring, and our brilliance lies here, within our people. However, to remain relevant we must work together to unify our message, to streamline our vision, our brand, and our business practices and procedures, to become more accessible, more pertinent to the next generation. We must embrace new technologies, explore new perspectives, find new ways of doing old things, and encourage new membership by listening to what it is they have to say, and viewing our organisation through their eyes, as well as our own.
In 2021, Soroptimist International will celebrate its 100th anniversary, an opportunity for us all to celebrate the tireless work undertaken by Soroptimists, however, it is also a remarkable opportunity for us to ensure that going forward, our organisation remains relevant. I ask you for a moment to visualise our global organisation in another 100 years. Where do we wish to be? What is it our organisation needs to do to arrive there?
I’ll leave you with a quote I read:
“Equality is like driving a car up the hill. You have to keep your foot on the accelerator otherwise you’ll roll back down the hill really quickly” – Maria Adamson, Middlesex University Business School.
Thank you for your support, guidance, and friendship,
SI President 2017-2019