Interview with Marlène van Benthem, Soroptimist Lab Developer 2017-2019, Past Programme Director of Union of the Netherlands and of SIE
How many Soroptimist International (SI) Conventions have you attended during your Soroptimist career and which were they?
“In 2015, I attended the SI Convention in Istanbul.”
Could you describe why you think it is important that members and delegates attend the SI Conventions?
“Attending International Convention makes you feel you really are a member of an international organisation. The story you tell others when talking about Soroptimism, about SI having clubs in over 120 countries and that there are more than 75,000 members, really comes alive during SI Conventions. You hear about the most successful projects of other Federations during Best Practice Award presentations. In Istanbul, the Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland best practice presentation was fantastic. They had a washing line on stage with bras and shirts and shorts to demonstrate that they had collected underwear for women through a project in Africa. So, I love the projects that came to my attention but am also hugely inspired by the speakers and their impressive stories. You really come home with so much information and inspiration, so many contacts, and a much better understanding of the fact that we really can make a difference when we work together.”
Can you think of two or three keywords that you would associate with SI Conventions?
“First of all, it would be overwhelming, the friendship of Soroptimists from all over the world.
Second, information, a high level on why we are Soroptimist.
Third, is challenge, to contribute and be an active member of this organisation because I want to make the difference.”
Could you tell us a few things that enriched your personal development from previous Conventions?
“The importance of listening behind the words! Behind the words, there is a whole culture and a whole life experience. Understanding each other, coming from so many countries, is a challenge, but if you really ‘listen’ and ask for an explanation when something is not clear, a whole world opens up to you.
We, in the Netherlands are so quick to have an opinion on almost anything. In the setting of an SI Convention, you become quiet and learn there is actually so much you do not know. Being a member of Soroptimist International gives you the chance to reach out to so many women who can each give you their story. It makes you humble and at the same time rich, knowing that you have this large network around you.
Another thing I brought home was courage! Amongst the speakers are brave women who empower the women in the audience through their stories and their lives. I felt uplifted to be more courageous in my own life.”
What were you able to take back and use in your Soroptimist work from previous Conventions?
“For my work as Programme Director for the Dutch Union and for Soroptimist International of Europe (SIE), it was fantastic training. Having so many contacts makes you very valuable to your Union and all Soroptimists who want to contribute or just want to learn.
All we do needs context, why do we choose the project we do, is it really contributing to our mission, is it sustainable, how can we reach out to our representatives at the United Nations (UN) to link programme work to advocacy. And what is at stake in the UN, how can we contribute? What are other countries doing for projects? You learn that based on the culture of every country they have different ways of taking up projects. Some countries have great support of their government, here in the Netherlands they know us.
What are you particularly looking forward to in Kuala Lumpur this coming July?
“I have never been to this region, so I hope to soak up the atmosphere of this continent. I will meet many Soroptimists I have befriended from so many different countries and make new Soroptimist friend for sure. I look forward to immersing myself in a fantastic bubble of friendship and talks by inspiring speakers.”
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about SI Conventions?
“Soroptimists come to Conventions with gadgets to sell for their projects. I am always on the lookout for interesting pins or a brooch with our logo on it.
And if you can attend the AGM, that will really give you an overview of where we stand together as SI. It is overwhelming to see how a new President is supported and brings new ideas and focus for the membership.”
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