Tag Archives: Leadership

We’ll Make sure you Win, Unopposed!

Sitting cross legged (awkwardly on my part) on thin mattresses on the cold tiled floors of the unheated Hotel Harshikhar, in Bhimtal, Northern India, we heard from 15 Elected Women Representatives or community leaders who traveled many hours to share the issues within their communities and the wins they’d had during the last four+ years of their time in office.

The Business Chicks with me had traveled from all over Australia to hear their stories, and one that stood out for me, was Hema.

“First and foremost,” she said, “women were not taken seriously.  Their voices had not been heard, and this caused fear and anxiety when they wanted to express their opinions.”

She thanked the women of the organisations who partnered with The Hunger Project to teach women their rights, and how to be heard.  She was grateful for the assistance to build her own confidence to fully be her best in her role.

Hema fought for water issues and is now proud that every house in her village has access to water and that tanks have been constructed for families who need them.

She’s received an award from the State Government for having a modern panchayat (village council) where all basic services were covered.  This resulted in an award of 200,000 rupees (AU$4,000) for her village.  She also received an award for cleanliness and sanitation from her district.  This lady is a winner!

In her spare time, she’s chosen to fund education for 2 very poor girls in her village whose parents are unable to meet the costs of schooling.  There was also no land for a creche for the smaller children, so she donated part of her own property for that too.

Hema is also a bit of an entrepreneur and now has 5 women in the village making paper packets that can be sold at market to provide them with an income.  Her passions are teaching others about animal husbandry and ensuring that women understand about savings and being able to provide for themselves.

Domestic violence fueled by alcoholism is also a problem in her area and many women don’t know what their options are but come to her for advice.  Bravely, Hema has confronted the husbands to have a discussion about their behavior prior to escalating matters to the police.  One man objected to her interfering with belting his wife and even went to strike her, but she managed to grab his arm.  Strongly, she stood her ground telling him that she was here for a conversation and if he chose to also abuse her, the matter would go to the authorities.  What a powerhouse!

Some men in the area work away at companies or serve in the army to financially assist their families, but some just choose not to contribute to the financial upkeep of their homes.  This is why Hema is so passionate about ensuring the women can earn a living and put away savings for when needed.  (Sounds like she’s also a part-time financial counselor!)

Hema still has more work to accomplish.  She wants to again contest the elections later this year and be back to serve and make a difference for the next five years.  It’s no wonder the women in her village have assured her this election year, that they’ll make sure she wins again, unopposed.

“May all our Wishes be Granted”

Our field visit on my Business Chicks Leadership & Immersion Program with The Hunger Project, today took us back to Bhimtal where Elected Women Representatives traveled for 6-8 hours stuffed into Jeeps to join us and share the work that they’d accomplished in their local areas during the course of their service.

For some context, the area we’re staying in Nainital, the capital city of Uttarakhand in Northern India is at an altitude of 2,084m.  Australia’s tallest mountain, Kosciusko stands at 2,228m and Everest at 8,848m.

Little Pushpa sat by me cross legged in the unheated hotel room we met in.  And, she may have looked like the quiet retiring type when we first met, but as turns out, she’s hard to keep quiet once you get her started.

She was married at 19 and 31 years later, is still going strong.

She’s currently president of her local panchayat (council/community area) having worked with local self-help groups for 15 years prior.  She’s always been very community aware but was unable to do more before quotas were introduced for women to be elected.  She wanted to take on a political role and make a real and bigger difference.

She’s proud of having constructed a Marriage Hall in her area as there was no facility for weddings, and 7-8 local marriages have already taken place there.

She’s also managed to have water supply brought to her village from over 6 kms away to stop women doing the trek daily.  In the mountainous area she lives, this is incredibly difficult and often extremely cold, as you’d expect in the far north of India by the Himalayas.

Apart from that, she’s lobbied for a local creche and now around 26 children attend daily.

There’s a small river that also runs by her panchayat and she’s worried about flooding in the monsoon season, so she’s determined to have a retainer wall erected to protect the village.

After training with The Hunger Project’s local partners in Uttarakhand, she now has the confidence to head off to her local capital city and petition for help.

Pushpa has been in her role and accomplished much in the past 5 years and is hoping to stand again for re-election later this year.  Her request?  “May all our wishes come true.”

And, if you were worried that she really hadn’t done enough to qualify again, she’s also had 110 toilets constructed, but needs 15 more, along with a safer method of sewerage disposal.  She’d determined to be back to finish her work!

As she beautifully put it, “I will do this work to my dying breath.”

What a beautiful lesson in humble leadership she was for us.

Indian Adventures Ahead!

So, the time has finally arrived and it’s just a little bit exciting!

I’m currently in transit between Singapore and Delhi and off on my  latest adventure – the Business Chicks Leadership and Immersion Program with The Hunger Project (THP.)

An amazing group of ladies have applied, been selected and raised at least $10,000 each for this great charity.  So first, a huuuge thank you to those who supported my fundraising efforts, (again!) and massive kudos to The Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) Foundation for coming through with a fabulous grant of US$5,000.  There’s still time to donate, so if you feel the urge, head to Amanda’s Fundraising Page.

I’ve seen the work of THP now in Uganda and Malawi in Africa and can’t wait to see the difference that THP has made in the lives of the villagers in India also.  It’s a completely different program in India, tailored to the needs of each region.

Knowing a little about more what to expect this time, I’m looking forward to meeting the women who’ve stepped up and are now making a difference in their communities, assisting in providing sanitation so women and girls can go the toilet in safety, ensuring children stay in education and stopping child marriage.

Often, these women are illiterate and uneducated themselves and it’s a huge leap to put their hand up and become elected representatives and considered as leaders in their local panchayat (council.)

We start in Delhi before heading up to Naini Tal in the foothills of the Himalayas.  The thermals are packed, alongside the immodium and I’m getting ready to curry it up with the best of them.

Anyone who has ever been to India tells me you either love it or hate it!  The chaos, the smells and the busyness and noises can be completely overwhelming… So, here’s me, open to an experience bigger than the rumored smells of armpit and curry.  I can’t wait for the dust, the spice, the colour and bustle of it all.

After spending much time on Ancestry in the past few months it feels as if India is in my blood.  In the mid-1700’s my Greek ancestors headed from Philippopolis to Dhaka and Kolkata to engage in trade and were there as Ralli Brothers and the East India Company plied their trade. For generations, they lived and worked on the sub-continent with my great-grandmother and great-grandfather finally settling in Melbourne before returning to entertain the British troops stationed in India in WWII.  My grandparents met there and my father and  uncles all started life in this amazing country.

I won’t be able to explore their old stomping grounds this trip, but I’m very much looking forward to learning more about the people and culture my ancestors have been immersed in for over two centuries.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

Meet lovely Charity

As part of my recent trip to Malawi, I met lovely Charity.  She is a mother of 4 children – 3 girls and 1 boy.  Charity is fortunate as she’s had the opportunity to put all her children through school.

Our welcome to her village started with a beautiful dance, songs and welcome from the local women and we were all happy to join in, when we could take our eyes off the gorgeous children who were amazed to meet all the nzungu (white people) who’d invaded their humble homes.

Some years ago, Charity had no business and no form of income.  Today, she runs a hair salon at the local trading centre and employs 2 local women to work in her salon.  The braiding to keep that incredible African hair under control is very popular!

Thanks to the SACCO (Savings & Credit Co-operative) introduced by The Hunger Project in her area, she was introduced to microfinance and had the opportunity to take out small loans.  She was able to increase her shares in the SACCO as her income improved to continue to borrow more.

Aside from her salon, she has ivested in pigs, and has now bought and sold around 15.  She currently has one left and 2 piglets.

Her largest loan to date is 100,000 Malawian Kwacha MKW (approx AUD $186.)

Like all true entrepreneurs, she’s staked it all, backed herself to get her family out of poverty and isn’t slowing down!  Next step, she’d like a loan of 500,000 – 1 million MKW (AUD$929 – $1,858) to expand into a new hairdressing salon.

She has been able to influence 19 other women in her village so far to see the benefits of microfinance loans and couldn’t even begin to list all the benefits she’s personally seen so far.

Other advantages have also spread to include farm input credits and assist those living with HIV.

Charity had every reason to believe her life would remain below the poverty line where most of those in rural Malawi are, existing on less than USD$1.25 per day.  Yet with a change of mindset and some incredible leadership skills, she’s amazingly chosen to turn it all around.

A true inspiration!

 

Time to be Transformational!

It’s so lovely to take time out in our busy lives to reflect, and on the first day of the Business Chicks Leadership and Immersion program to Malawi with The Hunger Project, we got to do just that.

To start our day, we reflected on all those things in our lives that we were so grateful for which was very special.  Families featured strongly, along with hot running water and electricity and the gift of being born in a country like Australia.   Now at the conclusion of our fundraising journey and before we head out to visit our Village Partners, we visited what we’re most proud of and the leadership lessons we’ve learned so far.

It’s so great to just stop and think about everything we’ve achieved to be here.  Often when congratulations are offered or people praise us for the work we’ve done, we’re quick to wave them aside and move on… but it has been an epic journey to raise $10,000 for a cause that means something to us and step outside of our usual operating space and into where the magic happens.

Many realised how we’re capable of so much more than we thought possible, others thrived on the importance of collaboration and some shared that Fear was their greatest teacher.  Also, it’s ok to prioritise ourselves and that receiving help can be empowering. So many learnings!  My notebook is bursting already!

We learned how to be more present to take in comprehensively what we’re about to encounter in the villages, and that in being uncomfortable or challenged means we’re ready for growth.

A lesson learnt in Uganda last year was highlighted – that we need to “stop being so transactional and start being transformational” – definitely words from the wise. (Thank you Joel!)

Next was taking on the true understanding of chronic persistent hunger and how the symptoms we’ll see are merely the visual from deep rooted social and mental structures.

“It’s hard to create a vision when you don’t even believe that you’re worthy of having one.”  We identified and confronted our own fears for the coming days and weeks and those we’d face on our return home.

It was then time to learn how The Hunger Project tackles the huge issues of poverty and hunger with 5 seemingly basic steps:

  1. Change in Mindset
  2. Good Leadership
  3. Vision
  4. Commitment
  5. Action

Sounds so simple right?  Yet the mindset training alone takes up to two years!  It also makes us challenge what holds us back?  What are beliefs we have that keep us back from achieving all that we want?  Some deep diving to be done here!

The fabulous country director of The Hunger Project Malawi, Rolands Koatcha then spent a couple of hours explaining his own background in the villages, personally facing poverty and hunger with his eight siblings and how education has transformed his life, and of his passion and purpose in changing the lives of his fellow Malawian brothers.

All in all, a very long, epic day full of sharing, love, laughter and tears and preparation for us to head out into the field tomorrow to see one centre firsthand already at the stage of self-reliance and meet the people whose lives are being changed every day.

The Gang’s All Here! Let the Adventures Begin…

Well, yesterday saw the arrival of all the gorgeous girls joining us on our adventure with The Hunger Project.

All have undertaken a personal journey to be here and have had to commit to raising the $10,000 in fundraising… No mean feat.

We shared a lovely welcome dinner last night and settled in for a big sleep prior to kick-off today.  A club over the road however blasted away til about 4 am making a full nights’ sleep a little difficult.

After another great breakfast and gorgeous sky started our day, and we headed off for our leadership program to begin.

Today started with a brilliant dance session by a talented Ugandan group who had us all shaking our tail feathers after receiving our gorgeous gifts of scarves and skirts.

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We then settled in to learn lessons in leadership, forged closer bonds with our fellow travellers, and heard from the local country director, Daisy who inspired us with the work done in the epicentres around the southern part of Uganda, some of those we’ll visit on our travels.

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We’ve been encouraged to dream, confront our fears, be mindful, respectful and challenged as to how we truly listen.

Making the most of this journey will involve being open to the new, letting go of past beliefs and future expectations and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”  Jiddu Krishnamurti

After the confront of yesterday’s paper, today’s ran a 20 page feature focussed on Mother’s Day – reminding some of us of the babies we’ve parted with to be on this journey and restoring faith that motherhood is a gift, and a usually, a universally appreciated one.

And we’re all completely loving the buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner! It seems so surreal that surrounded by such luxury and comfort that we’re actually here to visit some of the most marginalised people on earth… not that far away…

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