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President’s Message December 2020

I am delighted that Chevonne is writing the President’s Blog this month, throughout the year you will have the opportunity of hearing from all the members of the Board.

 

It is my absolute honour and pleasure to serve you for the next two years as the Director of Membership. One of my main attractions to this post of Membership Director was the fact that in my ten years as a Soroptimist, while I absolutely value the work which we do and its impact, the main factor which has always kept me going has been the relationships and sisterhood among the membership, particularly in my own club. During this time, I can definitely say that I’ve experienced the true meaning of sisterhood and friendship in its purest sense.

Membership is one of the major pillars of Soroptimism and, like many voluntary organisations, our membership has an aging profile. We may ask ourselves what are the causes of this? Are members losing interest? Are we as an organisation keeping ourselves relevant? Are we meeting the needs of our members? All very relevant questions but none with any simple answers.

Emerge Woman Magazine defines sisterhood as:

“loving and accepting someone where they are, but consistently inspiring them to their highest potential”

Having read this definition, I was forced to reflect. Can we truly say that we share this view of sisterhood? Are we accepting our members as they are or having an expectation that they fit into a specific mold? Does this have an impact on our membership? I think we’ll realise that we may in fact have many more questions than answers, but where do we start?

I would start by asking ourselves, “Why are we Soroptimists?” The answers to this question will vary widely. Some members are drawn to programme work and volunteerism, others to a platform for advocacy in an attempt to advance the agenda of equality for women and girls. Going even further, we have members who yearn for connection and friendship and that’s their main focus. Whatever the motivation, it is important to remember that we must stay focused on our goals and objectives which can only be fulfilled if we work together and build our membership.

So what are some key issues within membership?

Diversity! Again many questions arise, but most importantly how do we diversify our membership? When we speak of diversity here, we refer to all aspects of diversity, including age, ethnicity, and social backgrounds. Many have held the erroneous view that diversity happens organically. However, there is enough research now to show that diversity is something that we have to actively seek. Everything from how we communicate, what we communicate and how quickly we communicate impacts our diversity. In order to attract the diverse, we must be diverse in every single thing that we do! If nothing else, we have surely been forced to diversify our communication this year as many clubs had to quickly switch to Zoom and GoTo Meetings, and it has even given rise to the formation and potential for a series of virtual clubs. Is this our new reality? While this is possibly the case, and while many have embraced this, it has also led to exclusion and isolation of some. Therefore, what is the middle ground? Blended clubs?

Development! As an organisation, we focus much of our time and attention on developing women and girls worldwide. How are we developing our own members? What are we investing into our own personal growth and development? One of my first experiences with Soroptimism, before I even became one myself, was attending a Development Day hosted by the National Association. While our aims and objects focus on bringing value to women and girls we have to start creating that value from within. We must ask ourselves what are our skill sets and talents and how can we share these and bring value to our own members. Not only would the learning and sharing be appreciated, but it is an opportunity for us to build confidence, support and camaraderie with each other, thereby strengthening our internal bonds. Also, if we quickly return to the definition of sisterhood shared above, it requires us learning to accept and appreciate our differences and use them as strengths.

2020 has been an extremely overwhelming year for us all. The global pandemic has literally changed the entire world and its operation. I would dare to say that focusing on membership is even more important now than before. This is because we have many persons who are struggling with issues of anxiety, isolation and depression as we navigate the stringent measures which require separation in exchange for safety. The human need for contact and socialisation has been severely curtailed and we don’t appear to have a specific end date. The new buzz words have become “Build back Better” and the question remains, “how?”

Again, this may not be a straightforward answer but we can surely start by strengthening our connections and “being our sisters’ keeper”. While we may be forced to have less face to face personal interactions, it doesn’t have to mean less personal relationships. Pick up the phone, send a text, pen a letter or send an email but let’s stay focused on our basic need for human connection and build back better starting with the strengthening of the bonds within our membership.

Chevonne Agana
SIGBI Director of Membership