President Liz’s Inaugural Speech – Inspiring Action, Transforming Lives

President Liz Morgan-Lewis’s inaugural speech, made at the Change of Insignia ceremony, is reproduced in full, below:

Liz Morgan-Lewis, Federation President 2010-2011

Inaugural Speech to Federation Conference

Saturday 23 October 2010, Manchester

International President Hanne, distinguished guests, Soroptimists in Conference, friends.

Thank you all for the privilege of this moment. I will do my best to fulfil the duties you expect of me. 

 Jackie you have given us a wonderful year of leadership. It was a historic year in many ways – our 75th year and at the same time our first year as a limited company. I’m taking a risk here and hope I won’t be proved wrong by our archivist – but I think the first year we have had a bee keeper as Federation President! Thank you Queen Bee, your worker bees have been pleased to serve under your quiet, gentle but strong leadership. Thank you for inspiring us to ‘accept your challenge and secure our future’.

I would like to add some personal thanks to Carwen who has guided and encouraged me from my first faltering efforts on her Committee as we rewrote large chunks of the Constitution. Far from falling off her perch she is taking flight –  to fly with me next month to Trinidad as mentor and minder when I have the thrill of chartering the very first club of this Federation year  – SI Newtown. Please wish our newest members long and happy membership and every success!

I am delighted to be serving alongside a strong team of Directors. They have large and demanding portfolios as well as being Directors of our company.

 I thank all of them on your behalf for the work they do for you. 

Congratulations to our Regional, National Association and Network Presidents you have elected to serve you this year and thank you to those who have just completed their term of office. 

Mentors

We are an organisation of mentors – we learn from each other and we should pass that learning on. Don’t pull the ladder up after you – make sure you hold it steady for the woman who is following behind.

That is what Hilary Page did for me – she gave me the opportunity to serve at a level I never expected and I gained so much from my hands on experience at international. 

I must thank too Jane Barrie, Olive Newton and Ann Garvie who gave me the chance to serve on their Conference Committees.  It does sound like a chore and it is hard work but the friendships I made on those committees will last a lifetime.  And where else would you get the chance to add to your CV – ‘helped organise an international conference for 1500 delegates’?

Partners and families

We always thank our partners and families at speeches and dinners, but I want to just quantify what they give us – not just support and a listening ear, but they cook our meals when we are knee deep in e mails, chauffeur us to lunches, dinners and functions, act as social secretary, receptionist, IT expert, and in my case – maths guru.

Families are our toughest critics but our most honest sounding boards. We simply couldn’t achieve what we do without them. Thank you to my husband Roger in particular and tonight I am delighted that my step son John and his girlfriend Lisa are here to support me too. 

The other great job that partners do is to introduce members or as I call it to ‘Share our Secret’. In fact I was introduced to Soroptimists through a male colleague whose wife was a member. This year I have had the privilege of introducing the wife of a work colleague of mine to the organisation as well as Roger’s former boss.  She is here with us at her first conference and I hope it is as memorable for her as my first conference was for me. 

Clubs

 I was fortunate to join at quite a young age. It means that this coming year is my 30th year as a member of SIGBI and since my career has moved me around the country, I have been able to take my membership with me to a number of different Clubs, all of which are very special to me.  

I was first invited to join Soroptimists by SI Bridgend in Wales South.  Dorothy Jamieson who was then a member there held a new members’ evening at her home. I had declined her invitation at first and said I thought I was going to leave as it was not the organisation I had expected it to be. She simply said ‘Stay in and work for the way you want the organisation to be.’ Thank you Dorothy, you were my first mentor, I wouldn’t be here now if you hadn’t said that!  

A new job in the nuclear industry took me to Harwell and I transferred to Swindon Club in South West and Channel Islands Region. Swindon celebrated their 50th anniversary a couple of weeks ago and it was lovely to see them all again!

I worked for a time at Sellafield where I was able to attend meetings of Whitehaven Club in Northern England and where I was made to feel ‘local’ despite being clearly an ‘incomer’. Every Club does things slightly differently but the core values and activities are all the same. To me it’s like home from home when you are able to attend another Club’s meetings.   

A change of direction in my career – into University communications took me to Portsmouth, where of course I found a group of ready made friends, who are still involved in Clubs in Southern Region.  I was fortunate to hold the office of President during the club’s 40th year when I was 40 myself. 

I had just begun the process of moving forward to Regional Office when I went to work at the University of Surrey and transferred to Guildford Club who supported me through the throes of Regional President, Councillor and on to the Federation Management Board as Director of PR & Marketing. They clearly didn’t think I had enough to do that first year, and elected me to serve as Club President at the same time, I decided not to grumble too much when  I discovered that Federation President Ann Dawson was serving as her Club President too!

Hilary Page has a wonderful expression – she says “if you keep your feet in the Club, they will keep your feet on the ground”.  She is, as always, absolutely right and SI Winchester my current club do exactly that for me. I am  delighted so many of them have made the trip here to support me. I thank them for all they do for me in so many ways, but most of all for treating me  – as an ordinary complaining member. Thanks to all my many friends in Southern England – their support has been constant through my moves through the Clubs in the Region.    

When you get asked to do something in this organisation, it may be yet another task but as well as work, every single job I have taken on, either elected or appointed, I have learned something new, developed skills, made new friendships and been offered wonderful opportunities at every turn.

I urge you all to take these chances as they come along, stand for office, climb the ladders and as Jackie has encouraged us – accept the challenge – because every member matters and we all have something different and new to bring to make this organisation even stronger than it is now.  

For me – my first conference attendance was my ‘lightbulb moment’ in the organisation. I had been a member for several years before a group of us newer Club members ‘dared’ to come to conference. The whole jigsaw of Soroptimism fell into place at that moment, I suddenly understood that I was  part of something bigger and from that day on, I knew I had joined the right organisation. I do hope that it happened to someone here attending for her first time in Manchester.

I am a full time working president. But I believe we are Soroptimists because of the day job, not in spite of it. I often find I am using work experiences and skills in my Soroptimist role, but equally often I am using knowledge I have learnt from Soroptimism to benefit the day job. I hope it is on your CV. If nothing else it gives you something to say when the inevitable question comes at interview –  ‘is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?’

My job as Head of Strategic Communications Planning at the Health Protection Agency means that my incoming e mails get looked at and dealt with in the evenings and at weekends. Here is a good place to thank Gina, Joanne and Sally who provide all of us with tremendous support and assistance. I should also thank my bosses at the HPA, who, while they expect a lot from me, in turn are very supportive of my Soroptimist career.   

Inspiring Action, Transforming Lives

The theme I have chosen for us all to work to next year is Inspiring Action, Transforming Lives. You will recognise those words, I am sure, from our International Vision. We inspire others with the action we take and the projects we develop and run. You have worked locally with women’s refuges and the survivors of rape, violence and trafficking and at international level we have achieved the backing for our campaign from the UN Secretary General in his speech to the Commission on the Status of Women. 

Our work inspires action in others, which can be at local, national or international level.  The petition to oppose the use of landmines and cluster munitions raised awareness and led public opinion. The letters you wrote to elected representatives urging them to support the anti landmines campaign ensured that national governments approved the international treaty. Now we need it ratified worldwide, so although there is still work to do at international level, here is another example of a SIGBI project that has gone from our towns and villages to the UN.

We transform the lives of women and girls through numerous projects too many to list but I should highlight Project SIerra where we are over three quarters of the way to our target of raising a million pounds. The programme in Sierra Leone is not only giving these young mothers and their families a home and a future but we are also showing them them in the best way we can, that someone cares. I know you will all respond to Anne Macdonald’s challenge to run one more event to get to that magical £1million before July next year!

Our own lives are transformed through our membership of Soroptimist International. Tell me where else would you get:

  • Leadership skills
  • Advocacy and lobbying techniques 
  • Fundraising
  • Learning about topics first hand
  • Speech writing
  • Opportunity to do hands on development work
  • Media handling
  • Minute and agenda writing
  • Presentation skills
  • Event and conference organisation
  • Networking and travel opportunities to meet like minded women in over 100 countries of the world

Sounds like a prospectus for the best university in the world doesn’t it? Well it is to me what Past International President Patsy Daniels describes as the best gift you can ever give a woman – the gift of Soroptimism. All this, a ‘crash pad’ in London’s West End and 90,000 new best friends – as I said before, please go out and Share our Secret – can you give this gift to just one woman you know this year?

And my challenge to Clubs – encourage your new members to come with you to Conference next year.

I am not going to ask you to start any new fundraising projects this year. As you know ‘Loos for Lynn’ runs to the end of December – we only have to raise another £7,000 to fund all the projects we have identified. Lynn was President of my Chain Gang, please let’s complete this in her memory.

I hope you will also respond to today’s appeal to raise  more funds to send through the SIGBI/UNICEF appeal for Pakistan to help that major relief effort in our own Federation.

COPY OF SLIDE: We influence people to take decisions that will improve the lives of girls and young women and their communities. We aim not only to speak out on behalf of girls and young women everywhere, but also to empower them to advocate for themselves.

We work with many national regional and international organisations and alliances to further our mission to enable girls and young women to develop to their fullest potential and become responsible citizens of the world. We have partnered with the United Nations for over 60 years.

Does this look familiar? Some of you will recognise it immediately. It is not – as you could be forgiven for thinking – from our website, but from the website of the Girl Guiding movement. As an organisation, they are older than us by 12 years but younger than us in terms of life experience as individuals They are bigger than us in number with 10 million members in 145 countries, but the good news is they are working in each of our Federation countries and territories. 

Jackie and I were thrilled to be invited to attend one of the many centenary celebrations of Girl Guiding UK in the Guildhall in London in April. Listening to the Chief Guide Liz Burnley we could have been at a Soroptimist event.

 A number of us were privileged to join with several hundred Girl Guides, Brownies and Rainbows here in Manchester on Wednesday evening to renew our own guide promises at the culmination of their centenary celebrations. It was a great event and I know everyone who attended that I have spoken to since found the energy and the enthusiasm of those young women infectious.  

  • they believe in the things we stand for,
  • they lobby for issues we feel strongly about
  • and like us they were established by a man, setting up a male membership organisation

I believe that these young ladies could be the Soroptimists of the future. I think a relationship with them will provide us with a lasting legacy with membership potential for many generations to come.   

Many of you like me – I know – were members and some of you still are involved as guiders. Is this an organisation you could work with? Many of you already do.

At international level, you may know, we are already working very closely with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and  I am pleased to tell you that we have secured an outline agreement with Girl Guiding UK  in which the Chief Guide writes:  “We are pleased to share closer connections between the Federation in the UK and Girlguiding UK.  Encouraging local collaboration between the two organisations will lead to new opportunities to share our passion for girls and young women to grow their potential and become leaders in their communities.”

Through our international partnership I have approached the organisers of Girl Guiding throughout all the countries of our Federation to ask if they will work together with our Clubs in a similar way.

 I know many of you are already in contact with Guides, Brownies, Rangers, Rainbows or Guiders in your areas, so please feel free to go ahead and work with them, finding new opportunities to work in partnership. If you have any problems contacting your local organisers, please get in touch with the Fedeation office.   

Could I ask you to take part  in another profile raising partnership event next year? On International Women’s Day on Tuesday 8 March 2011 there will be another ‘women on the bridge’ event, which we are participating in alongside Women for Women International. I bet there is a bridge somewhere in your local area, whether over a river, a stream or even a railway! The Programme Team  will send you more details nearer the time but let’s see how many of us can link up on bridges that day, even if it is just during your lunchbreak!   

The imagery we have chosen for the conference next year depicts a female form struggling  to break free from barriers. Much of our programme action work focuses on freeing women from shackles of one kind or another.

We are the voice of oppressed women locked in a cycle of violence, victims of rape, stalking, sexual harassment or domestic violence.

We represent and work to help prisoners of trafficking as well as those imprisoned by poverty through lack of education and skills to earn a living, or simply trapped by their own lack of self esteem or self confidence.

We provide the mouthpiece on the international stage for those women and girls who have no human rights because they were simply born into the wrong culture or the wrong political regime at the wrong time.

I believe our job as Soroptimists is to inspire action and transform lives to help all of those women and girls break free to realise their full potential.       

At the Montreal Convention in July next year we will launch the new Long Term Project which as you have requested  – will revolve around Education and Leadership. This will be a focus for all our programme action work and will enable Soroptimists throughout the world to work as one.

Now as you know my whole career has been in communications of one sort or another, so you would expect me not to miss an opportunity to remind you of the importance of using all the new ways we have of staying in touch.

Those of you who are on FaceBook I hope have found our SIGBI group and joined it.  It’s a great friendly forum for staying in touch with each other and sharing information, and of course it raises our profile within the social networking world.

A slightly more business orientated version of this is Linkedin, where there is also a SIGBI group you can join, just ask to join saying which Club you are from and I’ll admit you.

As well as the usual monthly blogs on our website which I hope you follow, I intend to tweet this year – so follow me on Twitter – look for SIGBI President. And the office has kindly set me up an e mail so you can e mail me direct on that. I will do my best to read and respond to all the e mails you send me, but please do be patient.  

So to Conference next year www.sigbi-conference.co.uk – Tracy Gardiner, our Conference Chair and Ruth Healey our Chief Steward are looking forward to welcoming us all to the city that is often known as ‘London by the Sea’ in that it comprises the buzz of English city life with a wonderful beach. Looking at this slide you could be forgiven for thinking we are going back to Barbados. Well the South Coast of England is as close to that as we get in the UK with the exception perhaps of the Channel Islands.

I’m delighted that we will be in South East England, where I always feel at home as I know you will too. It is the region of my birth and the one I represented as Councillor – and I am grateful for the support I have always had from Clubs here.

We will be holding our conference in a new venue for us, the Brighton Dome, which is a beautiful regency building, and has as you can see, the most wonderful architecture.

The Dome was built in 1805 for the Prince of Wales and this beautiful concert hall housed his riding stables. Don’t worry, we’ve cleaned up after the horses and we know you will find it a lovely, intimate and comfortable conference venue. As well as keynote speakers, we plan to have a strong focus on your own programme action work as you have told us that you want to learn from others’ work and celebrate and share your successes. We are fortunate in having a venue with space to allow for parallel sessions so you will have a choice of what you decide to attend.

The conference website will go live on Monday and you will be able to find an increasing amount of information about the Conference on there in the coming weeks and months. You will be able to register on line in the new year for conference, and I am very grateful to Gina and the office staff for bringing forward this innovation. There will still be the option to complete a registration form which will be e mailed out to Clubs as usual or can be  downloaded from the SIGBI website.

So for next year – pack your bucket and spade but bring your umbrella and waterproof jacket too.

Thank you for the privilege you have granted me in serving as your Federation President.

I will do my very best to be worthy of the trust you have shown in me.  I look forward to hearing from you – your ideas, your  experiences, your hopes and dreams through one or another of our communication streams.

I look forward to the opportunity to meet and spend time with many of you.  I wish you all every success with all your efforts to Inspire Action and Transform Lives this Federation year. 

Thank you all.