Are you a pessimist or a Soroptimist?

4 March 2016

Soroptimist International ACT & Monaro is less than a year old, but already the organisation is making its impact felt throughout the Canberra and Queanbeyan region. Late last year, the ACT & Monaro chapter of Soroptimist International organised a sold out screening of Suffragette at Palace Electric Cinema which raised more than $2,000 towards YWCA Canberra’s Respect Ed programs.

Comprising a group of highly skilled women from various backgrounds, the group’s mandate is the improvement of the status of women not only locally but also worldwide. To find out more about their projects and goals, we had a chat with their team to find out where they came from and where they’re going.

How did the ACT & Monaro chapter of Soroptimist International come together? What are the common factors across its membership?

There are about 80,000 Soroptimist (SI) club members in 132 countries around the world. Globally, SI advocates for women and girls at UN Economic and Social forums and advances action on issues such as violence against women, safe sanitation, displacement, education and leadership – essentially anything that affects the lives of girls and women.

In recent years the number of Soroptimists and the population around Canberra has grown and changed. It was time to start another club in the region to cater for that change. The president of our Federation, Carolyn Hudson, agreed with this assessment and issued our club, SI ACT & Monaro, with its charter last October. At this stage our club consists of 21 energetic women of all ages and professions, all of us keen to use our professional and business skills to educate, empower and enable opportunities for women and girls locally, nationally and internationally.

What is a priority for the chapter and how do you go about aiming to provide help?

The local focus of our work this year is to prevent domestic violence and support women at risk of violence. It is an issue of urgent and growing concern in our community, and a priority for our club. We aim to do that through advocacy, fundraising, partnering and working with organisations in the field that need assistance and by volunteering our services.

We have club members who contribute to SI’s national advocacy work, providing input through letters and submissions to improve legislation, and government programs that aim to reduce domestic violence.

We are keen to support evidence-based programs that aim to prevent violence, and make them accessible as widely as possible. Funds raised at last December’s Suffragette screening and our upcoming World Youth Skills Day breakfast on 15 July 2016 will be used for that purpose.

We are also co-hosting a networking and fundraising International Women’s Day breakfast with the Country Women’s Association’s Queanbeyan Evening Branch on Tuesday 8 March and the proceeds from that event will go to domestic violence services in the Queanbeyan area.

Last December we contributed funds for the SI President’s appeal which will fund projects to assist women and girls in rebuilding their lives following the earthquakes in Nepal in April and May last year. We are also in conversation with the SI club in the Solomon Islands to see if we can provide much-needed books to the schools in that area.

Like many organisations, our club’s national, regional or local plans are evidence-based, and are reported on to our International Board annually. So while our strategic direction and associated activities have been developed for this year, it does not preclude the development and adoption of others in the coming years.

Soroptimist International bills itself as an organisation for business and professional women. What does that equate to in practice?

In practice it means we have a wealth of insight and experience to bring to our projects from a range of professions. The expertise of our members spans the domains of health, law, education, community service provision, scientific research, project and business management, public administration, and fine art. In our club we work and develop our projects in small, nimble teams: a great and safe environment for young women to contribute or develop their skills including leadership skills, and for older women to develop and implement coaching and mentoring skills.

What are your chapter’s priorities as regards outreach? If you’re seeking to engage more members, what kind of members are you seeking?

In our foundation year we are developing our member outreach and support plans and processes with the intention of growing our membership numbers and influence and eventually extending further into nearby NSW. We are keen to recruit members or supporters who are community-minded, are interested in getting involved, share our priorities and are supportive of working to improve the lot of women locally and abroad. For those that are interested in becoming involved we would recommend attending a couple of our meetings and events to see whether it is something that interests them.

What binds Soroptimist International together? Why be a Soroptimist?

We are quite autonomous in that we are not aligned with a political, religious or business agenda. We are however held together by the common desire to improve the lives of girls and women through education, empowerment and enabling opportunities in our community. The sincerity of friendship, the joy of achievement, the opportunity to learn and develop, the dignity of service and integrity of profession and the love of country are all ideals that each Soroptimist commits to upholding.

To find out more about the ACT & Monaro Soroptimists, one part of a vibrant, dynamic organisation for today’s professional and business women, check them out on Facebook or online.

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