What My Time Volunteering in Ethiopia Taught Me About Women, Life and Leadership
Last year, I traveled to Ethiopia with Convoy of Hope to see their Women’s Empowerment Program in action. Women who live in extreme poverty enroll in a 10-week training program to learn business skills so they can start a small business, and forever change the lives of their families. By growing and selling vegetables, making clothes or selling coffee and tea, these mothers can support their families and give their children a far better childhood than they had. The Women’s Empowerment Program shows what a profound difference we can make when we come together as women. Volunteering for a group such as this one can, not only provide the women you help with a voice, it can help you find your own as well.
Women together are a powerful force. In my book, Leading Women, 20 successful women share their insights to support one another’s efforts. When we share our strengths and abilities, we all benefit. Women are smart; we see the details; we plan; we communicate and focus and we can be great collaborators. Volunteering your time, skills or sweat equity can strengthen your leadership skills. As you volunteer and support one another for the greater good, it can help you step out as a leader or become a better leader. Here’s how:
You see how through small efforts, you can make a big difference.
What struck me on my trip was the simplicity of giving back. I realized how little it takes for women to be elevated. Just knowing that someone cared enough to help these women in Ethiopia was empowering to them. It can be life-changing to realize that small efforts can create such a positive impact and a long-lasting ripple effect. We don’t need to complicate things. Volunteering is about relationships, connection and collaboration. What you give is small in comparison to what you receive in return.
You feel aligned with a deep sense of purpose.
When we know we can be of service to others, it gives us a sense of purpose and worth that benefits our overall well-being. Improving the lives of others, improves our own lives. It’s in women’s nature to help others and volunteering fulfills our purpose in real and authentic ways.
You learn new skills.
Volunteering provides you with the opportunity to stretch yourself and step outside of your comfort zone. As you share your time, talent and skills, you gain increased confidence and gain a sense of empowerment. You also build professional and personal bonds and establish a sisterhood.
You take on leadership roles.
You get so much when you share your expertise with someone else, because they are going to share something with you. Mentoring goes both ways. Be a mentor, get a mentor. We all need to surround ourselves with people in our lives who lift us up. We all need cheerleaders. Get yourself a great support team and be part of that support team to others. It really just takes one person to say, “You are great. You are doing it. Congratulations” to really make an impact.
You create a positive history.
When women join forces to lift other women up, we become connected globally and we are writing a new history for women. Replace the old examples of back-stabbing and competition among women with a new conversation of women helping one another succeed in life. When we change our mindset from “How can I win?” to “How can I help?” we become great leadership role models and we break down barriers that have long held women back.
You realize the power of relationships and networking.
Women get it. We share and network with each other. We are great communicators. You ask a woman for anything and she can help you find it. When we come together to give back, we realize the power that comes from supporting each other. When you volunteer with other like-minded women, you create a community of women who support you emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. It gives you a sense of connection.
Some of my best friends are involved with me on philanthropic efforts because we all understand one another. It’s truly about relationships, and then we come together and say, “Let’s talk about the greater good and go out and help other women who don’t have as much as we have.” It’s a lasting, bonding experience for us and for the women we serve. Everyone wins.
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. As a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker and women empowerment expert, O’Reilly helps women create the satisfying and purposeful lives they want to benefit themselves, their families and their communities. To accomplish this, she devotes her energies to fulfilling the mission of the Women Connect4Good, Inc. foundation, which benefits from her writing and speaking services. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website.