Conference attendees salute the World YWCA triangle.
The long awaited North America/Caribbean Young Women’s Leadership Conference became a reality this June with 100 participants from 12 countries welcomed by YWCA Barbados. A steering committee of 22 led by Chair Kyla Stone of YWCA Lubbock, Texas, worked over a two-year period on all aspects of the conference from hotel and travel logistics, programming and financing with sub-committees working out the details. For YWCA USA women it was a remarkable feat in that YWCA USA has not, in recent history, been involved in planning any inter-country YWCA meetings.
Young women from the USA, Canada and the two new affiliates to the World YWCA, Haiti and US Virgin Islands, planted the seeds for this conference in 2011 at World Council in Zurich. The result was an overwhelming response from the women who attended to continue collaboration on a number of levels on issues important to them. Inherent in a soon-to-be released comprehensive outcome document, with input from all attendees, is a commitment for future meetings to cement closer ties between the Caribbean YWCAs and YWCAs Canada and the USA.
The young women, with sheer determination driving them and without financial backing, put together a first-rate conference by gathering allies to their cause. The inter-generational steering committee applied for and received a Power to Change grant from the World YWCA to assist Caribbean young women to attend, Canada sponsored 26 young women, the USA acted as a fiscal agent, and several members of the World Service Council financially supported the effort.
Powerful plenary speakers such as Abigail Disney and Leadership Development gurus like CEO of US Virgin Islands Dr. Anita Davis-Defoe, YWCA Barbados President Andrea Taylor, US Virgin Islands President Donnalie Edwards-Cabey, YWCA Canada CEO Paulette Senior, and World YWCA President Deborah Thomas-Austin generously shared their expertise with regard to leadership and set the tone for the workshop sessions.
Author Dr. Lea Williams added her leadership expertise and had copies of her book, Servants of the People, available. A video message from YWCA USA CEO Dara Richardson-Heron expressed her regrets for not being able to attend. She commented on the significance of the conference and hoped all attendees returned to their countries richer for the experience. National staffers Christie Dailey and Elisha Rhodes represented YWCA USA at the conference.
About a year prior to the conference a survey was sent to YWCAs in the Caribbean, Canada and USA to determine topics for discussion and issues to address. Workshops and speakers were then generated from those priorities as described below:
Leadership Development – author Dr. Lea Williams
Violence Against Women – Anette Nerett, Islindy Merius, YWCA Haiti
Sexual, Reproductive Health & Rights – Marcie Martnez-Carballo. YWCA Belize
Economic Justice – Jessica Notwell, YWCA Canada, Tricia Gideon, YWCA Belize
Advocacy & Public Policy – Jenna Lodge Foster, Kris Silvestry, Joelle Logue, YWCA USA
Capacity Building, World YWCA Staff
North/South Partnerships – Amber Aleman, YWCA Canada
HIV/AIDS – Icilda Humes, YWCA Belize
Coordinated Community Responses – Kris Silvestry, YWCA USA
Girl Centered Approaches – UN Population Council
Mental Health – Fatima Jackson, Univ. of Bridgetown, Barbados
Leadership Model Panel – led by Ping Lee, YWCA Taiwan
Diversity – Paulette Senior, YWCA Canada
A committee of young women, coordinated by Canada World Board member Jessica Notwell, held extra meetings to work on formulating the outcome document and next steps, and a plenary session was held to gather input from all the participants on the last day of the conference. Ping Lee, the World YWCA’s ambassador on Envisioning the World YWCA in 2035, led a session on what the future might look like and the future young women want. Data from envisioning sessions held around the world will be documented as a global call to action at the next World Council.
To preface Abigail Disney’s talk, also on the last day of the conference, her acclaimed documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, was shown during one of the plenary sessions. Two cultural events were organized by YWCA Barbados, an evening of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at Ilaro Court, home of Prime Minister, the Honorable Freundel J. Stuart where attendees enjoyed plantation opulence, a steel band, Caribbean finger food and gracious hospitality. A visit to the George Washington House (George spent some time in Barbados when he was 19 while accompanying his brother seeking a cure from tuberculosis) included a tour, a sumptuous buffet of Caribbean food, colorful entertainment and dancing, plus a concert by the Barbados Police Band.
The YWCAs Barbados, US Virgin Islands, and Haiti had parting gifts for everyone. According to the evaluations, the conference got high marks in almost every category. From the end of the first day there was a keen sense of camaraderie and by the end of the last dinner friendships were sealed in earnest. Most felt they had learned a lot from the workshop sessions but would have liked to be able to attend them all. Scheduled were three concurrent workshops in the morning and afternoon over the three days.
According to World YWCA staffer Juli Dugdale and World Treasurer Carolyn Flowers, who helped facilitate the conference along with World YWCA intern Ramya Jawahar, this meeting was the largest gathering of YWCA young women that had been held across the globe. From the leadership I witnessed firsthand in Barbados, I am confident the World YWCA and the YWCAs to which these young women belong are in good hands to sustain and enhance the future of the movement.