Earlier this month, a cohort of 21 leaders were selected to be part of the University of Virginia Presidential Precinct Global Leadership Forum. The 2018 Global Leadership Forum brought together 21 emerging leaders from more than 16 countries together to discuss and identify solutions for Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment. Atlas Corps Fellows and Community Solutions Program Fellows who are all working in various sectors in women’s entrepreneurship, access to financial services, vocational training and career education, empowering and inclusive workplaces, and gender equality came together to discuss this important issue.

In interacting with the various attendees and engaging with content around solutions, there are certain aspects that greatly stood out to me.

Firstly, as leaders its important to invest in our and our growth to be better servants to our communities. This includes growing our capacity and skills to ensure we can be better prepared to deal with the rising challenges we intend to tackle. This includes working on skills like building networks, exercise, investing in your passion, learning and many other tools available for growth.

Secondly, when thinking about economic empowerment, our approach should be one that looks to holistically think about problems and not being afraid of trying out different solutions to solve these challenges.  For example, in solving or thinking about how to deal with unemployment, we have to consider other barriers that might prevent people from successful at work. This includes health care, transportation, societal pressures and many other factors. Band-aid approaches only temporarily deal with problems faced by the communities we work in and we have to think more strategically and systematically about solutions.

Moreover, its important to approach our communities as co creators with the efforts we bring. We ought to trust that they know what they need in order to empower them to own initiatives we might offer. More often than not, saviour complexes hamper the progress we could be making if we thought of the people we service as capable and knowledgeable in dealing with the setback in their contexts. Design thinking and human centered design are tools developed today help us make these consideration. The dictionary definition of Human-centred design, is a design and management framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. This approach enhances effectiveness and efficiency, improves human well-being, user satisfaction, accessibility and sustainability; and counteracts possible adverse effects of use on human health, safety and performance. ISO 9241-210:2010(E). These tools help facilitate an all inclusive approach that considers and respects those we seek to help.

Lastly, there is a lot to be learnt from the perspectives of practitioners from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. In interacting with the various participants through out the various sessions in Charlottesville Virginia, learning from their experience was extremely valuable. There are more things that unite than separate us and the opportunities for knowledge transfer and collaboration are not only endless but possible. In a time were there are various ways to connect and borders and boundaries are slowly fading, we stand to accomplish more together than apart.