Written by Ali Fraenkel, Northeastern University Mentor and Assistant Field Trip Coordinator
The power and sustainability of Strong Women, Strong Girls lay in the deeply interconnected networks of passionate women that it brings together. These women have the potential to learn from each other, inspire one another, and discover what makes them stand out in a group of already incredible women. They see what makes them special; what makes them capable; what makes them leaders.
At the 2013 SWSG Leadership Conversation Event, everyone in attendance was encouraged to embrace her own individual and collective leadership potential. As one of the few college mentors present, I couldn’t help but feel empowered by all of the talented, accomplished women around me. Our powerful panel consisted of
- Kip Hollister, Founder & CEO of Hollister, Inc.
- Martha Acworth, Senior Vice President & Chief, Marketing Officer of Salem Five Bank
- Clara Sierra, Executive Vice President & Director of Strategic Alliances, Sentinel Investments; and
- Allison Wright, Attorney with GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders)
These women each had unique definitions of leadership, which were accompanied by different stories that impacted how they became the leaders they are today. One of my favorite topics addressed by our panelists was that of risk-taking and the battle between fearlessness and perfection. Subjects like this forced us to ask ourselves which societal expectations we would let influence our own styles of leadership and which we would choose to defy.
This event and the thoughts it allowed us to share with each other reminded me of an essential part of SWSG’s mission–building cycles of mutual empowerment. Although the girls we serve were the reason we could all come together, it was our dedication to leadership and each other that made us stay. We were able to reflect on how we, as a community of strong and dedicated women, could also positively impact each other. In SWSG, we can define leadership as a balance between understanding our own strengths and embracing the other unique strengths among those in our community. The more connected our SWSG female leaders are, the better chance we have of truly carrying out our mission to its full potential. The way I look at it, volunteers are the key component to any successful nonprofit. As part of the SWSG volunteer community, I see it as our duty to constantly challenge ourselves to be better leaders and spread the SWSG mission to our mentees. When we shine, the mission shines, and so do our girls. For me, the existence of mutual empowerment among all SWSG communities will be the driving force of our success and continuous passion for what we do.
We spoke about relationships a lot during the event, and I think that women have the potential to create really strong circles of meaningful relationships. Our panelists pulled relationship advice from several personal experiences to share with us. The following three pieces of advice stuck most with me: As a leader, you cannot be everything for everybody- focus on what you’re great at. Transparency is key for leaders creating effective relationships within a community. Lastly, by sharing our own life stories and simply being human, we can open the door for others to also be real.
Relationships in my own SWSG communities have helped to make my time with this organization define my college experience and how I view my own leadership. This event highlighted how SWSG appreciates all types of individuals and leaders; within our group of women, we must accept all opportunities to support and encourage each other. Together, SWSG leaders can help change the nature of success. One of my favorite lines from panelist Clara Sierra perfectly encapsulates this idea: “Lift while you climb.”
If we can do this as SWSG volunteers, mentors, leadership coaches, staff, directors, and the like, then we can serve as role models for our girls to do the same. I have learned during my time with SWSG that leadership does not have to be defined by huge moments; some of the best moments can come from small acts driven by genuine passion and still reach a lot of people. I believe that leadership from the heart is the most impactful, and this is the kind that I most often see within Strong Women, Strong Girls.