Premium member Jackie Howard was one of 20 women who just returned from Senegal on The Business Chicks Immersion and Leadership Program with The Hunger Project. Here’s her story.
My Journey began in 2016 at Business Chicks’ annual conference, Movers and Breakers, in Byron Bay, when I met the remarkable Cathy Burke (former CEO of The Hunger Project Australia).
During Cathy’s presentation, I had a life-changing moment where I realised that I had been trying to find my purpose through focusing on my own personal development rather than focusing on serving others. Like many other women, I had always felt that I wasn’t enough; doubting myself and what I was capable of. When Cathy said, “You are enough, you have enough to give, to serve and to lead, so get out there and give back,” she spoke directly to me.
“I was planning to go to Harvard to do a leadership course, but there and then had a huge ‘aha’ moment when it dawned on me that I needed to shift my focus from me to serving others. I decided this would start with The Hunger Project and the Immersion and Leadership Program.”
My life had changed and would never be the same again. I was excited, uplifted and at the same time a little terrified. When I arrived home to Adelaide from the conference, my husband, mum and friends noticed a big shift in me. I was happy.
I had been searching for something for a long time, but wasn’t sure what. I was about to turn 50 and had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to do something that made a difference. So the journey began.
When I found out that the journey was going to be to Senegal, Africa, I had a clear vision for how I would raise the $10,000 that I had committed to. I had already been methodically going through my house, selling things we didn’t need or want. I started in earnest by organising an African-themed dinner for 100 guests (crazy when I had absolutely no event-planning experience). I got some negative comments from a friend who said it was unrealistic to think that I would get 100 guests to a dinner and that perhaps a smaller cocktail party would be easier. This made me even more determined to make this a success, and bring awareness to the issue of chronic hunger across the globe.
I had a small group of volunteers who offered to support me with the organisation of the dinner, including two beautiful African women that I worked with. Through this journey I have now connected with other members of the South Australian African communities and my family and I have been immersed in the African culture, which is a huge privilege.
Through my fundraising, I was able to share the work of The Hunger Project with so many, family, friends and colleagues, and was astounded at how generous people have been. I did get some friends and colleagues who declined to help, which at first I found very difficult; however, I soon realised that this was not personal, but due to their own circumstances, and learnt to respond with gratitude.
As I sit here writing this on the plane home, I am filled with joy and gratitude and can’t wait to share this journey with my family and friends and the groups I have already been invited to talk to.
Off to Africa
After I’d completed my fundraising, I set off for Senegal on 5 February 2018. Suddenly I felt lacking in experience and a little vulnerable. As I took off into the warm night over Adelaide, I felt very emotional, just managing to hold back the tears, and I wrote in my journal, ‘What am I afraid of … the unknown.’
During the flight I was reading Melissa Ambrosini’s book, Open Wide. In it she writes, ‘We are here on this planet to learn, grow, evolve our human consciousness and unlock our full potential.’ There was my crystal-clear message from the universe. I felt ready.
So we, the group of relative strangers, linked together through Business Chicks, a desire to end world hunger and seeking to further our leadership journey, arrived in Dakar. As we set off for the hotel to meet the facilitators Karen James and Belinda Brosnan, and the beautiful Frieda from The Hunger Project (who was to be our mum for the next eight days) there was an air of anticipation.
The first day was a workshop where we learnt more about the work of The Hunger Project and met the Senegal team, led by the fabulous Madeleine Cisse, the country director.
I felt a deep connection with three of THP’s principles:
- Human dignity
I committed to:
- Stop comparing and judging (focusing on remembering that thoughts are just thoughts and feelings are just feelings)
- Going out into the field with a beginner’s mindset and to see what new ideas and ways of doing things became possible
So our journey into the field began. We visited four Epicentres all at different stages from phase-one mobilisation to self-reliance. We met some of the most amazing women and men who were leading in their communities and making tangible difference to lives.
I was surprised to see how different each community was and where they were on their passage to self-reliance.
The Hunger Project is not a donor organisation, but it was evident that they truly partner with these communities. The communities we visited knew what they want to do and were committed to doing it for themselves. Their journey starts with the first step of mobilisation; mobilising villages and creating a vision of a life without hunger, and working to build community and government partnerships. This phase includes shifting mindsets around often long-held beliefs and traditions, and can often take many years. The second step includes the empowerment of women.
The vision, ideas and resourcefulness of the women and the communities was uplifting and inspiring. Women who have little resources and extremely challenging living conditions were doing amazing things and living joyful and fulfilling lives, providing outstanding role models, creating opportunities for their families and communities for many generations to come. This was extremely humbling and made me reflect deeply on my life and my fears and how I show up.
Throughout the whole journey I was constantly reflecting on the poem by Marianne Williamson, Our Deepest Fear – in particular this part: ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.’ With the opportunity and privilege we have, we need to step up and be our brilliant, gorgeous and talented self and be a role model for the women that are coming up behind us.
This journey has allowed me time to deeply reflect on what I have seen and how I am choosing to live my life. It has been uplifting and life changing for me. Just before leaving Australia I accepted a new role as CEO for a new disability organisation. The learnings I have from the many remarkable women I met have helped me to see a clear road forward for my next ‘season in life’ (thank you, Karen James, for making us think about life’s seasons).
“This journey has allowed me time to deeply reflect on what I have seen and how I am choosing to live my life. It has been uplifting and life changing for me.”
I will set a vision that serves our community and connects with people’s hearts. I will stand in front, next to and behind the people and hold the vision tightly. I will be courageous, present and joyful while constantly asking, ‘Am I seeing and hearing everyone?’
We are all global citizens who can work in and across our community to make change. We are enough. And once we recognise this we can move forward together.
I am so grateful for the support I have been given by my family, friends and many sponsors, Business Chicks (my tribe) for introducing me to The Hunger Project, and for The Hunger Project for opening my eyes – and changing my life.
Applications are now open for the 2019 Business Chicks Immersion and Leadership Project – is it your time to step up? Head to our 2019 Hunger Project page to find out more.