Cardiff University and the Phoenix Project invited our Executive Director, Joyce Achampong to speak at their international woman's day event in March where she shared her story and talked about what is needed to change the narrative around the notion of a lack of opportunity for women to succeed. The Phoenix Project, spearheaded by Nicola Sims and Judith Hall works in partnership with the University of Namibia to promote the reduction of poverty and promotion of health. They embed quality education through focused projects therefore enabling better health and less poverty for people who desperately need a better life. They lead with a steadfast belief that ‘educating people to help themselves is the only way to ensure sustainable change’.
Here is an excerpt from the talk:
I lost my voice once. Not through illness, but from fear. I know this has happened to many of you on a number of occasions when you feel that you are not worthy enough. Slightly embarrassing, I know. If you ask my friends and co-workers they would probably see me as a strong confident person, and most of the time I would agree. How is it that every so often fear and doubt creep in and all that goes out the window?
I don’t know when this feeling started to gain traction in my life. As children we rarely have this problem. I never had a problem voicing my opinion when I was younger. I remember it clearly, September 4 1984, my brother’s first day of his second year of reception. It was a staggered start for the incoming four year olds, but I was having none of it. Why should I wait two weeks more? I wasn’t going to get any smarter sitting at home, so I turned to the teacher and said; ‘excuse me Melody, I would like to join your class now, I am ready.
As humans we tend to define things by what they are not.
We are surrounded by messages of not being enough, of all the things we are missing, what is holding us back as women from achieving more and aiming higher. The statistic tell how few women are leading firms, universities and governments because they are missing something. Regardless of what you hear; there is nothing missing within us. We are enough have enough to succeed however we define it. Within us, we hold enough bravery, intelligent, capability and desire to grow opportunities for ourselves and others in our communities.
Whether you know it or not, we are all engineers and architects.
We know the importance of building— whether it be communities, bridges, networks or partnerships—the key is finding the tools necessary to build these connections and achieve more. What is slowing our growth and development (as women and in general) developing the right tools, creating the structures and doing more with these tools. Building ourselves is also about building community and support structures to work towards whole scale systematic change. Our experiences and knowledge are the tools needed to create necessary change in our immediate and extended communities. Women are the engineers of their communities; addressing needs and boosting development within and outside of their communities. Whether it is creating a new product or service or targeting an underserved segment of the market, the power women have to deliver is incredible.
I am a builder; growing communities and supporting the development of others. I have travel the world and engage with a wide variety of people who do not worry about having enough and are creating amazing things. From community supported research, to civic engagement; from running government to delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals they are building and growing their societies.
There is a privilege that comes with being able to say what I am saying where I am saying it. Many women in the developed world have the advantage of access to more resources and laws that protect us. One of our key priority should be to support the millions of others who are just as skilled and incredibly experienced builders whom, for reasons of poverty, social injustice, and violence are struggling to achieve this. As a global community of engaged and empowered engineers, we need to encourage and strengthen the work of those less able to affect change and move towards 'having and being enough'. In using our voice, abilities and lending them the tool they need, we can work alongside them allowing them to build their communities and invoke change.
Bringing about whole scale systematic change does not happen overnight. It is most successful when we collectively work together and embrace fear and doubt to deliver change. When fear holds us back— be it of failing, of succeeding, of losing our way or finding out we are more powerful that we initially though—we silence ourselves (consciously or not) into thinking we are not or do not have enough of what we need to succeed. In connecting our actions, thinking as well as building leadership and the confidence within ourselves, we move from scarcity to abundance in supporting ourselves and others. True change comes about by the actions we take collectively.
This is where the Phoenix Project is most successful; it is a reminder that our internal and external community can grow and response to the needs of others. Networks and partnerships require dialogue in equal measure and this initiative is not about building up the University. It is about responding to a need, through understanding where opportunities lie and believing in the adage ‘that all boats rise with the tide’. This project and the others supported by the Vice-Chancellor’s Engagement Initiatives Fund, are building communities within communities, empowering and supporting people in areas such as health and economic growth through education. These engineers are building their communities across borders, disciplines, sectors—they know what I know; there is no single issue in our modern world that will not require a multi-level, multi-stakeholder approach to solve it.
What it comes down to is this: we have enough and are enough. Through our actions, we can push forth the conversations allowing us to change and challenge what we see in front of us. Here in the UK are surrounded by abundance, and it is up to us to ensure that in using this we come together to grow our abilities ourselves and support others; we owe this to each other.
As women, building our communities and networks means we create a better version of ourselves, thus making a better world for all. I leave you with this quote from my secondary school reads, A Confederacy of Dunces; “it is clearly time for me to step boldly into our society, not in a boring passive manner, but with great style and zest”. To bring about the change needed, I encourage you to do the same.