I recently attended a dinner in aid of The Hunger Project and their work in seeking to end world hunger by empowering people – and especially women – in poverty-stricken areas to make change happen. In the course of their work, they have discovered something that should not surprise us, but might nonetheless challenge our view of the world: that the women leading change in developing communities, poor and deprived by our standards, have an enormous amount to teach us all about leadership.
Some of the hurdles faced by women in rural villages in India, from where one of the key speakers on the evening came, seem insurmountable. Violence and the cultural exclusion of women might stand in the way of many a strong individual, but the lessons learned from observing these women, empowered by the ‘I can/we can’ approach of the work of The Hunger Project, are remarkable. Community workers on the ground begin the process, seeking to build self-reliance, to empower women as change agents, and to forge relationships with local government to enable effective partnerships; from there on, the women move forward, translating into action their determination to bring water, health and proper education to their villages. They need strong motivation, but also creative thinking, and an absolute commitment to their cause; when this is seen in action, it is incredible what can be done.
Women in rural India who are empowered to seek change are actually effecting change, and in this there are great lessons for us all, wherever we are in the world, and whatever our circumstances. Women make a difference; no hurdle is too great to overcome in pursuit of a fundamentally important goal; working together we are stronger than working alone. Crucially, too, when we reach out beyond the self to understand others in life, we can transform not just our understanding, or their understanding, but the understanding and activity of entire communities.
Change is powerful; and although these women have few resources, they teach us that change is always possible. These are lessons we need to make sure that all of the next generation learn – wherever they are in the world.