By Ray Birch
BOULDER CITY, Nev.—The Global Women’s Leadership Network (GWLN) is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2019, and Susan Mitchell says it’s been one idea in particular that has helped significantly expand the organization’s effects on the lives of women around the world.
“Following the World Council of Credit Unions’ Forum in 2012, I was sitting in my kitchen and talking about how we needed to localize the GWLN to be more powerful,” said Mitchell, who chairs the organization. “We all knew we had to come together and develop ways to keep GWLN growth, and the impact of the work we were doing, moving forward at a strong pace.”
That thought, noted Mitchell, led to the development of the GWLN’s Sister Societies, local GWLN chapters that now reach across the globe, having become key drivers of the Network.
With Women’s History Month being celebrated during March, Mitchell spoke with CUToday.info as part of a series on female leaders within the credit union movement.
The World Council established the GWLN in 2009 with a goal of providing credit union women with the opportunity to network and make a “measurable” difference in the lives of each other, in the lives of members and within their communities, explained Mitchell, who is also CEO of consulting firm Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates.
With the reach of the Sister Societies, the GWLN has grown to more than 2,600 female and male members with nearly 100 chapters in the U.S. and 18 countries. The group has provided 52 scholarships to women from 22 countries, and raised more than $2.5 million to make a “difference for credit union families,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell recalled how the GWLN was formed.
“(WOCCU President) Brian Branch approached me in 2008 to discuss forming a network that would help women leaders advance across the globe,” Mitchell said. “I had been volunteering with the World Council at the time and in the 90s had started what I called a ‘she group’ for senior holistic executives. My shared vision with Brian led me to volunteer as chair and support World Council’s formation of the GWLN in 2009.”
A ‘Safe’ Forum
For the first few years the GWLN met at the World Council’s annual meeting—a “safe” forum in which women could discuss business issues among themselves, said Mitchell.
“It was not meant to be divisive or separatist. Both females and males championed the network, contributed their time and leveraged the power of the network and the vision to make a difference among their peers and in their community,” she said.
But Mitchell believed that if the GWLN was to really grow, it needed to establish local chapters, which is when the idea came to her in her kitchen seven years ago.
“The first Sister Society was started in California by (Upward CU CEO) Linda White and Coleen O’Grady board member of Patelco,” recalled Mitchell. “We got that chapter off the ground and then established one in Michigan and one in New York. I moved around the country helping start more local Sister Societies and have been working hard on that for about six years.”
While acceptance and interest in the Sister Societies were present from the outset, Mitchell said much greater interest was shown across the globe in 2018. The GWLN had 32 sister societies in 13 countries in 2016, 42 at the close of 2017, and nearly 100 today.
“We have seen tremendous growth recently,” said Mitchell. “We expect to have 100 Sister Societies by the end of this year.”
Mitchell said the #MeToo Movement has raised the profile of women’s issues globally, and that has helped spark greater interest in forming GWLN chapters.
“So, we got more attention and CU people stood up—and we have strong female and male leaders across the world—and said we want to be part of this,” explained Mitchell, who has been recognized with a Herb Wegner Award for her lifetime dedication and advocacy. “For instance, Texas came aboard in 2018 and will actually have six societies. It’s no longer just two or three local credit unions in a region behind a Sister Society; entire states and countries are saying we want to be part of this. In 2017, we traveled to Brazil to support Manfred Alfonso Dasenbrock, Sicredi Confederation chair and World Council board member, to help launch the ‘he for she’ movement—22 Brazilian states will have sister societies in 2019.”
Helping Local Communities
Mitchell emphasized Sister Societies do a lot to help their local communities.
“Just some of the things we do—we work with local women’s shelters, teach resume writing at colleges, help the homeless, support single mothers in their efforts to make ends meet, family care giving…,” Mitchell told CUToday.info. “And we are also focused on what we can do on a higher level—lending to women, giving them opportunities to start businesses ... Our societies look into their communities for ways they can help while also building the brand of credit unions”
What makes a successful chapter grow, according to Mitchell, is having a passion for changing lives and understanding the key needs of local communities.
“It’s making what we do relatable locally,” she said. “The societies that are doing the best are those that have diversity of representation, have a clear focus on what they want to change, and have a passionate leader.”
App to Roll Out
Mitchell expects the GWLN and Sister Societies will reach even more women in the coming years with the launch of its mobile app at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference next week.
“Thanks to Elevations Credit Union’s belief in the GWLN and donation of interns for development, the mobile app will be a game changer when we work around the world,” said Mitchell. “People in remote areas don’t always have access to PCs to fill out forms and join the GWLN. But a lot of people have a phone, so now we can reach some of the most remote villages in the world and get more women to join to increase our measureable impact.”
More information on the Global Women’s Leadership Network can be round at www.cuwomen.org