Are You Listening

Michaela WalshDuring the summers of 2000 to 2007 I helped design and sponsor a six week program, held at Manhattanville College, for undergraduate women from developing and less developed communities who had never travelled outside their countries. The Global Student Leadership (GSL) program recruited students from Africa, Eastern Europe, Central and Latin America, the Caribbean, and the US.

During the 17 years since the formal program I remained in contact with many of these young women, acting as Godmother to their children, mentor to some, and occasionally visiting them in their homes. Over the past few years I became obsessed with knowing if the GSL methodology that we created ‘worked.’ I wanted to see these young friends and colleagues again, to know who they had become, where their lives had taken them, and if they were leaders. With the help of some student interns, I updated emails and was able to contact about 120 GSL alums.

Then an extraordinary thing happened. The new President at Manhattanville, Michael Geisler, the new Provost, Lisa Dolling and Elizabeth McCormack agreed to host a reunion. I am truly grateful to them for this far sighted action. And, thanks to friends and colleagues everywhere who agreed to help. Initially about  50 GSL alums planned to come to Manhattanville the first week in June, paying their own travel costs. Some plans changed and there were some delays around the now difficult visa situation. In the end 28 alums from 20 countries gathered for a joyful and memorable time in their busy lives.

As we were planning the reunion, I became concerned that not all the students had been at Manhattanville at the same time, they might not connect easily with one another. To my delight, the moment they arrived at the campus, filled with their individual memories about GSL, we saw instant bonding and great enthusiasm from each one.

For me, this was a dream come true. Beyond my wildest hope, we can now say that the GSL methodology developed over eight years and across 20 cultures was real and convincing.

High points of the weekend:

  • Returning to the familiar and beautiful campus, memories of GSL created an instant bond and excitement for everyone.
  • Early morning (6 am) workouts on the quad in front of the Castle for ten energetic young women led by one of the alums.
  • Enthusiastic and honest sharing of their successes and their difficulties, as well as their life dreams, openly standing up and declaring their experience. Fortunately, Manhattanville faculty and original teachers were in the audience.
  • Late night gossip, reminiscence, and phone and text contact with alums not able to attend.
  • Special visits from one of the founding contributors of the initial GSL program and original teachers.
  • Thanks to GSL co-­‐creator Susan Stehlik, who organized a day at NYU Stern Business School with lectures about global communication (now a hard science), stories from five professors, and the Dean, about their personal commitments to networking and building student confidence. (Each presentation began with a favorite song, not with respective degrees!)
  • The closing reception hosted by President Geisler with a surprise set of formal presentations from many participants.

For me, the true value was time together in the familiar environment, confirming old memories – an opportunity for real sharing. It was time for building trust, with no need for competition.

When I asked-­‐ “what was the common theme from the GSL experience”, there was a strong consensus. “It taught us how to think bigger than we had learned.” And the weekend reunion had done the same. “GSL network has to continue.” I made clear that the future is not something I would manage or direct, but it is an opportunity for them to come together to continue as they want and need.

All of us who had helped assured the women we would support them. Revenue from a small flea market was assigned to cover the cost of a domain name and a website. The women selected a leader, one woman assumed management of the database, another agreed to manage the website. Another stated that all this had to be coordinated within thirty days – or the momentum would be lost.

I again say THANK YOU to each and every person who helped create a new dream—a global network of young women assuming local leadership roles and sharing their stories, their skills and know-­‐how. The fields cover medicine, environmental management, media and communication, government, politics, policies, technology development and business.

I believe their voices together will help build a peaceful global future for us all.

“Acting local and sharing global” is a new adaptation to my own much earlier commitment of “Thinking global and acting local.”

ARE WE LISTENING TO THEM?

 

Michaela Walsh
July 2017

6 comments on “Are You Listening

  1. FRANCES BAUER on

    HERE AT NYU WITH A NEW PRESIDENT, NEW DEANS, ETC SOMEONE IS STARTING A MOVEMENT TO INCREASE NUMBER OF WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY.
    FIRST MEETING OF WOMEN IN TECH AT THE UNIVERSITY WILL MEET ON MONDAY TO DISCUSS
    HOW (JULY24) . ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR THE STEPS TO TAKE.

    THIS IS FOR YOU MICHAELA.
    THANKS,
    FRANCES BAUER

  2. Beth B on

    Michaela –
    This is such a beautiful story about the reunion, and what a fabulous outcome! I just found this email in my spam file, and will immediately be adding your email to my address book – and I’ll also be reaching out to you re: gathering with a few more young women later in August….. and a question about doing web-based empowerment for some young African leaders. Thank you for your generosity, and for your empowerment of women! All best, Beth

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