Exuding excitement and purpose, Nancy Mann, associate pastor of Floradale Mennonite Church, exclaimed “WEW!” for the newest chapter of Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) Women Empowering Women organization. The kick-off event, at which 75 women were in attendance, was held on Feb. 2, 2017, at 50 Kent Avenue, the “Mennonite hub” in Kitchener.
Helen Loftin, MEDA’s senior vice-president of marketing and communications, and Sarah French, coordinator of donor relations, told stories of the Ghana Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) program, through which women grow soybeans for food and for sale, in some cases beginning businesses that further process the beans into products like soy milk.
Loftin told the gathering that empowering women means giving them access, ability and agency, including more control over finances and decision making, and gaining knowledge their wider commu-nities can use and honour.
Mann and several others from Waterloo went to the fall 2016 MEDA conference in San Antonio, Tex., whose theme was “Business as a calling: Women changing the world,” at which WEW was a topic of discussion.
The Waterloo steering committee sees the new group meeting quarterly to hear MEDA stories of women around the world being aided by MEDA to grow capacity in their families and communities through business ventures. Part of the hope of WEW is to have women each make a $100 donation to the project highlighted at each meeting. In the case of GROW, Canadian government matching funds add another $900 to each $100 donation.
But WEW is not just about empowering women in other parts of the world. The planners hope that the women who come to the meetings will also be empowered in their lives, jobs, businesses and communities, to be forces for good.
The WEW concept had its roots in Pennsylvania last year, according to Ruth Leaman, a senior development officer for MEDA in Pennsylvania: “A group of women from Lancaster and Souderton who returned from a MEDA field experience in Ethiopia were inspired and felt compelled to do something with what they had learned and experienced. We worked together to create a vision for Women Empowering Women with MEDA, a global network for good. [WEW] is a growing movement of women who care about making our world more prosperous, sustainable and peaceful.”