The generosity of Paspaley once again allowed the Australian Red Cross Society of Women Leaders to gather for a cocktail event in its magnificent flagship Sydney store. to hear stories of inspiration from gracious host, Christopher Paspaley and guest speaker from Australian Red Cross Mali Hawkins, Acting Director NSW & ACT.
The kindness of strangers can have a profound and lasting affect as proven when after welcoming the circle of like-minded women and guests, Christopher shared the story of his family’s origins in the beautiful but isolated north west of Australia. His grandfather and his family were fleeing war in Greece and like many before and many after, arrived with nothing. “It was the generosity of the locals in taking them in and giving them an opportunity that allows us to be here today” he said. “It is why it is so special to be part of such an incredible group that supports people in their darkest hour and gives them the opportunity to find light and life again”. In fact, before handing over to co-chairs Susan Wynne and Anita Pahor, Christopher extended his support by announcing the very kind offer to donate 10% of any purchase from Paspaley through the week to SWL.
The Society of Women Leaders is also supported by the generosity of its members in contributing time, skill and talent to various committees and working groups that ensure this unique giving circle not only continues its work but thrives as co-chair Susan Wynne explained before thanking them, “these wonderful women work tirelessly to make sure that everything we do supports people in need and without them, events like this one would not happen”.
Wonderful insight on the origins of Red Cross was given by co-chair Anita Pahor when she described how it was from impartial acts of kindness and compassion (mainly from women lead by founder Henry Dunant) on a battlefield in Italy, that lead to a formal organisation being founded back in 1863 as the International Committee of the Red Cross. An organisation committed to humanitarian action globally. In Australia, it was women who united to form the Australian chapter of Red Cross Society in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I and its works continues to this day. Anita said, “for over a century people have found support and solace in Red Cross during emergencies, personal crises and through ongoing hardship” and through the recent introduction of the revised Strategy 2020, “we are gearing up to help more people in need”.
The Society of Women Leaders is part of a growing global network of female philanthropists based on the American Red Cross model called the Tiffany Circle. In Australia, it is comprised of a volunteer circle of women that give time and funds to causes they wish to support by pledging an annual membership of $10 000. The funds are then pooled and by majority vote, are allocated.
Since its inception in 2014, The Society of Women Leaders has contributed $1.2 million to support the work of Red Cross. With the imminent ratification of a new governance structure at the inaugural SWL Members Meeting in November 2017, the circle will continue to pledge their annual memberships and continue to grow as a key philanthropic program of Red Cross helping it become less reliant on government funding. The group also works to ensure it leaves a legacy of a spirit of generosity, compassion and kindness to the next generation of women as they contribute to building an Australia they can be proud of.
It is with this spirit that Anita announced and welcomed the newest member, Barbara Fletcher, presenting her with a membership bracelet adorned with the Red Cross emblem. Barbara joined the circle through a new initiative that gives members, male champions and businesses the opportunity to sponsor a membership. Founding Patron Caroline Furlong generously stepped up to become the first woman to contribute in this way.
The circle was then introduced by Susan Wynne to the extraordinary Red Cross staff member Mali Hawkins, who has extensive qualifications and experience in marketing, not for profit and community programs. Through a revealing Q&A session with Anita Pahor, Mali gave an interesting and revealing insight into the programs SWL collective funds support and the difference it makes to many lives.
Programs like sponsoring an international aid worker to go to Africa and assist with the response to the ebola crisis, supporting refugees and people seeking asylum who regularly experience extreme poverty and through the Red Cross Migration Support Program find ways to access housing, education and basic social support like healthcare and, building stronger communities through programs like the one in Indonesia that allows women access into healthcare and nutrition education and healthcare workers are trained to provide long term societal benefits.
Mali also described the significant disadvantage that some as young as 13 years of age may have faced in their lives and our now expecting a baby when they come to Red Cross Young Parents Program that offers a three stage wholistic program of support. SWL funds the education, employment and child development sections of the program giving these young parents and their children access to pathways leading to success they would never thought possible and building positive support networks around them, often the first they have ever experienced. Success of the program has seen these young people to successfully enter and remain in the private rental market thereby removing them from a life of welfare dependency. Some have successfully pursued careers in teaching and nursing and one has even obtained a recreational pilots licence and is training to become a pilot. Success is also seen in many other ways like when a young mother described her overwhelming joy when her young child put on her backpack and said “Look Mummy, I’m going to work!”. Witnessing this aspiration from their child is significant for a person who grew up not knowing not one person in their family, extended family or social circle that had ever gone to work.
The Society of Women Leaders has also helped fund the Red Cross Telecross program that aims to support people experiencing deep social exclusion and its impact on their health and wellbeing. This program ensures volunteers make a daily telephone call to those experiencing extreme loneliness and isolation. It is not only offering a regular caring and friendly ear, it is literally in some cases saving people’s lives such as in cases where elderly people have fallen over and are not able to move and seek assistance. By not answering their scheduled call from Telecross, a prearranged emergency procedure is triggered resulting in the person being found and assisted.
Mali’s words highlighted the fact that the power kindness is one of infinite definition and profound affect. Whether it be by donation, volunteering or performing the simplest of acts it has the ability to transform lives in a most positive way. In response to being asked why she works for Red Cross she said “we all have a role in caring about people and supporting the most vulnerable and that is what Red Cross is about from its inception to now”.
The Society of Women Leaders looks forward to playing its part in supporting the extraordinary work of Red Cross both here and abroad. Please join us and be a part of this magnificent continuing legacy.